Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger won’t seek reelection
The Democratic mayor of Vermont’s largest city will not seek reelection in March.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced Thursday afternoon that his fourth term in office will be his last. In 2012, Weinberger defeated Republican Kurt Wright to become the first Democrat to lead the city in three decades.
He explained his decision to step down at a press conference in the Burlington City Arts Center, where current and former city staffers, union officials, family members and friends cheered as he entered the room.
“With the pandemic behind us, the economy largely recovered and investment and progress on track to continue, I have decided now is the right time to conclude my service as mayor,” he said.
How Weinberger shaped Burlington finances, development, police
Twelve years ago, the newly inaugurated Weinberger inherited a municipal ledger that was, in his words, “teetering on a financial cliff” after a scandal at the city-owned telecommunications company had resulted in multiple downgrades by credit rating agencies.
Over the course of Weinberger’s tenure, those agencies have gradually restored the city’s rating to its previous high. In its August statement reaffirming Burlington’s Aa3 rating, Moody’s said the city’s “financial position is likely to remain stable over the next few years because of conservative budgeting and prudent revenue increase.”
Weinberger said those ratings upgrades will save the city more than $40 million in debt service payments.
“It took seven years, but we lifted the city from the edge of insolvency to a double-A rating,” Weinberger said Thursday. “We went out and proved that city government could still get big things done.”
The Democrat has also overseen major development projects, including the Downtown Transit Center, a renovation of City Hall Park, and what he refers to as a “revival” of the city’s northern waterfront. Weinberger said the city is also on track to meet his goal of increasing housing production in the city by 400% by 2026, thanks in part to what he called a “complete rewrite” of downtown zoning bylaws.
Weinberger said Burlington, under his watch, has also forged progress on social issues such as gun control. In 2014, city voters approved charter changes that would have allowed for the seizure of weapons from people suspected of committed domestic abuse, banned firearms in bars, and required gun owners to keep their firearms locked when not in use.
Some of those measures, which require legislative approval, have yet to make it out of the Statehouse. But Weinberger said the city led on the issue of gun safety at a time when it was still a politically dangerous policy position.
“Vermont is now a place where life-saving gun violence initiatives can become law,” he said.
One of the most high-profile development projects in the Queen City that Weinberger pushed during his tenure is still in the works.
The CityPlace Burlington project, a redevelopment of the downtown mall, has been mired in controversy and delays for the past eight years. The project left a vacant lot in the center of the city’s downtown district for years.
Critics said Weinberger didn’t do enough to compel the project's former owner, Don Sinex, to complete the mixed-use development, which also included reconnecting two city streets. Weinberger’s administration did eventually sue the developers and got a settlement that ensured the city streets would be built, regardless of whether the project was finished.
Last year, a group of local developers bought the property from Sinex and in November 2022 started construction on the project, which will bring hundreds of new housing units to Burlington.
In recent years, high-profile controversies over policing and racial justice eroded public support for Weinberger, whowon reelection to a fourth term in 2021 by 129 votes.
In 2019, Seven Days broke the news that former Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo had used an anonymous Twitter account to publicly mock a critic of his department. The same paper later revealed that Weinberger had known about del Pozo’s activity, but failed to inform the public, and allowed del Pozo to stay on as Burlington’s top cop.
Weinberger has also faced pointed criticism from racial justice leaders.
In 2021, Weinberger removed the city’s first Black female department head — Director of Racial Equity Tyestia Green — from her role in overseeing a study of the police department. He then appointed a white man to lead the study, saying he would be “seen as neutral and not bringing pre-existing positions to the report.”
He later apologized for the move and reinstated Green as leader of the report, saying his initial decision “reveals my own bias.”
More recently, Weinberger was accused of racism after commissioning an audit that was intended to scrutinize the financial practices of the Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging under Green’s tenure.
Kurt Wright, a former Republican city councilor in Burlington who lost to Weinberger in the 2012 mayoral race, said his former rival has proven to be “a very successful mayor.”
“As a former city councilor and more importantly now as just a citizen and taxpayer of Burlington, I’m concerned and frankly a little worried with what comes after Miro,” Wright said.
Wright said Weinberger’s centrist approach to policy and politics has been most apparent in his defense of the city’s police department. Weinberger opposed a decision by the Burlington City Council in 2021 to reduce the number of officers by 30%. And Wright said Weinberger played a key role in restoring those positions.
“I think he showed leadership on the policing issue at a time that the city council I think was moving in a bad direction,” Wright said. I think the mayor successfully brought things back around to where they needed to be … and has actually moved the council in a better direction. And I think that’s leadership.”
Joan Shannon, who’s served as a Democratic city councilor for 20 years, credited Weinberger with rescuing Burlington from financial hardship.
“He came in at a time when this city was upside down financially, and he righted the city’s financial ship,” she said. “He campaigned on breaking loose, as he calls it, the stuck-and-stalled projects. He did. He has rebuilt a lot of the infrastructure in Burlington.”
In five months, Burlington voters will choose a new mayor. Shannon said the issue of public safety will likely dominate the campaign.
“What I really hear from people is the number one concern at this time is public safety, the drug epidemic, the homelessness crisis, the many, many people who are suffering on our streets and need help," Shannon said.
Wright said he anticipates a crowded field of candidates for the position, in part due to the return of instant runoff voting.
“So I think that is going to encourage there to be a number of candidates,” he said. “You’ll have a Democratic candidate, you’ll have a Progressive candidate, and I think you’ll have a number of independent candidates.”
Among political insiders, Weinberger is often named as a possible future gubernatorial candidate. Weinberger said Thursday that he plans to continue working on issues like climate change, homelessness, housing and the “unprecedented” drug epidemic. But he said he’s going to take some time before deciding what role he’ll try to play.
“These issues are bigger than what any one community, even Burlington, can solve on its own, and they are not going to fix themselves,” he said. “Addressing these challenges will require committed, tireless leadership, and I am going to take some time to explore how I can best continue to work on these challenges.”
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