Mayor Miro Weinberger Speech from Democratic Nominating Caucus and Miro for Mayor Re-Election Campaign Kick-Off
Welcome. Thank you for joining us today.
Thank you Governor Kunin for those warm words, your decisive support three years ago, and your support again today. More importantly, thank you for your service to this City, State, and country, and all that you have continued to do since leaving office, writing important books and energizing a generation of women, including some here today, to run for office through your work on Emerge Vermont. You continue to be an inspiration to all of us.
Thank you Fauna Hurley, our outstanding new City Democratic Party Chair, and her leadership team for your work to make today’s event a success and for all you are doing to bring new people and energy into the Burlington Democratic Party.
Thank you Principal Brian Williams and the Sustainability Academy for hosting this event.
Thank you Jake Perkinson for all you have done to revive the City and State Democratic party, for serving as Parliamentarian today, and for your personal friendship and support.
Thank you to all the volunteers who have come together to make this caucus happen.
Many of you will remember from three years ago a standout volunteer named Jen Kaulius. I am very lucky that she is now serving as my campaign manager and I hope you will all get to know her better working with her over the next seven weeks.
Thank you City Council President Joan Shannon for your generous nomination. I would not be standing here today without your early and strong support three years ago. I am very grateful to still have that support today and appreciative of the steady hand you have brought to the leadership of the Council, and your forceful advocacy on quality of life issues.
I also want to share my deep appreciation for our other Democratic City Councilors. No Mayor can successfully lead this City without a good working relationship with the Council, and I have been fortunate to have that for three years.
I want to thank Karen Paul for your partnership on the City’s financial issues, for your visionary leadership making planBTV happen, and your focus on saving our gem of an airport from financial crisis. Thank you also, Karen, for your decision a year ago to join the Democratic Party – you have made us stronger as a party and all of us in this room are thankful for that.
Thank you Dave Hartnett for your championing of schools and parks issues and bringing a voice of common sense to our Monday night gatherings.
Thank you Tom Ayres for your passion, your focus on making our pedestrian infrastructure safer for our seniors and children, and for the helping us all get 2015 started on the right foot through your leadership of First Night.
And all of Burlington owes Chip Mason an enormous debt of gratitude for his skilled, detailed work as the chair of the critical Ordinance Committee which in the last few years has grappled with some incredibly difficult and important issues.
Finally I want to give a special thank you to Norm Blais and Bianka LeGrand who have chosen not to seek re-election in March. Norm, you have served Ward 6 with distinction and wisdom. Bianka, you have been a ground-breaker in this community. You will both be deeply missed on the Council.
Finally, I want to say thank you to my parents, Michael and Ethel, for coming up from Hartland for this caucus, and for all those conversations over dinner time which instilled in me the idea that politics were important and, potentially, noble.
Thank you to my daughters Li Lin and Ada, and to my incredible wife Stacy, thank you for your partnership in this adventure and your daily support throughout our now 19 years together.
Three years ago you came to this Democratic Caucus and you did something radical: you voted for a Fresh Start, nominating someone who had never served in elected office before, because you knew this City needed to do things differently.
Three months later the voters overwhelmingly did the same thing because we were a City that had lost its way. Our municipal finances were in disarray, many of the City’s initiatives were stuck and drifting, and trust in City Hall was gone.
As bad as it was, we all sensed that even worse news lay ahead. The City credit rating was headed towards junk bond status. One of the world’s largest banks was litigating for the removal of a City-owned utility. The Department of Public Works Water, Sewer, and Traffic enterprises all faced unprecedented financial troubles, and our airport had the lowest credit rating of any airport in the continental United States.
Our parks, garages, and firehouses were crumbling, and large sections of our beloved bike path had been washed away.
In short, the foundation of our City’s greatness and prosperity was eroding.
As we gather here today, Burlington faces a much different, and much brighter future. After three years of hard work, collaboration, and focus by my administration, the City Council, and the voters, the signs of Burlington’s resurgence are all around us and woven into our daily lives.
