(This is a guest post from Michael Long, Burlington Resident and 10 year member of the Development Review Board)
Local politics is always fine-grained, but need not be piecemeal. For the upcoming Town Meeting Day election, there's a pattern -- in plain sight -- that the politicians making up the mosaic would rather we didn't see. Yes, the three contested City Council seats have something in common.
Genese Grill, Charles Simpson, and Charles Winkleman are candidates competing with two longtime counselors and one political novice for the three contested seats. Neighborhood power, truly affordable housing, green transportation, and a fair deal for the city from the universities are among their urgent and revitalizing themes.
Grill, Simpson, and Winkleman offer creative, energetic, independent, progressive representation – unlike the perennial incumbents, Knodell and Shannon, or the newcomer, Deane.
Knodell, Shannon, and Deane have been in lockstep touting the Republican development agenda of the Weinberger administration ever since Don Sinex came to town. Theirs has been the same agenda of eliminating regulation and offering tax breaks and subsidies to developers that our Republican governor in Montpelier has been trumpeting and that Republicans coast to coast would applaud.
This is an agenda that well serves UVM, the real estate sector, and the Burlington Business Association with which Knodell, Shannon, and Deane are respectively and closely associated. But it is decidedly not an agenda that equitably serves all the people of Burlington.
Let's be honest here – the University, the real estate sector, and the Burlington Business Association have plenty of influence in city politics all on their own. They hardly need councilors with such close ties to give them more influence still.
Some have questionably argued that the poor and disenfranchised among us are well served by multimillion dollar downtown development seeking private profit primarily and the public interest incidentally. But the poor and disenfranchised will be far better served – indeed, all of us will be far better served – by candidates like Grill, Simpson, and Winkleman. These candidates will put the public interest first and require that development be responsibly shaped by the public interest, not the special interests.
The mayor's unprecedented devotion to development has distorted his administration and warped the democratic process. Knodell, Shannon, and Deane have embraced the mayor's reckless devotion unreservedly.
For Knodell and Shannon, it's time at last to make way for real progress and new leadership that can do so much better.
Deane is a different case. Though new to elective politics, as the Chair of the Board of the Burlington Business Association, Deane is an old hand and a practiced lobbyist for business interests. His role as the Burlington Business Association Chair of the Board is a feather in his resume and certainly nothing to be ashamed of in itself, but it does make him an inappropriate candidate for city council. The neighborhood and the people of Burlington will be far better represented by Winkleman who is a people's advocate, not a business lobbyist.
Vote responsibly. Seize the opportunity on March 7 to put Genese Grill, Charles Simpson, and Charles Winkleman on the Burlington City Council where Burlington needs them and where they belong.