Back about a year and a half ago, I had coffee with a well-placed and well-respected Burlington Progressive, a very nice guy with a direct personal connection to the Mayor. My argument: Bob Kiss not only hasn’t cut his political losses on Burlington Telecom, he’s chosen an almost confrontational style in an attempt to make a retrospective virtue out of his handling of the issue. In short, no one has been punished for what seem like clear improprieties, if not outright illegalities; no one has apologized; and Kiss himself instead seems bent on retaining everyone involved, and singing their collective praises at every turn.
All of this, I argued, would pull Kiss inevitably down the rat hole, and he in turn would pull Burlington Progressives and everything they hold dear down the rat hole with him.
That was before voters rejected Instant Run-Off Voting.
But once IRV had been abruptly taken back by Burlingtonians, on Town Meeting Day a year ago, I thought surely Kiss had gotten the message now. Surely he’d change course, let voters know he’d gotten the message, even if it had cost his party the crown jewel in their legislative agenda.
But no. In fact, Kiss attributed the election results to “nay-sayers” in the city’s New North End, my end of town. And people took it amiss.
All of this taken together gave the impression that Mayor Bob Kiss was one of the most tone-deaf politicians in the history of Burlington, maybe the state at large; that while generally praised as a gentle and kind person, he was unexpectedly rigid, stubbornly ideological, to the very clear detriment of his own stated municipal agenda.
Still, as this past Town Meeting Day approached, I thought again that certainly Kiss and his advisors would change something, throw voters some small bone, in an attempt to pass what would be a difficult tax increase in any year; in an attempt to save his CFO’s vote on the Finance Committee; to save Burlington Electric’s ability to bond its way out of its own arguably BT-related troubles.
But again, no. Kiss went out to the New North End and held a combative Town Hall meeting in the run-up to the election, in which he gave no quarter on BT, and didn’t deny that the ballot initiative calling for a 50% majority would be one way to re-establish IRV. As strategy, it was madness, but Kiss described it as a good discussion, and clearly seemed to think he’d helped his cause.
So a couple of weeks back, when I had a few minutes alone with Kiss at an event at the Statehouse, I figured I should say what was on my mind, as directly as I could. And so I made the rat hole argument, as quickly and politely as I was able: if no one is held accountable, and no one apologizes, voters will continue to demand those things at the ballot-box, and they won’t be overly discriminating in picking their targets. It will all go down the rat hole.
Bob Kiss, left, and Jonathan Leopold, right
Kiss listened to me, eyes narrowed, and then he answered me — with precisely the same boilerplate excuses that have defined his response from the earliest days. It couldn’t have been any clearer that his plan was to continue for the next year in exactly the same mode, hoping against hope for a financial white knight to refinance BT’s debt, denying any wrong-doing, poor judgment, or mismanagement.
By now you’ve seen last night’s Town Meeting Day results. They couldn’t be any clearer: everything Kiss touched turned to dross. His initiatives were not simply rejected but rejected by what amounted to super-majorities. His budget fix won in only one of the city’s wards, arguably the most left-leaning, and that only by 7 votes.
His response to the Free Press? Wishing the turn-out had been higher. Translation for the Kiss-challenged: most of the city supported my policies but failed to show at the ballot box, leaving nay-sayers to rule the day.
I’ve written other columns about this Mayor, and I’ve always offered him advice — maybe not advice he could or would accept, but advice that certainly couldn’t have made his situation any worse.
But the time for advice is over. What the voters delivered last night was the functional equivalent of impeachment: they made it abundantly clear, in large numbers, that they have finally turned their backs on a Mayor who has consistently and openly disrespected them. Where he leads, they will not follow; in fact, they will consider the opposite direction most promising, by default.
It’s a genuine shame that it had to come to this. But come to this it now undeniably and quantifiably has.