Our commitment to fixing the City’s finances as the top priority has resulted in significant improvement of the City’s financial position across the board. These efforts are already saving Burlingtonians money, and, as long as we not go backwards, in the years ahead we will keep tens of millions of dollars in the pockets of Burlingtonians instead of transferring them to Wall Street bondholders collecting high interest rates.
You can feel the progress when under your wheels as you ride on the rebuilt Bike Path. Last summer under the dynamic leadership of new Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Director Jesse Bridges, we broke ground on the first phase of our initiative to modernize, expand and enhance the entire 8-mile long bike path.
You can enjoy the progress when you take your family to a City park. It is great to see Tim Jarvis here at the caucus today. Three years ago Tim was a fixture at NPA and City Council meetings, reminding officials that, amazingly, Burlington’s girls’ high school softball team was playing their home games in Williston or wherever else they could find a field because there wasn’t a single quality softball field in the City that drained properly! Last spring Tim was able to watch his daughter play her senior year home games at Leddy Park. Hockey players and their parents are enjoying a revitalized City rink. Patrons of the boathouse no longer get wet when it rains. In all, 61 Penny For Parks projects have been completed in the last couple years using existing resources.
Looking out over our beloved waterfront the progress is clear. The giant power lines that marred views of the lake for decades are now gone, we have refreshed Waterfront Park, and last August we broke ground on the voter-approved plan to transform the northern waterfront, the first major waterfront improvement since the early 1990s. Throughout the City our public works projects are at last moving again.
In the Pine Street corridor and around us here in the Old North End we are seeing unprecedented levels of investment, job creation, and important new housing.
And, after City Attorney Eileen Blackwood and Chief Administrative Officer Bob Rusten and the rest of the City team worked until nearly 11pm on New Year’s Eve, we began 2015 with a dismissal of the Citibank lawsuit over Burlington Telecom. We have now definitively ended a long and unfortunate chapter in the City’s history, protecting taxpayers from any further harm and saving a public utility from destruction. Burlington Telecom today is profitable and growing – and with the cloud of litigation gone for good – BT’s rebirth has become a symbol of the Fresh Start we have earned together.
While our work cleaning up the City’s finances and addressing the City’s stagnating initiatives is not done, many of our most serious problems have been addressed.
We now have the opportunity to lift our eyes to the horizon, focus on longer-term challenges and opportunities, and define the future we want for our City and our children.
This election will be about that future. Voters on March 3 with have a very clear choice on the mayoral ballot. One option would return us to the organizational culture, policies, and some of the same failed leadership that created the Burlington Telecom lawsuit and the other messes that we are just now emerging from.
The Democratic Party has just given the people of Burlington the option to keep Moving Forward.
If re-elected, I will keep Burlington Moving Forward by bringing energy and resources to bear on five major areas of focus over the next three years.
One, we will continue Moving Forward with job creation.
In the years ahead we will continue modernizing the post-industrial areas of our waterfront, accelerating Burlington’s efforts to become a great tech city and reforming the permitting system that makes it difficult to grow jobs in the downtown.
However we will not stop there. Tomorrow we are asking the City Council to create a ballot item to begin a major new economic development initiative to improve our downtown sidewalks, street trees, and other public infrastructure paid for with TIF funds that do not impact local property tax rates. And during this campaign we will announce our plans for funding the next phase of the Bike Path expansion and other improvements to our public spaces that bring more visitors to Burlington.
Two, we will continue Moving Forward Towards a More Affordable, Walkable, Livable and Sustainable Burlington.
One of the most positive trends in the country over the last twenty years is the dramatic increase in the number of people wanting to live in our cities instead of moving further out into the suburbs. Unfortunately, the numbers show that Burlington has largely missed out on this opportunity and as a result, Burlington has become one of the most expensive cities in the country to live in.
We must re-affirm our commitment to house our most vulnerable Burlingtonians AND fix the broken housing market by passing and implementing the 17-Point Housing Action Plan my administration released in November.
