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

  • 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.
  • 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 ...
  • 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. ...
  • 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 ...


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