Memento Miro

Welcome to our four-part series on the tenure of Miro Weinberger. Part 1 covers his election and first term.

2011 Burlington individual median income: $19,266/yr
2023 Burlington individual median income, inflation-adjusted to 2011 dollars: $15,632/yr

2011 Burlington municipal tax rate: .6404
2023 Burlington municipal tax rate: .7523

In September 2009, at the outset of his second term as mayor, Progressive Bob Kiss’s administration disclosed it misappropriated $17 million to keep municipally-owned Burlington Telecom afloat. The ensuing financial, legal, and political fallout overshadows the rest of his term. Two years later, Miro Weinberger, a private developer and commissioner of the Burlington International Airport, announced his mayoral candidacy as a Democrat. A month later, Weinberger won the Democratic nomination over frontrunner Tim Ashe, a state senator and protege of Bernie Sanders; a large part of Weinberger’s success comes from tarring Ashe as too close to the embattled and unpopular Kiss administration. Later that month, Kiss announced he would not seek re-election, leaving Weinberger facing longtime Republican bloviator Kurt Wright and poorly-funded Independent Wanda Hines as his only competition for the mayor’s seat. 

Here are some things Weinberger said during his first mayoral race:

“People want to live in Burlington’s authentic downtown and traditional neighborhoods. This is a positive trend that bodes well for the city’s future.”


“A vision of Burlington that’s more affordable, with communities that are safer for families to live in. A vision of Burlington that has good jobs and new businesses on Pine Street and downtown and our other business corridors throughout the city… …a vision of Burlington that’s rid of poverty and is more diverse and is better educated each and every year.”


“It is critical that we succeed as a City at putting our fiscal house in order and restore trust to our government. Without fiscal responsibility, little progress will be made on other important priorities.”


“I will lead by restoring a culture of accountability to the mayor’s office. When I am mayor the buck will stop with me, not with my appointees.”


Upon election, Miro’s acceptance speech contained this chestnut:

“This election will be about selecting the candidate most capable of moving the City forward. This should be an election about Burlington being its best… It’s what will keep our families here and attract small businesses. It’s what provides us the jobs, tourism, entertainment events and the economic prosperity we need to thrive.”


One of Weinberger’s favorite touchstones during his first mayoral campaign was the issuance of Waterfront TIF (“Tax-Increment Financing”) bonds by the city, which, at the time, had been unanimously rejected by Burlington City Council. During his first State of The City Address, Weinberger stressed the importance of fiscal responsibility and environmentally-minded infrastructure projects to his administration, in forms propped up by TIF. A key phrase contained therein: “Tax-Increment Financing which will not impact property tax rates.” 

A working definition for Tax-Increment Financing: “TIF calls for local taxing bodies to make a joint investment in the development or redevelopment of an area, with the intent that any short-term gains be reinvested and leveraged so that all taxing bodies will receive larger financial gains in the future.” Remember this. 

First Term, 2012-2015: Back to Business

GDP per Capita in Burlington, VT 2012: $54, 852
GDP per Capita in Burlington, VT 2015: $54,849
Change in GDP per Capita: -0.005%
Total inflation rate from 2012 to 2015: +4.35%

From the beginning, Weinberger’s first term made a strong effort to begin packaging the public trust up for private ownership in the name of settling the Burlington Telecom scandal. Step one: settling with Citibank for $10.5 million after the prior administration defaulted on payments to the banking conglomerate. The settlement was reached after a 2014 agreement with a private company, Blue Water Holdings, wherein the Telecom would be sold to Blue Water and leased back to the city; the sale proceeds would go towards the Citibank settlement. The agreement stipulated that the lease terms would hold for five years, after which, if Burlington Telecom was not sold to a separate private entity, Blue Water would retain ownership. While this was happening, the administration municipally financed founding “BTV Ignite,” a nonprofit giving access to the city-wide fiber optic infrastructure laid by Burlington Telecom to various established and nascent private enterprises claiming to be in the technology sector. 

The first sign that the new mayor would make good on differentiating himself as much as possible from his immediate predecessor was his decision to decommit from the Kiss administration’s plans for repurposing the Burlington waterfront’s Moran Plant,  which had sat derelict by Lake Champlain for nearly three decades. Before Weinberger’s election, it had been earmarked for infrastructure improvements anticipating future tax revenues so that it could be converted into an indoor ice climbing wall, children’s museum, and sailing center; upon his election, Weinberger immediately halted the redevelopment plan, notifying none of its key players, choosing instead to enigmatically reply to inquiries that “the city hopes to solicit private bids from potential future users of the building,” by a deadline which never yielded public results. 