This plan, if implemented successfully, will accomplish many City goals. More people living downtown will make Burlington more affordable and vibrant, increase municipal revenues, improve the quality of life in our historic neighborhoods, help our businesses recruit and retain talent and much more.
Three, we will continue Moving Forward with Municipal Savings and Efficiencies.
Over the past three years we achieved about half of the $8 million in long-term cost savings that we had set as a target. We are positioned and focused to complete this goal through technological efficiencies, the completion of a major push to make our City buildings more energy efficient, and completing the reform of the City’s pension system that we have been working towards with our public employees for over a year.
Four, we will continue Moving Forward By Making Municipal Government More Effective.
Building on our past efforts in this area, we are in the process of hiring for a new Chief Innovation Officer position to improve our use of municipal technology and create a culture of continuous improvement. And soon we will roll out the City’s first-ever, ten-year capital plan to emphasize cost-saving preventative maintenance and to ensure that we never return to the days of decaying public infrastructure that marked the prior administration.
Finally, we will continue Moving Forward by doing everything we can to make Burlington a City of inclusion and opportunities for all.
This country was founded on the principle that all Americans should have an equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. However, the country we live in today has not fully realized this promise. Even here in Burlington nearly half of our children reach kindergarten unprepared, and a disproportionate number of these kids come from poor homes.
This pattern becomes more pronounced, and harder to change every year as kids get older. Far too often these children who start school behind graduate at an unusually low rate, earn less as adults, suffer higher rates of incarceration and drug use, and enjoy a far lower life expectancy.
It does not have to be this way. For decades we have known that the driver of these outcomes is childhood poverty. What has changed in recent years is that we now know the solution. Done right, investments in high quality child care for children from birth to age five eliminate the learning gap between poor children and their peers and create enormous, documented, public returns on investment over time.
In the days ahead we will release our plans for an ambitious Burlington Early Learning Initiative. Our goal will be nothing short of ensuring that all Burlington children have the opportunity to lead full, healthy, successful lives.
And, as part of this focus on opportunity, we will continue our work to make Burlington a truly inclusive community. Last summer we had a ceremony in front of City Hall to mark the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We celebrated the courage and sacrifice that produced that landmark legislation and recommitted the City to further progress. Events since around the country have been a harsh reminder of how far we still have to go to truly fulfill our nation’s ideals of justice and liberty.
The City is deeply engaged in an effort to eliminate racial bias and institutional barriers to inclusion from our practices and policies. In November we adopted a City Diversity and Equity Strategic Plan that included dozens of needed reforms and the most senior members of City government meet regularly to address them. One example of this effort is the ballot item you will see on Town Meeting Day to make it possible for all residents, regardless of citizenship, to serve as department heads and volunteer on our boards and commissions.
If I am re-elected, I pledge that this incremental, long-term work will continue, because when I think about the urgency of becoming a more inclusive City, I am reminded of my own daughters and their circle of friends.
A little more than a year ago, late on a fall afternoon, Stacy and I received phone calls. We both sprinted back to the house, picked up the overnight bags we had pre-packed, and drove to a distant corner of the state. At about 8pmthat night we took into our arms the 3-hour old baby who would soon become Ada Champlain Weinberger.
In an instant we became an even more multi-cultural family than we already were, adding African-American to the Russian, Jewish, and Chinese ethnicities and cultures already merged in the Weinberger home.
I am committed to doing everything I can to see that Ada and Li Lin, their friends, and all of Burlington’s children grow up in a City in which diversity enriches our community, where inclusion is valued and practiced, and where our children’s dreams flourish in the face of diminishing institutional barriers.
In summary, the choice before the City now is whether to Keep Moving Forward or to return to the leadership and attitude that put the City in such trouble three years ago. Now is not the time to turn back. The people in this room will not let that happen. The people of Burlington are too engaged and too committed to this wonderful place to go back. I ask for your support in the weeks ahead to make sure that together onMarch 3, Burlington continues Moving Forward.