Democrat Miro Weinberger knew that he was the new mayor of Burlington only a half hour after the polls closed Tuesday night. Weinberger, a newbie politician, beat Kurt Wright, the Ward 7 Republican, by a wide margin.
The race was the most hotly contested in decades. Weinberger's decisive win was something of a surprise after a drawn out mayoral campaign that lasted six months and included a contentious four-way Democratic primary in which he narrowly emerged the winner.
Wright conceded the race around 7:30 p.m. once it became obvious from early returns that Weinberger had won. According to preliminary results, he received at least 5,801 votes, or about 57 percent of ballots cast.
Wright won around 37 percent of the vote, and 5 percent of voters supported independent Wanda Hines. It was Wright’s third run for mayor, and he said during the campaign that it will probably be his last. He retired from the City Council to try for the third time in 13 years though he continues to represent Burlington in the Vermont Legislature.
"Miro will serve Burlington well," said Gov. Peter Shumlin in a statement issued just as an excited crowd gathered at Nectar’s, the local nightspot where local leaders once met to talk politics before Bernie Sanders defeated Democrat Gordon Paquette in 1981. Weinberger arrived at 8:30 p.m. and told hundreds of cheering supporters, “This city is ready for a fresh start, and that fresh start begins tonight.”
It was the longest and most costly race in city history. Four Democrats competed in a fall caucus battle that led to a third round tie in November between Weinberger and State Sen. Tim Ashe, the Democratic/Progressive fusion candidate. A month later, about 1,300 Democrats reconvened at Memorial Auditorium and chose Weinberger, a developer and a commissioner of the Burlington International Airport who had never before run for public office.
Incumbent Mayor Bob Kiss did not seek a third term, but was frequently criticized during the campaign for his handling of Burlington Telecom finances and an alleged lack of transparency. For the first time in 20 years the Progressive Party didn't nominate a candidate. In February it decided not to endorse one either and concentrated instead on its two council races.
Wright ran a disciplined and aggressive campaign, beginning with the bold suggestion that sale of the Burlington Electric Department should be investigated as a strategy to handle the growing city debt. He also stressed a nonpartisan style that attracted Democrats, independents and even some Progressives.
Weinberger was less polished as a politician and speaker, but used his management expertise and youthful experience as a political organizer to develop an effective get-out-the-vote effort. He also outspent Wright by a 2-to-1 margin, according to an article by Paul Heintz of Seven Days. Weinberger benefited from strong Democratic Party backing, including campaign stops with Shumlin, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch. In the final week of the campaign he got a crucial endorsement from Sanders.
Turnout was up from 2009, and more than 2,100 voters cast absentee ballots, an early voting record.
It was a upbeat night for local Democrats. They not only had the winning candidate for mayor for the first time in decades but also picked up a seat on the City Council. Teacher Bryan Aubin defeated Ellie Kenworthy in Ward 4 for the seat vacated by Wright. Democrats held onto seats in Ward 1 and Ward 5. In the latter race attorney Chip Mason beat Independent Kirstin Daigle to succeed Council President Bill Keogh.
Progressives added a vote by decisively defeating two Democratic challengers on their home turf. In his second try, UVM staffer Max Tracy, a Progressive activist, beat Democrat Phil Hammerslough in Ward 2. Rachel Siegel won over Democrat Sean Hurley and two independent candidates in Ward 3.
Ward 7 Republican Paul Decelles, an incumbent, won another term in a tight race with Democrat Tom Ayers. Two other incumbents, Ward 1 Democrat Ed Adrian and Ward 6 independent Karen Paul, ran unopposed.
The council changes will not give Weinberger an absolute Democratic majority, but the GOP presence has been reduced while the Progressive contingent increases. There will be four new members on the 14-member body.
Ballot articles calling for a constitutional amendment on corporate personhood and for policies that reduce economic inequities passed easily. Authority to borrow up to $10 million to stimulate tax-generating projects in a tax increment financing (TIF) district also prevailed. The Burlington School District budget, which included a nearly 12 percent increase in spending, passed as well, according to the Burlington Free Press.