Friday, January 13, 2012

Burlington mayoral candidates debate transportation issues

From Burlington Free Press

Stump speeches occasionally yielded to candor — and to stumped silences — among Burlington’s three mayoral candidates at Thursday night’s debate on transportation issues.
The scope of Burlington’s transportation challenges was the keystone issue in the debate, from recreational bike paths to denser residential development that might persuade more residents to walk, bike or take a bus. For the first time, all three announced mayoral candidates, independent Wanda Hines, Democrat Miro Weinberger and Republican Kurt Wright, engaged in debate.

About 200 people attended the gathering at the Unitarian Universalist Society, organizers said. The debate, hosted by Burlington nonprofit Local Motion and Vermont AARP, alternated between opportunities for serious policy pitches and a rapid-fire, game-show format.

A few substantial differences emerged:

• Alone among the candidates, Hines opposes the Champlain Parkway (also known as the Southern Connector), because of what she said would be its disruption to the lives of South End residents.

• Hines was alone in her luke-warm assessment of increased residential development, again because of its potential to disrupt established communities.

• Weinberger, on the other hand, placed compact workforce housing at the top of his priorities because, he said, it would result in “more people living close to where they want to be” — and reduce the need for large-scale transportation projects.

• Although the candidates did not address each other directly, Wright and Weinberger traded a few sharp jabs. Wright chided his Democratic rival for what he described as contradictory responses to a proposal to study the sale of Burlington Electric Department. For his part, Weinberger critiqued Wright for his voting record as a Vermont state legislator, citing low ratings from environmental groups.

But on many other issues, the candidates found an almost cozy agreement.

Wright and Weinberger saw eye-to-eye on the need to revamp zoning regulations that discourage the construction of new multi-unit residences downtown.

All three candidates urged stronger oversight over Department of Public Works projects, more urgency in the development of a downtown transportation center and the continuation of municipal snow removal from sidewalks.

Several times, Hines took issue with the other two candidates’ criticism of Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss’ administration.

“You can’t always blame it on the mayor,” she said. “Being the mayor is a rough job.”

Kiss is not seeking a third term. Burlington Progressives have not announced a mayoral candidate for the March election; they caucus Jan. 22.

Lighter moments prevailed Thursday, particularly during the strictly enforced time limits of the short-answer portion of the evening:

• Who would have guessed that the city had more miles of sidewalks than roads? Weinberger did, but it was clearly just a guess, and only after a prolonged, awkward pause (answer: sidewalks, by much more than a mile).

• Did Wright know the cost of a city bus ticket? He did not ($1.25 for a single ticket; $10 for a 10-ride pass). To his credit, the Ward-4 city councilor knew with precision the location of the bike path’s worst potholes.

• The cost of a parking ticket? Hines guessed wrong (correct answer: $12, if it’s at a meter).

The forum was moderated by Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur, AARP Vermont’s community outreach coordinator, Local Motion Executive Director Chapin Spencer and Burlington Free Press Executive Editor Michael Townsend.

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 660-1843 Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter

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