Friday, March 2, 2007

Democratic Party Hegemony in Burlington's Ward 5 NPA

N.B. This is a re-edited post (3/3/07, Saturday afternoon @ 2:45 p.m.)
First off listen to the podcast of the Ward 5 City Council candidate program on Channel 17 here. (The photo to your left is from that broadcast.)

Then look at Burlington Free Press 3/1/07 Ward 5 City Council candidates: In their own words.

You never can tell with John Briggs, but he gives a fair assessment of the Ward 5 City Council candidates in his Burlington Free Press article on Thursday, March 1.

I attended the Ward 5 Neighborhood Planning Assembly Meet the Candidates Night on Tuesday, February 29. Local Ward 5 resident bloggers Peter Freyne and Alex of Rip and Read were there, too. Just read their callous and smug posts about the NPA meeting here and here and you will see how entrenched the Democratic hegemony is in Ward 5. These guys are rarely critical of their party; they are infact laptop courtiers of the mainstream Dems. It's true that Ward 5 has been solidly Democratic for years. Ask any long-term resident and they will tell you. In recent memory only Richard Kemp, a Progressive, was able to win a race for City Council.

But my beef is really about how the NPA meeting on Tuesday was organised and chaired.

The Neighborhood Planning Association meetings in Burlington are supposed to be non-partisan. But if you had been in Ward 5 on Tuesday, you'd have thought you were at a Neighborhood Democratic Assembly meeting.

Take a look at the Agenda (my emphasis in bold) --

7:00 Introduction
Introduction and Ground Rules We will start at 7pm SHARP. Please note that we will adhere closely to all time limits.

7:05 Open Forum
Announce upcoming community events or suggest a topic for a future NPA meeting. Please limit yourself to 2 minutes per announcement.

7:15 Police Update
Lt Scott Davidson will bring us up to date on current Police activities or concerns in the South End

7:25 School Board update
School commissioners Amy Werbel and Fred Lane will bring us up to date on the school budget process and discussions of socio-economic integration.

7:30 City Council Update
Joan Shannon and Bill Keogh will let us know what is under discussion in the City Council.

7:40 Community Development Block Grant Process
Ita Meno will outline the Neighborhood Development Block Grant process and invite grant applicants to work with her in the process. Qualified applications will be voted on during the March Ward 5 NPA meeting.

7:50 Zoning re-write process
Joe McNeil and Andy Montroll will present information and answer questions about the zoning re-write process.

8:10 Meet the Candidates - City Council candidates
Rene Kaczka-Valliere, Joan Shannon and Basil Vansuch are invited to introduce themselves and answer your questions. Inspector of Election candidates - Owen Mulligan and Elisa Nelson are invited to introduce themselves and answer questions.

When I arrived at the meeting, Elise Nelson, an NPA Steering Committee member, was chairing the meeting. She is also a Democratic candidate for Ward 5 Inspector of Election. Joan Shannon, the incumbent Democratic City Councilor and candidate was doing a Q&A about the zoning rewrite. City Attorney Joe McNeil and City Councilor Andy Montroll had been invited to do a presentation about re-write. They were no-shows. I don't know what their excuse was, but how convenient for Joan, a member of the council's Ordinance Committee and how advantagious for her as a candidate for city council to give her take on the re-write. I don't know how long she had been speaking, but after I arrived she spoke about it for about 15 to 20 minutes.

I assume, too, that she and Bill Keogh, the other Ward 5 city councilor, gave their city councilor reports. That spot was given 10 minutes on the Agenda, so figure Joan had 5 minutes. (I was on the SC for the Ward 5 NPA for a year. Rarely did each city councilor attend the meetings; if they did it was usually around election time.)

Then came the Meet the Candidates forum. Blogger Alex called it a "debate," but it really was an introduction presentation by each candidate with an informal Q&A. At this point, Elise Nelson handed the chair over to Roger Marshall, another SC member. Independent candidate Basil Vansuch was not present. So, Rene Kaczka-Valliere, the Green Party candidate, was first up. Roger told him he had 3 minutes. Rene gave his presentation and went a minute over his alotted time. When Joan got up to do hers, Roger told her she had 4 minutes.

Do the minute math - 5+20+4=29 for Joan. Rene was allotted only 3 minutes. Joan clearly had the monopoly and the advantage. The chairs, Elise and Roger were clearly unfair in their management of the meeting. Was this inequity predetermined?

Does all this really matter to Joan, Bill, Elise, Roger, Peter and Alex? I doubt it.

If I had been on the SC, this would never have happened.

I have no personal quibble with Joan. I like her. She's a very genuine person. She's one of the very, very few local Democratic Party leaders who is sensitive to environmental issues. If only she'd think about switching to the Greens!

But the advantage given to Joan, as incumbent and Democratic candidate at this Candidate Night, was clearly a set-up against Rene. He will probably lose in Tuesday's election, that's how Democratic this ward is. Listen, I used to vote Democratic all the time, but then I wised up. The Dems think there is no other choice but them; they expect "liberal" or "progressive" voters to vote Democratic. But Rene's gracious and honest presentation of a Green alternative indicates to me that he is on the winning side.


  1. Joan and Bill never show up to do their council updates. Interesting that now there is an election they show up.

    Rene gets 4 minutes, Joan gets 4 plus another 20 or so for the council update and the zoning re-write. Pathetic!

    I live in ward 5 and I will never attend another NPA again or should I say NDA.

  2. Darn, why did you edit out those delicious jabs?

  3. Thanks, Anonymous, so you clearly know what I mean.

    Snarky Boy, I know, I know, but I'm really not a mercenary person! So, I've made the post meatier now!

  4. I used to be on the ward 5 Steering Committee and it's true; rarely did Keogh or Shannon show up to give the council update.

    I honestly don't even know why they bother alotting time for the councilors. They rarely show. It seems to me the alotted time could be used more effectively.

    As a candidate for Inspector of Election, I did not show at the NPA "meet the candidate" night for 2 reasons.

    #1 I was committed to making get out the vote calls for Burlington Voter Power which is always done the Tuesday before the election and in the evening between 5pm-9pm.
    (The NPA fell on this Tuesday)

    #2 I believe the ward 5 NPA is a joke or a farce. Esp. after what I heard happened and as Jay pointed out.

    Anyway, good post Jay.

    Owen Mulligan

  5. When I ran against Joan two years ago the same thing happened. She did a City Council update and did a Q&A about some issue. I was more than a little peeved.

    Great post. (I wish I had seen the first version.)


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