Winooski Voters Will Choose Between Veterans And Newbies

Aug 25, 2014

Four candidates walk into a farmer’s market…

It sounds like the beginning to a joke, but this being Vermont, that was the scene in Winooski Sunday.

With traffic zipping through the roundabout nearby, candidates spoke with market-goers as a band played.

The race for the city of Winooski’s (and a small part of Burlington’s) two House seats is putting the spotlight on the changing demographics of the city. Voters will have a choice between familiar faces and political newcomers. 

Four candidates are vying for Winooski’s two seats. With no Republicans running, three are Democratic on the ballot. Two will advance to the November election.

Incumbent Clem Bissonnette is a Winooski mainstay running for his fifth term in the House. He says he knows this community.

"I feel I know Winooski very well. I keep current. I follow the city council action, I stay in contact with the mayor, the deputy mayor. So I have a handle on what's going on." - Clem Bissonnette

“I feel I know Winooski very well,” said Bissonnette. “I keep current. I follow the city council action, I stay in contact with the mayor, the deputy mayor. So I have a handle on what’s going on.”

Still, Bissonnette remarked that he didn’t recognize many people at the farmer’s market.

As Seven Days reported, that may be due to Winooski’s changing demographics. A popular home for new Americans coming to Vermont through the refugee resettlement program, the city is now one of the most diverse in Vermont.

At the same time, trendy bars and restaurants are now commonplace on Winooski’s roundabout. Those businesses cater to the city’s growing young professional crowd.

Diana Gonzalez says she considers herself among them. She’s lived in Winooski for three years, and is running as both a Democrat and a Progressive in this race.

She says she thinks she has more access to Winooski's diverse population than her opponents. She sees incumbent Bissonnette, and Ken Atkins, also on the Democratic ballot, as holding similar views.

"With two people who have a very similar perspective, and two seats, it seems like one of the seats should be a different perspective." - Diana Gonzalez

“With two people who have a very similar perspective, and two seats, it seems like one of the seats should be a different perspective,” said Gonzalez.

Progressive candidate Robert Millar, a six year resident of Winooski,  is also a newer voice. He’ll face the two winners of tomorrow’s Democratic primary in November.

He says he’s made an effort to reach out to the city’s refugee population.

“The cynical political logic is that many of them are not citizens yet. They don’t vote,” said Millar. “My response is they are still residents of my district and they need to be represented.”

Ken Atkins, who previously served as a state representative for 14 years, says he has strong ties to the community, particularly its schools. Atkins cited education and taxes as his reasons for running again after a two year absence. He says he and Bissonnette have 140 years experience between them, and would ideally win both of Winooski's seats.

"Energy is great, and youth is great, but commitment and dedication are really what’s important to this community," said Atkins.

Atkins, like Bissonnette, is a more moderate Democrat who also points to his long tenure as a legislator.

On Tuesday, voters in the Democratic primary will decide whether they want something new.

Note: This post was updated on Monday, August 25 at 6:00 p.m to add comments from candidate Ken Atkins.