In Rutland, 17 candidates are competing for six seats on the city’s board of aldermen. That’s not a record, according to the city clerk’s office, but it’s close.
Debate over refugee resettlement, President Trump and how best to grow the city’s tax base have emerged as key issues.
Dr. Timothy Cook and Charles Larose, Jr., have been outspoken critics of resettlement, and Mayor Chrisopher Louras' handling of the issue. Both are also candidates for the first time — in part, they say, to make city officials more accountable. They also say they want to grapple with what they say are big problems: drugs, job losses and homelessness.
Larose, a 40-year-old who’s worked for 12 years at OMYA, a calcium carbonate plant in nearby Florence, believes local voters need more of a say in how things are done.
“I thought being just a normal working class person, that I could give ‘em that voice back,” he says.
Cook, who’s 57, says he was encouraged to run by many in the city. He believes refugee resettlement is just another entitlement program and the latest reason to be unhappy with the general direction that the city and the state have been going in.
Rebecca Mattis and John Atwood are also first-time candidates for the board of aldermen. They support refugee resettlement, and both say they want to harness the energy that emerged with groups such as Rutland Welcomes to grow the grand list.
Mattis, a 46-year-old who works at a local bookstore, says she decided to run after hearing female state lawmakers encourage political activism at the Women’s March in Montpelier.
Atwood, a 34-year-old computer programmer, says anger over the Trump Administration pushed him to run.
“Rather than kind of stew in frustration, it really hit home that we need to take responsibility for our communities and stand up and volunteer to serve if we want to have an outcome that we’re happy with,” says Atwood.
There are 11 seats on Rutland’s Board of Aldermen, with members typically serving two-year terms. Elections are staggered, and this year, six seats are contested.
Aldermen Vanessa Robertson and Ed Larson are not seeking reelection. But incumbents Tom Depoy, Chris Ettori, George Gides, Jr. and Melinda Humphrey are running for another term.
The other challengers include: Daniel Austin, Craig Brozefsky, Gail Johnson, Kam Johnston, John Mattison, Lisa Ryan, Robert Schlachter, Matt Whitcomb and Dan White.
Tom Donahue, who served six years on the board of aldermen, including two as president in the late 1980s, says the amount of grassroots activism in Rutland has grown tremendously in recent years. He points to volunteer efforts with the Creative Economy and Project Vision, a community effort to fight drugs and crime.
He says it’s exciting to see that energy include candidates for the board of aldermen.
“The fact that we have 17 [candidates] really speaks quite loudly of a very inspired community right now,” says Donahue. “And I hope that that inspires others around Vermont to run for select board and school boards and so forth, because that citizen involvement is what what makes Vermont so special, And right now, I think the Rutland region is leading on that.”
Voters will weigh in on the race on Town Meeting Day, March 7.