Dieng seeks to be second ‘New American’ on Burlington City Council

Ali Dieng is an Independent candidate for Ward 7 City Council. Photo by Morgan True / VTDigger

BURLINGTON — Ali Dieng, a 35-year-old from West Africa, has announced he will run as an Independent for the New North End City Council seat being vacated by Tom Ayres.

Ayres, a Democrat, took a job in Randolph, triggering a special election that the city has scheduled for June 27. Though he’s running as an Independent, Dieng said he will seek endorsements from both the Democratic and Progressive parties.

Dieng is the family outreach coordinator for the Burlington School District and manages Parent University, a program that aims to welcome new families into the community and teaches life skills like budgeting and first aid.

If elected, Dieng would be only the second person from Burlington’s growing immigrant community to serve on the City Council in the more than 30 years the Queen City has been a refugee resettlement area.

Bianka LeGrand, who emigrated with her family from Bosnia as a young child, served one term as the Ward 7 City Councilor in 2014 before stepping down for personal reasons.

Dieng, a U.S. citizen, was born in Mauritania and raised in Senegal. He met his wife, Angela Smith-Dieng, while she was serving in the Peace Corps. The two were married in Mauritania in 2005, and Dieng moved to the United States in 2007.

Dieng would be the third person of color to serve on the City Council since at least 1978, when Burlington’s annual reports first printed councilors’ photographs. Clarence Davis, with the campus security firm Margolis Healy, served from 2006 to 2010, and activist Richard Kemp served from 2002 to 2004.

Democrats will hold their nominating caucus on May 4, according to Party Chair Fauna Hurley. In addition to Dieng, Chris Trombly, a member of the Ward 7 Neighborhood Planning Association, and Lorraine Carter-Lovejoy also plan to seek the Democratic nomination, Hurley said.

Republican Vince Dober is also running for the Ward 7 seat that he held from 2009 to 2014. Dieng said he’s not concerned that Dober may have better name recognition, adding that many parents in the ward know him through Dieng’s work in the schools.

As a leader in Burlington’s immigrant community, Dieng said he is eager to give that group a greater voice in city government. “My role would be to represent all of the New North End residents, but if I win it would show the New American community what is possible,” he said in a Thursday interview.

“As a community member and a leader, I hear stories. People bring their stories to me, and sometimes I don’t know what to do. If I’m elected, I’d be able to bring the stories, and the people, to share their issues,” Dieng said.

He is a member of the New American Leaders Learning and Sharing Forum, which meets once a month at the Burlington Police Department or the Community Health Centers of Burlington to discuss community issues.

A major focus for Dieng, if elected, would be to bring more of Burlington’s cultural life into the the New North End. He noted that most community events, whether it’s Jazz Fest, First Night, or the weekly farmer’s market, occur downtown or in the South End.

“Together, what can we do to make our part of town a better, more vibrant place?” he asked, noting that hosting such events would be good for area businesses.

Dieng said he’s also interested in joining the city’s efforts to curb opiate addiction. Drug abuse affects every community in Burlington, including New Americans, he said, pointing to the recent overdose death of a young man in the city’s Nepali community.

As a father of two who works in the schools, he said he understands the challenges Burlington families face. That’s made him an advocate for affordable childcare and early childhood education, Dieng said.

Dieng said he recognizes that many Ward 7 residents oppose property tax increases, and he said he too is concerned about that burden. Dieng said good fiscal management by Superintendent Yaw Obeng will help the district reign in costs and reduce future tax increases, he said.

He’s also building an experienced campaign committee that includes Mark Larson, a former State Representative who served in the Shumlin administration; former City Councilor Carmen George; and Isaac Grimm, an organizer with the group Rights and Democracy — where Dieng serves as a board member.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Dieng, if elected, would be the first member of Burlington’s new immigrant community to serve on the City Council. Bianka LeGrand, a Bosnian immigrant, was the first in 2014.

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