City Councilor Joan Shannon (D-South District) has hired former Burlington GOP Chair Kolby LaMarche as her campaign manager for her re-election campaign.
LaMarche was elected Burlington GOP chair in 2019 at age 17, less than three months before the city’s only elected Republican, Kurt Wright, announced he would not seek re-election for city council. This was not the first time LaMarche made headlines. In 2017, he used a Hindu swastika as his email avatar on his Burlington High School email account. LaMarche defended his actions and claimed that he was a victim of liberal “bigotry and violence” as a Donald Trump supporter at BHS.
The next year, LaMarche worked as director of field and digital operations for Republican Scott Milne’s failed campaign for lieutenant governor. In the months after the election, a series of editorials LaMarche penned in VTDigger chronicled his change in political direction. In December 2020, he asked that local Trump-supporting Republicans change to be more like Phil Scott. By February 2021, he announced his resignation from the party entirely in the wake of the January 6 U.S. Capitol riot, calling Vermont GOP leadership far right extremists while still lauding their platform as “a host of noble, achievable policy goals.”
LaMarche has since made tweets denouncing transphobia within the Burlington GOP under the leadership of bigot Christopher-Aaron Felker and has appeared via his social media to have had a noted change in perspective, tweeting content from Democratic Party-aligned candidates locally. In two subsequent editorials defending the Burlington Police, he described himself as a progressive Democrat, albeit one who has already found his new political identity lacking, writing, “I am concerned about the state of progressive politics.”
LaMarche did not respond to requests for comment.
Since turning his back on the Republican Party, LaMarche has been quickly incorporated into the Burlington Democratic Party apparatus. He served as the campaign manager for Aleczander Stith’s unsuccessful campaign against City Councilor Ali Dieng in March 2022, and consulted for Ted Kenney’s campaign against Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George that summer.
Most recently, Shannon, who publicly congratulated LaMarche for his GOP departure, hired him to run her re-election campaign. This isn’t the first time Shannon’s city council race has involved a personality with a checkered online past.
In her 2019 campaign, Shannon claimed that sexist and misogynist tweets that 22-year-old Progressive candidate Mohamed Jafar had posted as a teen were grounds for him to drop out of the race. Jafar publicly apologized for and disavowed the past tweets shortly after they were publicized. Shannon told Seven Days that the tweets were “completely abhorrent and disqualifying to serve as a city councilor,” and attacked the Progressive Party for not holding their candidates accountable for past actions.
This turn doesn’t surprise Charity Lenfest, a resident of Burlington’s South End and one of Shannon’s constituents. “On the one hand, I know better than anyone that people can change their views,” Lenfest said, noting she was a Republican through the 1990s and 2000s and twice ran against Shannon, but now identifies as “somewhere left of Bernie Sanders.”
“On the other hand, Joan Shannon isn’t exactly an anti-racist.” Lenfest said Shannon unseated Burlington’s first Black city councilor, Richard Kemp, 20 years ago, and that her recent fear campaign against police reform efforts and her record on issues of race are questionable.
Lenfest pointed to Shannon’s criticism of Jafar, a Black man, whose tweets which were much older than LaMarche’s disassociation from the GOP at the time of his campaign, as an “interesting double standard.”
Shannon did not respond to requests for comment.
Matt Moore is a writer from Vermont. He is on the editorial collective of The Rake Vermont.