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Two Politicians Who Broke Mold in Vermont

Charles Hillinger's America

April 28, 1985|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

In 1981, Sanders won with 43% of the votes. He was reelected in 1983 with 53% of the votes and again last month with 55%.

"Before I was elected there were 10 Democrats and three Republicans on the Board of Aldermen. I am part of a progressive coalition that achieved its greatest success in last month's election," Sanders noted. "There are now six progressives on the board plus five Republicans and two Democrats.

"The results of the elections proved my popularity increases each time, and the popularity of the progressive coalition is growing as well. It is obvious the people of Burlington are pleased with the record of their radical Socialist mayor."

Critics say Sanders, "surprisingly," has been a fiscally responsible mayor. Substantial savings have been made by Sanders' decisions to change the city's phone system and centralize buying procedures.

His administration discovered an unexpected $1.9-million surplus in the city's budget. Insurance and fuel contracts were opened to competitive bidding for the first time in years. And the first audit of the city's $11-million pension fund in 30 years took place.

"This is an honest administration. I make common-sense decisions beneficial to the city and to all the people of Burlington," Sanders said.

He is opposed to property taxes. He also is trying to develop electrical rate structures in Burlington that would reduce residential costs by 28% and substantially increase the rate charged the business community. He has developed a tightly supervised program inspecting houses and apartments and demanding landlords make necessary improvements.

Sanders balked at development of luxury condos on the shoreline of Lake Champlain and is trying to achieve a $100-million waterfront development "for all the people" that would include low-cost housing, museums, bicycle paths, parks and an arts-and-crafts center.

In the city's annual report, the mayor proudly noted: "Burlington is moving forward vigorously and is receiving national recognition as one of the most progressive, exciting and innovative communities in the United States. We were one of eight cities last year to receive an award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors for being one of the most liveable cities in the country. Burlington was the smallest city to receive the recognition and was especially praised by the Mayors Conference for its commitment to the arts and to youth."

Many of his more radical proposals continue to be turned down by the Board of Aldermen as the progressive coalition is still outnumbered 7 to 6.

Six months ago Sanders completed arrangements for Puerto Cabezas, an Atlantic coast Nicaraguan town of 10,000 people, to be Burlington's sister city.

"We are developing pen-pal relations between the children of both cities, bringing our cultures together so we understand each other. Several residents of Burlington have visited Puerto Cabezas, and we are looking forward to visits from citizens of that Nicaraguan town," said the mayor, adding:

"A handful of people in this country are making decisions, whipping up Cold War hysteria, making us hate the Russians. We're spending billions on military. Why can't we take some of that money to pay for thousands of U.S. children to go to the Soviet Union.

"And, why can't the Soviets take money they're spending on arms and use it to send thousands of Russian children to America. We've got to start breaking down the walls of nationalism. We've got to get people to know one another."

Burlington, home of the University of Vermont, is more like a small town than a city. The university's 102-year-old student newspaper, The Cynic, in an April 1 cover, showed Sanders riding from the hatch of a tank down Burlington's main street waving to onlookers.

He espouses traditional socialist goals--public ownership of oil companies, factories, utilities, banks, etc. Sanders said: "It is no secret one-third of the U.S. senators are millionaires. No secret Congress is manipulated every day by banks and large corporations. The voices of the average citizens are not being heard."

His job as mayor is full-time and pays $42,000 a year, more money than he ever made. He is divorced and has a 15-year-old son.

Many articles have been written in Socialist nations about the mayor of Burlington. Politicians from France, England, Mexico, Scandanavian countries, visitors from the Soviet Union and China, and representatives from the Irish Republican Army have stopped by Sanders' office during the past four years.

"The radical change in America that must come has to begin on a local level and it is happening now in Burlington," Sanders said. "Then it will spread to state and national levels. The Vermont Legislature and Madeleine Kunin are out of touch with the people.

"Of all the 50 states, I believe Vermont more than any other has a good chance of electing America's first Socialist governor. Now that I have proven that I am a good mayor, perhaps the time will be ripe in November, 1986, or November, 1988, for me to run for the highest office in the state."

An editorial in the Rutland Herald, headlined "Gov. Sanders," commented on a report that Mayor Sanders was considering an opinion poll to learn whether to make a bid for Vermont governor. "Think of the acclaim that would come to this state if the voters elected a Socialist governor," read the editorial. "Burlington voters were bored with Democratic politics-as-usual. They flocked to support a fresh face and colorful personality."

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