Debate for Mayor highlights different perspectives, objectives

Church Street’s economy, Burlington’s housing crunch, and UVM’s future expansion dominated the discussion at Burlington’s Mayoral Debate held at the University’s Dudley H. Davis Center on Tuesday.Incumbent Mayor Bob Kiss (P), Andy Montroll (D), Dan Smith (I) and Kurt Wright (R) each offered different perspectives on Burlington’s current economic situation. James Simpson, a candidate from the Green Party, did not participate in the debate.”We’ve seen a lot of empty storefronts in the last six months and we’ve seen a lot happening to the economy nationally and locally in the last six months,” Smith said.”The flight of businesses out of our community is the flight of opportunity.”Despite similar expressions of concern for a potentially slowing economy from Montroll and Wright, Mayor Kiss remained unconvinced and optimistic.”The barometers to our economy suggest that Burlington is doing really well. We had 39 new businesses in the last two years, we have more jobs developed in Burlington than across the state and [have] higher wages,” said Kiss.”The doom and gloom that is being presented by the other Mayoral candidates isn’t deserved,” he said. “We are much stronger and more powerful than that, and our economic indicators are good.”Wright’s plans to increase development and tourism reflected his different opinion of Burlington’s current economic situation.”The untapped potential is increased economic development in our city and crafting a plan for our waterfront,” Wright said. “The status quo in Burlington, or even the status quo plus a little, is not enough.”Burlington housing opportunities and the delicate neighborhood balance between students and families was another issue addressed by the four candidates.”Housing continues to be one of our significant problems that we have here in Burlington. There really isn’t enough of it,” Montroll said. “I think we should be working with UVM to have more on-campus housing for students.”Discussions between UVM and Burlington on increased institutional zoning have been progressing, Kiss said.”In order to make progress in terms of meeting the housing needs of this city, it can’t just be an open ended formula that allows UVM to add students and fill apartments and houses with students who can afford to pay $600-700 for a bedroom at the expense of families or others who can’t compete at that level,” said Kiss. “(This discussion) is two mature organizations trying to plan the future in a realistic way.”Look for additional coverage of the Feb. 17 debate in next week’s Vermont Cynic. The election for Burlington’s Mayor takes place on Tues, Mar. 3, which is Vermont’s annual Town Meeting day.