Burlington, Vermont

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Socialist Bernie Sanders surprised Burlington by winning election for Mayor by ten votes in 1981, ushering in a period of progressive control of the city that was still in effect in 2011. After a year of fierce opposition from the city council, Sanders was able to implement reforms, notably through the establishment of a Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) in 1983 and the appointment of several key administrators. One result was a set of "good government" reforms: Treasurer Jonathan Leopold found ways to save the city significant expenses and Sanders opened up city hall to citizen participation. There were also new citizen boards and commissions. There was a program to train women in the construction trades and place them in jobs. The city also exerted control on development in new ways. Most striking may have been the housing programs promoted by CEDO, in concert with the Burlington Community Land Trust, which created "permanently affordable" units and generated community support for city housing policies.

In the 1990s, Sanders' successor as mayor, Peter Clavelle, consolidated progressive initiatives. Major features that distinguished the city included city composting and recycling facilities, continued housing development, and maintained progressive control for all but two years during 1989- 2006. Bob Kiss served six more years, withdrew in 2012, but progressives remained strong, gaining the city council presidency in 2015.

Several books have appeared reporting on progressive government in Burlington. See W. J. Conroy, Challenging the Boundaries of Reform (1990); Steven Soifer, The Socialist Mayor (1991); Greg Guma, The People's Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution (1989); and John Davis, The Affordable City (1994). Cornell thesis treatments include Renee Jakobs, "Planning and Politics: A Case Study of Progressive City Administration in Burlington, Vermont, 1981-1983" (1984); Catherine Hill, "Bernie Sanders, The Working Classes’ Candidate" (1989;) Maile Deppe, "Reinventing Local Government: Creating a Culture of Concern, Participation, and Decision-making -- A Case Study of Burlington, Vermont" (2000); and Crystal Launder, "Expansion of the Public Realm in Burlington, VT 1981-2007" (2007).


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 4 of 4
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    Setback in Burlington
    Clavel, Pierre (Planners Network, 2014)
    Describes the challenges to progressives after the 2012 election of relatively market-friendly Democrat Miro Weinberger succeeds progressive mayors who had dominated city politics since Bernie Sanders' election in 1981.
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    Jobs and People: A Strategic Analysis of the Greater Burlington Economy
    Industrial Cooperative Association (City of Burlington, Vermont, 1984-12)
    After his upset election in 1981, Burlington Vermont's new mayor Bernie Sanders, having created a new Community and Economic Development Office, confronted a regional economy dominated by a branch plant, absentee owned manufacturing economy that showed signs of leaving the area. CEDO staff hired two consultants, Chris Mackin and Beth Siegel, to help them with an analysis and ultimately, a plan. They spent months: they met with the city staff, they interviewed dozens of business leaders and workers,, and did a survey of manufacturers. CEDO staff were intrigued with the idea of employee ownership to take up the slack as absentee owned plants departed, but foresaw significant business opposition. Mackin and Siegel recommended instead a local small business focus for city policy. This proved a central theme of city policy in the years ahead, so the plan had consequences. Siegel led the analysis through two additional planning efforts in 1989 and 1994, followed by a fourth iteration authored by Nancy Brooks and Richard Schramm in 2010 as the strategy bore fruit with numerous new start-ups including a few worker buyouts so the employee ownership strategy was beginning to get a foothold as well.
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    Five Year Summary Report 1983-1988
    Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO), City of Burlington, Vermont (City of Burlington, Vermont, 1988)
    The Five Year Summary Report recounts CEDO's accomplishments in Community Development, Waterfront Development, Housing and Economic Development -- its main departments when set up under director Peter Clavelle in 1983. Bernie Sanders, who had been elected mayor with a broad mandate in 1981, encountered a fragmented and resistant "commission" type structure in city hall, and created CEDO as a more unified structure under his office to accomplish a set of tasks -- selective incentives for business development and affordable housing, and a pressing interest in publicly accessible development of underutilized railroad property on the city's waterfront. This report lays it out in detail -- the foundation for more elaborate steps in later years.
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    Building the Progressive City: Third Sector Housing in Burlington
    Davis, John Emmeus (Temple University Press, 1990)
    In 1983 John Davis was a member of the technical assistance staff of the Massachusetts-based Institute for Community Economics (ICE) when Brenda Torpy and Michael Monte of Burlington VT’s Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) contracted with ICE to explore alternative means of keeping housing affordable for the city's low-income residents. Davis went to Burlington the following Spring to assist CEDO and neighborhood activists in laying the foundation for the Burlington Community Land Trust. In 1986, Davis succeeded Torpy as CEDO's Assistant Director for Housing, remaining in that job for ten years. With the vocal support of two Progressive mayors, Bernie Sanders and Peter Clavelle, CEDO managed to transform the city's housing policy, enacting a series of measures for protecting the poor, preserving affordable housing that already existed, and expanding the stock of affordable housing that would remain perpetually affordable. This is the story of how that happened.