As the Burlington City Council Ward 3 special election contest heats up, one issue that is dominating all others is policing — or the lack of it on city streets.
The three candidates for the spot are Republican Christopher-Aaron Felker, Democrat Owen Milne, executive director of the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center, and Progressive Joe Magee, a former campaign staffer for Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Of the three, Felker has taken the most supportive position on policing. He has proposed increasing staff levels for police officers so the Burlington Police Department can meet recommended levels for sufficient coverage. In a recent radio appearance, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said low staff levels are inhibiting the ability to provide full 24-7 coverage.
As of early July, the city had 75 officers, but just 67 were available.
Last week in a social media post, Felker expressed disappointment that private businesses have been forced to hire out for security due to the reduction in police officers.
— Christopher-Aaron Felker (@felkerforward3) July 23, 2021
Magee, in contrast with the Republican candidate, has not shown support for the police. He recently retweeted a comment that Kiah Morris, a former state representative, offered about “an end to qualified immunity for police.”
Hey, you! This is your intermittent reminder to demand an end to qualified immunity for police. Thanks!
— Kiah Morris (@MsKiahMorris) July 28, 2021
On April 23, Magee tweeted “abolish the police.”
abolish the police https://t.co/BKegx6cAdm
— Joe Magee (he/they) (@joemageebtv) April 23, 2021
Milne is proposing major reforms to both policing and mental health services.
“As mentioned in the Police Transformation Plan described on the website, I would advocate for a merged department that includes the Police and Fire Department to establish a Department of Public Health and Safety,” he states on his campaign web site.
“One of the divisions that would be created under this department would be the Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. This division would be tasked with measuring factors like homelessness, drug-related deaths, instances of mental health crises, and other factors that measure our collective wellbeing,” Milne’s policing statement reads.
Lawn signs from Felker’s campaign have been stolen and also torn up. Bradford Broyles, the campaign manager for the Felker for Ward 3 campaign, tweeted about an incident in which the perpetrator may have been identified.
This afternoon at 5:30pm #Ward3's Christopher Felker was walking his dogs a block away from his residence. He caught Julie Macuga, Prog Runner-Up to Joe Magee, with Christopher's lawn sign stuffed in her sizable tote bag. Sign was returned to Chris as requested. 1/2#vtpoli pic.twitter.com/0hSsk69Zjd
— Bradford Broyles (@BradfordBroyles) July 24, 2021
The Secretary of State’s Office weighed in on the incident, saying theft and vandalism are crimes.
Theft or destruction of personal property is a crime. We should all hold each other to a higher standard of civil discourse that is above stealing or destroying campaign materials.
We do not have any authority or jurisdiction over the moderation of social media forums.
— Vermont Secretary of State’s Office (@VermontSOS) July 27, 2021
Broyles also said Felker was blocked from a local social media forum. According to the Pew Research Center, 90 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Democrats believe political censorship is commonplace in social media.
Milne has condemned the theft of his opponent’s campaign signs.
Other campaign issues
Magee, a self-described socialist and abolitionist, has focused his campaign on expanding social programs and services, such as further public assistance for housing. He also supports the creation of a statewide rental property registry.
1) We need rent stabilization
2) We need stricter code enforcement
3) We need more housing units built for low and middle income folks.
4) We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. 3/3
— Joe Magee (he/they) (@joemageebtv) July 28, 2021
Milne also put forth a proposal on housing policy reform, including the creation of a Housing Trust Fund.
“This Fund, exists for the purpose of providing grants and loans for development of low-income housing within the City of Burlington. With so many of our social and economic issues relating directly or indirectly to housing security, we should continue to find new revenues to invest in this Fund,” he wrote.
On the issue of diversity, Felker shared in a post how his experiences in the Navy helped him shape his views.
The ethnic and cultural diversity of my fellow service members in the Navy demonstrated how we can all work together towards shared goals. These valuable life lessons would guide my service as City Councilor. #vtpoli #btv #Ward3 https://t.co/uOLqehDsaN
— Christopher-Aaron Felker (@felkerforward3) July 29, 2021