With Rutland set to get a new leader Wednesday, outgoing mayor Christopher Louras is reflecting on his loss, his legacy and the direction the city is taking.
As he cleaned out his office, Louras said he was coming to grips with a loss he described in his typically blunt fashion: “I got smoked.”
“I got smoked in this election,” repeated Louras, shaking his head. “I thought it was going to be close. I was not going to be surprised if I lost, but I was surprised by the margin.”
Louras got 1,420 votes compared to 2,196 for winner David Allaire. Mike Coppinger got 559 votes while Kam Johnston won 54.
Rutland has 9,929 registered voters, and turnout was 43 percent.
Louras, who has led the city since 2007, is Rutland’s second longest-serving mayor after Jeff Wennberg, who held the job for 12 years.
As to Louras’ legacy, the outgoing mayor says that’s for others to figure out.
But he says he’s proud of his efforts to repair the city’s aging infrastructure and revitalize Rutland’s downtown.
He says steps the community and local police have taken to address the opiate epidemic and reduce crime have gained national attention, and he’s proud of that too.
Nonetheless, he says this election was about refugee resettlement, and his efforts to bring in 100 Syrians fleeing the civil war in their homeland. Louras says he stands by his decision.
“If refugee resettlement cost me my job, so be it. I’m proud of that,” said Louras nodding. “If that’s what cost me my job, bringing those nine people here, bringing those five children here, good. That’s fine.”
Rutland is a microcosm of the debate over immigration that’s going on nationwide, he says, and fear seems to be winning — fear he believes President Donald Trump has nurtured.
“Donald J.’s small-minded efforts to shut the doors of this country on those who are fleeing for the lives is going to manifest itself in Rutland by having those first two families be the last two families," Louras says. "I don’t hold out a great deal of hope.”
Louras worries actions by President Trump, and results from last week’s vote, will curb the community activism that’s sprung up around resettlement.
“The progress, the momentum, the optimism in this community has been dealt a serious blow," Louras says. "And it’s the type of blow that doesn’t recover quickly ... It took us, frankly, 20 years to get to where we are now, and I think we’re going to see a slide back.”
But Tom Donahue, a former president of the Rutland City Board of Aldermen and longtime political observer, disagrees.
He says there were other issues in the race besides refugees that cost Louras his job — including a disagreement over restructuring the city fire department and newly empty storefronts downtown.
Donahue says Louras did a tremendous job leading the city through multiple crises, including the recession, a severe wind storm — known locally as the Noricane — and Tropical Storm Irene.
And he commends the outgoing mayor for efforts that occurred under his watch, such as Project VISION, Rutland Welcomes and the creative economy, all grassroots efforts that he says have moved Rutland forward.
But Donahue disputes Louras’ claim that that community activism will fade under a new mayor.
“To the contrary, I think Rutland has a huge opportunity to move forward. And I say that for two respects,” says Donahue. “One is, I had just attended the project VISION meeting yesterday, and the same folks were in the room, and I didn’t feel any difference in the room in the level of commitment and enthusiasm.”
And secondly, Donahue says if President Trump delivers on his promise to invest heavily in transportation infrastructure and job development, incoming Mayor David Allaire and the city of Rutland stand to benefit in a big way.