Politics

Maea Brandt wins Burlington East District City Council race

Maea Brandt stands outside the Ward 1 polling place at Mater Christi School. Photo by Patrick Crowley/VTDigger

Updated at 9:35 p.m.

Democrat Maea Brandt was elected to the Burlington City Council after a special election on Tuesday to fill the vacant East District seat.

The election was the city’s first use of ranked choice voting since 2010, though Brandt won a majority — 55% — of first-choice votes in the first round, according to unofficial results from the city clerk’s office.

Dina John, the Progressive candidate, garnered 38% of the first-choice votes while independent Jake Schumann took 5%. A total of 1,094 ballots were counted in the election in two of the city’s wards.

In a ranked choice election, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If any candidate has more than 50% of the first-choice votes, they are declared the winner. Otherwise, the candidate who receives the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated and voters who chose that person first will have their next choice counted. The process continues until a candidate achieves the 50% threshold.

Burlington previously used ranked choice for five years starting in 2005. It was revived only for city council elections, though voters are set to decide on a wider rollout in March. 

Brandt will join the council Monday night. Council President Karen Paul said on Tuesday that her swearing in will be the first order of business at the meeting.

Brandt said she was excited to join the council next week. 

“There's a lot of work to do and I'm ready to get to work. It's for the city. It's to represent my neighborhoods, you know, the constituents of Wards 1 and 8. And I am so ready to collaborate and work with the City Council to help the city move forward.”

Brandt, 57, is a visual artist and Saint Michael’s College lecturer who has lived in Burlington for over 30 years. Tuesday’s election was her first run for office.

“It's not easy running for political office for the first time,” Brandt said following her win. “But I had an enormous amount of help from people all over the city.”

John, who in the final stage of the race was endorsed by the third candidate in the race, Schumann, said in a statement after the results that her campaign “was only the beginning.”

“These past couple of months have been nothing short of an experience of a lifetime and I could not be more grateful or more humbled to have been a part of it,” John said in the statement.

Dina John, right, the Progressive candidate in a special election for a seat on the Burlington City Council representing the East District, greets a prospective voter outside a polling place at the Fletcher Free Library on Tuesday, Dec. 6. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Following the election results, Mayor Miro Weinberger said that voters “changed the balance in the City Council.”

Brandt’s win puts five Democrats on the council, at least until the next round of elections in March. But factoring in potential votes from independent council members, the Democrats would gain more control over the council for the time being. Weinberger said he thought the win showed that voters in the East District were sending a message.

“Voters I think tonight showed that they want us to rebuild the police department,” Weinberger said. “They need the city to take action to end the crime increases that we've seen and they want the city taking aggressive action to build a lot more homes and to end homelessness.” 

When asked if he planned to bring Acting Chief Jon Murad’s appointment back to the council, Weinberger would not commit to it happening as soon as next week, but did suggest the makeup of the council could allow it to happen.

“I think it would be better to have a chief that has a permanent confirmation and perhaps the council now has a place to do that,” Weinberger said.

Tuesday’s special election was called by Weinberger in September following the resignation of Jack Hanson, who left the council to pursue a job with the Burlington Electric Department.

Ward 8, which along with Ward 1 makes up the East District, is also without representation on the council after Ali House resigned in October. Since that vacancy took place after Oct. 1, that election is scheduled to take place with other district elections on Town Meeting Day in March.

Brandt will not have much time to rest from campaigning. The East District Seat will come up for election again in March.

“I feel as though I just learned about how this whole process works,” Brandt said. “So I feel very comfortable moving forward with it. And I really feel like almost a continuation of what we're doing right now.”

When asked about running in March, John said she was only focused on the special election for now. “You have to take it one step at a time,” she said.

From left to right, Dina John, Maea Brandt and Jake Schumann. Courtesy photos

Schumann had a similar tone and did not commit to running again in March.

Schumann’s campaign as a third candidate had some twists and turns. Running as an independent, he unsuccessfully sought endorsements at both the Progressive and Democratic caucuses in October. At the Democratic caucus, he even encouraged people to vote for Brandt. 

Schumann said he welcomed the opportunity to make it a three-way race, but on Tuesday was seen holding a sign that encouraged voters to choose John as their first choice.

In an interview on Tuesday, Schumann said shortly after the October party caucuses, his dog died and he was not able to campaign for a month. 

“So by the time I came back into the race, I was way behind the eight ball. So I just had to do that arithmetic of, am I going to try and catch up with the other candidates? Or am I going to try and be collaborative and help somebody who I think has a lot of potential to be a strong leader in our community?”

Since that point, Schumann has campaigned for people to choose John at their first choice and him second.

“I'm fine to continue waiting. And I'm fine if that time never comes. Because I serve my community in other ways, so I just want to be supportive of a young leader in our community,” Schumann said, speaking about his endorsement of John.

The rollout of ranked choice in Tuesday’s election was celebrated by the Vermont Public Interest Group, one of the organizations that has pushed for the method. In a statement sent as polls closed, democracy director Sam McGinty said ranked choice voting empowers voters.

“We spoke with a lot of voters as they exited the polls today and we found overwhelming support for the ranked choice voting system. It’s simple and it gives voters the chance to choose the candidate they want without worrying that person might be a spoiler in the race,” McGinty said in the release.

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Patrick Crowley

About Patrick

Patrick Crowley is VTDigger's Burlington Reporter. Previously, he has worked for the Brattleboro Reformer and wrote as a freelance reporter in Ventura County, California. Patrick is a musician and volunteers as a firefighter and advanced EMT.

Email: pcrowley@vtdigger.org

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