A different theme, established not so much by the mayor’s preference, was established early on as well: in November of 2013, two Burlington police officers confronted 49-year-old Wayne Brunette outside of his mother’s home; the officers were responding to a call by Brunette’s mother stating that he was destroying property and acting irrationally. A scant two minutes after arriving, the police had shot Brunette to death after he began running at them with a shovel. In response to this shooting, then-Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling (in the next term, named head of Weinberger’s “BTV Ignite” program) vowed to institute more mental-health-related “training” and include mental health professionals on mental health-related police dispatches when deemed applicable. Then-State’s Attorney TJ Donovan cleared both officers of any wrongdoing in the shooting, only for Brunette’s widow to file a suit against the city, which would later be settled for $270,000 (a few years later, Weinberger would use city resources to aid Donovan’s run at the state Attorney General’s office, bringing the mayor’s office under heavy criticism). Upon becoming Attorney General, Donovan’s notable achievements were seriously delaying proceedings in the largest fraud case the state of Vermont had ever seen and stepping down from the job unexpectedly to become in-house counsel for Roblox, an online gaming company that was then immediately sued for enticing children into accruing gambling debt on their parents’ credit cards. 

Meanwhile, the Moran Plant saw a public ballot initiative in the spring of 2014 requesting voters’ approval of Weinberger’s vision for the long-neglected former power plant. The public and mayor’s mandates aligned, the plan was approved, and the wheels began turning on a $26 million redevelopment of the plant into a sizable performance arts center, commercial real estate spaces, and a community garden. The initiative was spearheaded by two UVM undergraduates who admitted they were “unqualified” but was backed and supported by various area fundraisers, businesspeople, and real estate investors. The group was dubbed the New Moran Initiative. Although it faced some serious practical questions regarding its financing, its main members were fairly convinced they could begin construction by 2016 – they had no choice, as the mayor’s office included a provision on the ballot initiative that, should the New Moran Initiative’s private developers fail to meet a series of benchmarks over the next two years, the city would demolish the plant. 

In the summer of 2014, Burlington’s largest taxi fleet, Benway’s, collapsed and conducted a fire sale. Shortly thereafter, an intriguing new national tech startup called Uber began operating in Burlington, to the protestation of remaining small taxi companies and independent livery services. The existing services’ chief complaint: taking advantage of a lack of employment regulation, Uber would undercut and destabilize their business model, destroying their ability to operate in the city and forcing them out of business. The city’s response was a closed-doors nighttime legislative session, which granted Uber legal protection within Burlington. Within months, an Uber driver was facing charges of sexually assaulting an intoxicated passenger.

In the autumn of 2014, Weinberger spearheaded a high-profile press conference with developer named Don Sinex. Sinex’s group had recently purchased a parcel of land that enclosed the Burlington Town Center, the mall along downtown Burlington’s Church Street. The press conference was a triumphal affair revealing plans for a massive development project on the land which promised to bring untold prosperity to Burlington. Details on its financing and how it might elude zoning provisions, which made its construction all but impossible, were scant, but the press conference seemed to be a bellwether of the riches-and-glory optimism so prevalent in the new mayor’s administration.

The new mayor continued to attempt to brand the city as a tech-business hub, in 2015 creating the vaguely-defined “Department of Innovation,” an independent sinecure for its “Chief Innovation Officer,” Beth Anderson, a former president of eCommerce at Goldman Sachs whose main creditable achievements in the administration would be aiding the city’s budgeting process through drafting new debt and pension policies and introducing “BTVStat,” an initiative to better track and share data between city departments. There is very little documentation of her role in either. Still, as anybody who has worked at an office job can attest, the introduction of an advisory executive whose day-to-day role is nebulously defined and whose focus is restructuring pensions and enforcing data tracking is a mixed bag at best. Anderson would be succeeded by Weinberger’s Chief of Staff, Brian Lowe, a Harvard Kennedy School-educated US Navy Reserve Officer who, prior to working for the City of Burlington, specialized in intelligence work regarding financialized counterinsurgency and sanctions programs in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

At the beginning of 2015, campaigning for a second term, Weinberger began teasing a “major early education initiative,” finally unveiling in February a pilot program promising to make early education available to more children through home visits to pregnant women and new parents as well as early education scholarships for families at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty line. Two years later, the program began distributing grants; four years later, the first scholarships were awarded. Eight years after Weinberger’s announcement, 147 scholarships have been awarded, and $1.5 million of state funding has been “pulled into the community” by what is now called the Early Learning Initiative, as per its website. An asterisk next to that figure explains that “our scholarship program design leverages state funding for the local childcare market”; at this time, Burlington has no publicly-provided early childcare during a period when early childcare has become a desperately scarce service statewide.

Part 2 of the series, “Let’s Dig a Hole,” covering Weinberger’s second term, will be released Monday, March 25.

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