Mayor Miro Weinberger Declares that the State of the City Is One of Great Hope

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 5, 2021
Contact: Olivia LaVecchia
(802) 734-0617

Mayor Miro Weinberger Declares that the State of the City Is One of Great Hope

In annual State of the City address, Mayor Weinberger asks all Burlington residents to imagine a future where we have eliminated racial disparities and where everyone in the Burlington community feels true belonging

Burlington, VT – Tonight, Mayor Miro Weinberger virtually delivered the annual State of the City address, during which he reported that the State of the City is one of great hope. Mayor Weinberger outlined how over the past year, Burlingtonians have worked together to contain the virus as well as any City in America, and how, with the end of the pandemic in sight, Burlington is ready to take on the opportunities ahead and emerge from this time of historic challenge as a healthier, greener, more equitable, and more racially just community. Mayor Weinberger then dedicated the majority of his remarks to the urgent need to eradicate systemic racism from all aspects of life in Burlington and do our part to secure, at long last, racial justice for all Americans who are Black, Indigenous, or a person of color.

“We must acknowledge that racial justice is our most pressing emergency and our hardest challenge,” said Mayor Weinberger at the beginning of the speech. “We simply cannot continue this way. We must make Burlington into a place where the children of color who make up 39 percent of the Burlington School District’s population can feel the same joy, experience the same safety, and access the same opportunities that white children are able to.”

Highlights of the speech included:

  • Speaking directly to fellow white people: “I know that explicitly targeting government effort and resources toward BIPOC Vermonters causes discomfort for some. Much of this discomfort comes from a belief that the government should not bias any class or grouping of residents over others. However, this assessment ignores our history. For centuries, the policies and practices in this country explicitly discriminated on the basis of race in many aspects of our society. These policies created vast and enduring harm, and remained in place through much of the 20th Century. We are going to need to use strategies that are also race-based to address that harm. When we do that all Burlingtonians, not just Black and brown residents, will benefit.”
  • Committing that the City will place racial justice and racial equity at the center of work going forward: “I know that words are not enough, and so as I speak tonight, I also will detail how I intend to follow up these words with actions in the months and years ahead – including, and especially, by elevating and supporting the work of many partners, organizations, and BIPOC leaders.”
  • Making permanent the successful innovations of this past year: “All of this work, and more, is a major undertaking that will need to be properly resourced to succeed. And so, as another action for us to take going forward, as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, I will be bringing to the City Council a proposal to substantially increase the size of the REIB Department.”
  • Pursuing three major initiatives to promote a greater sense of belonging in Burlington: Sponsoring the City’s first annual Juneteenth Celebration as a result of the REIB Department’s initiative and leadership, developing an actionable plan to eliminate the disparity in homeownership among Black Burlingtonians, and continuing to grapple with public safety transformation.
  • Closing with a personal story: “My daughters will always enjoy certain privileges that many do not. At the same time, I fear that they will encounter discrimination that Stacy and I don’t, and I know that there is only so much I can do to protect them from a racist world. And so, I have resolved that I must do more to change that world, and to make sure that Ada, Li Lin, and all other children of color in Burlington know that they fully belong here.”

Mayor Weinberger closed the address by noting that this work will be challenging and long – but worthwhile.

“Tonight, I commit and recommit to this work, and I ask all of you to join me,” said Mayor Weinberger. “As I said at the beginning of this address, the State of the City is one of great hope. We have hard challenges ahead. But this is also a moment of promise and opportunity to rebuild a better City in the years just ahead than the one that was hit hard by Covid a year ago. Together, we can realize that potential for the great City of Burlington.”

Please see the complete 2021 State of the City address below.

Good evening to the Burlington community.

I am honored to be here tonight to deliver the annual State of the City address, a duty given to the Mayor by the Burlington City Charter.

Tonight, I congratulate our three newly re-elected City Councilors, Joan Shannon, Jack Hanson, and Perri Freeman, and I welcome Mark Barlow to the City Council. Thank you all for your service, and I look forward to working with each of you in the years to come.

To the entire City Council, I’m looking forward to the day, not too far away, when we can again be back in the same room together. I’ve greatly appreciated the one-on-one masked walks and phone calls that I’ve had with most of you since Town Meeting Day, and I am excited about the many areas of agreement and common ground between us.

I am committed to doing all I can to ensure that our work together forges compromise and new solutions for all of Burlington, especially in the areas where members of our community have differing views.

I expect that Councilor Max Tracy will be re-elected tonight as City Council President, and I welcome that. I have valued working with Max, and have appreciated our shared commitment to putting the interests of Burlington first throughout the pandemic and the pressures of a competitive campaign. I am excited about what we will do together in the better times ahead.

One of the losses of not being together in City Hall tonight is that I can’t ask for a round of applause for the City’s incredible, 18-person team of Department Heads. I’d like to ask all Department Heads to briefly turn on your cameras and join me here on the Zoom. I feel so lucky every day to get to work with such a talented, dedicated, and caring group of leaders. This past year has placed new demands on each of you and your teams, and you have met those demands with creativity and commitment. Thank you for everything that you do for the people of Burlington.

I want to particularly recognize and thank Eileen Blackwood, who has served as the City Attorney for the past nine years and will be departing the City in June. The position of City Attorney is a critical and demanding one, and throughout her service Eileen has approached the role with great skill, nuance, and relentless hard work. Eileen, you have made Burlington a better city. Thank you for your work and for swearing me in tonight.

To the entire City team, what a year. Even in normal times, the City team works very hard, and often behind the scenes, to provide a huge range of essential and enriching services to the people of Burlington. That has been even more true this past year, as the pandemic required us to change the way that we work and take on new and critical challenges. Through it all, it has been my great honor to work alongside you.

