Russell: Lawmaker’s call to “clean house” in Burlington city government is outrageous

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Abby Russell, the chair of the Burlington City Progressives.

In a recent Free Press article, John Briggs wrote on next year’s mayoral race in light of Democratic state representative Jason Lorber’s My Turn. While Mr. Briggs interviewed both the Democratic and Republican city chairs he was unable to contact the Progressive party city chair, so I attempted to present our view of the situation.

I submitted a follow up op-ed to be published as a My Turn to the Free Press last week so that Burlington residents could hear a Progressive response to accusations made in both Rep. Lorber’s piece and Mr. Brigg’s story. However, instead of publishing my op-ed, the paper ran a My Turn in line with their view that Burlington Telecom should be shut down. A truly “free press” should publish all sides, not just the ones it agrees with.

Lorber says the city must restore pride in Burlington as a sustainable destination city. Perhaps he doesn’t have pride in the amazing work of Burlington City Arts or is unimpressed with the work on Pine Street or the Intervale, where and local small farmers exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit that is flourishing in the city, helped by a public policy of economic development in place at CEDO, Burlington Electric, and Parks & Recreation since Bernie Sanders was mayor.

Burlington Progressives are committed to promoting good-paying jobs for middle-class and working folks and our policies have done so. We believe Burlington should be affordable and livable for all its residents, and that our city should be open for business but not for sale. It is telling that Democrats rarely, if ever, mention these things when explaining their vision for our city.

Burlington has fared well in relative terms during this recession in no small part because of the hardworking women and men in city government. Lorber’s call to “clean house” is an outrageous and partisan attack on all the city employees and managers. Implying that they are not innovative, competent, or hardworking is insulting. These women and men help make Burlington the place we love.

Burlington Telecom is vital to continued economic growth in the city. Everyone understands BT’s past problems, but not everyone wants to see it survive. If Democrats want to go beyond grandstanding and actually promote BT, they should tout the fact that BT has new managers who have put it on the right financial path. Transparency and collaboration are essential but they are insufficient. To repay the pooled cash and be the asset we know it can be, leaders of all parties need to stop playing the blame game and work together to help Burlington Telecom survive and thrive.

I agree with Republican city chair Tony Allen that a “healthy, respectful debate about the city of Burlington” is needed in the next mayoral election. However, his party’s potential nominee, Kurt Wright, is not what this city needs. The majority of Burlington residents have already rejected Councilor Wright in the last mayoral race, and I am confident they will do so again in 2012. Councilor Wright can’t hide from his record, which includes a bill he introduced in the state legislature two months ago designed to take away teachers’ bargaining rights. Burlingtonians don’t want a man like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker running our city.

I want assure Burlington residents that next March there will be a Progressive mayoral candidate who will continue a long tradition of progressive leadership in making our city a more affordable and beautiful place to live. City residents remember that Progressives turned the Waterfront from a industrial wasteland into a beautiful park, made the arts accessible to everyone, fought for livable wages for city employees and government contractors, led the way on affordable housing and environmental sustainability, created an extensive community gardens program, and turned Burlington into one of the best places to live. Burlington is a three party city for a reason. Next March there will be a Progressive nominee with a vision of a livable city for all who will offer a real alternative to nominees from the Democratic and Republican parties.



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