I can’t give a State of the City address without thanking my Mom and Dad, who are logging in from their home in Hartland, Vermont, for their love and support.  And to my daughters Li Lin and Ada, and partner Stacy, I love you and am so grateful for you.

When I delivered this annual address last year, we were in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, and I declared that the State of the City was a state of emergency.

In the year since, this pandemic has reshaped our daily lives. It has caused death, hospitalization, and severe illness, it has isolated us, and it has badly and unevenly impacted many Burlington families. Across the nation, this pandemic has claimed more than 550,000 lives. I want to pause here to take a moment of silence to remember those who we have lost.

Even as we recognize that great loss and pain, today, one year later, we are in a dramatically different place. Over the past year, we have worked together to contain the virus as well as any City in America and found new ways to come to each other’s aid. And now, though the pandemic is not yet over and it is critical that we continue the strategies of caution through more challenging, high-risk weeks, the end of the pandemic is in sight.

As the threat of the virus recedes, our task will be to redouble our efforts to rebuild from this year of economic and social disruption and respond to the multiple other, simultaneous emergencies that we face.

That work ahead is vast and daunting. However, we embark upon it with a new understanding of the power of local action, innovation, and collaboration to address our greatest challenges, and more resources from the federal government than we have seen in decades.

City government already has begun to plan for the key pillars of our work ahead: ensuring that Burlingtonians get help recovering from the historic recession of this pandemic; addressing the climate emergency at the local level; making more progress on our housing crisis; and continuing our work to rebuild and strengthen our critical public infrastructure. In each area, we also will need to work to eradicate racial disparities and make Burlington a place where everyone in our community feels true belonging.

For all these reasons, and more, tonight, the State of the City is one of great hope. Together, we are ready to take on the opportunities ahead and emerge from this time of historic challenge as a healthier, greener, more equitable, and more racially just community. This spring, I will work with the City Council to chart a course for the next three years in each of those areas.

Tonight, though, I will focus my remarks on the crisis that runs through all of them: the urgency to eradicate systemic racism from all aspects of life in Burlington and do our part to secure, at long last, racial justice for all Americans who are Black, Indigenous, or a person of color.

We must acknowledge that racial justice is our most pressing emergency and our hardest challenge, and it is one that we have failed to get right over a period of time that stretches from before our country’s founding into the present day.

We can see the depths of this failure across every part of our society.

We see it in the human toll of the coronavirus pandemic, where here in Vermont, residents who are BIPOC have been infected with Covid-19 at a rate two times higher than white, non-Hispanic Vermonters.

We know that disparities like this one are a result of other disparities like inequitable access to safe work environments, health care, housing, and economic security.

We simply cannot continue this way. In the Burlington School District, in 2019, 16 percent of students were Black, 12 percent were Asian, 8 percent were multi-racial, and 3 percent were Hispanic or Latino. That is 39 percent overall.

These children are the future of our community – and we have to make Burlington into a place where they can feel the same joy, experience the same safety, and access the same opportunities that white children are able to.

We also must recognize the national events going on around us that shape our local context.

We are meeting as Derek Chauvin is on trial for the murder of George Floyd, and as we are approaching the one-year anniversary of Mr. Floyd’s killing. In that anniversary is a reminder of how much is at stake in this work, and of the pain and demand for change that was channeled in protests around the world and here in Burlington.

We have also seen, in recent weeks and months, a terrible spike in violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, which is only the latest in a long history of shameful anti-Asian policy and practice in this country that must end.

Tonight, I want to speak directly to white people like myself.

I know that explicitly targeting government effort and resources toward BIPOC Vermonters causes discomfort for some. Much of this discomfort comes from a belief that the government should not bias any class or grouping of residents over others.

However, this assessment ignores our history. For centuries, policies and practices in this country explicitly discriminated on the basis of race in many aspects of our society. These policies created vast and enduring harm, and remained in place through much of the 20th Century. We are going to need to use strategies that are also race-based to address that harm.

When we do that all Burlingtonians, not just Black and brown residents, will benefit. As one example, consider the costs of racism to our society. Last year, the financial services giant Citi released a report that puts a number to this cost, and found that $16 trillion has been erased from the U.S. GDP over the last two decades due to discrimination.

I want to demonstrate clearly in these remarks tonight that my Administration will place racial justice and racial equity at the center of our work going forward. My Administration has attempted to work on racial justice in the past. However, it is clear to me now that our efforts before this past year were inadequate.

Further, in recent weeks I have caused harm to the Black community in Burlington, and particularly to Black women in Burlington, and for that I am truly sorry.

I am seeking to learn, to make racial justice central to the work of local government, and to become an anti-racist leader who identifies racism and works to dismantle it.

I hope that this speech can be an important step in repairing that harm and committing to that work. I know that words alone are not enough, and so as I speak tonight, I also will detail how I intend to follow up these words with actions in the months and years ahead – including, and especially, by elevating and supporting the work of many partners, organizations, and BIPOC leaders.

Tonight, I ask all of you to imagine a Burlington of the future where we have eliminated racial disparities and where everyone in our community feels true belonging. Belonging is more than merely acceptance. Belonging means knowing that you are valued, included, and part of the community around you.

I believe that the City of Burlington has an important role to play in eliminating disparities and cultivating belonging. Doing so will require us to continue initiatives that we have launched over this past year, and also launch several major new ones.

I want to be clear that the work I will speak about tonight is not work that is my own, but rather work that we have done together thanks to the efforts of many people on the skilled City team, the leadership of City Councilors, and the partnership of many committed and talented community organizations and individuals.

Over the past year, the City of Burlington elevated racial justice in our work in new ways. At last year’s State of the City, we welcomed Tyeastia Green as the City’s first Director of Racial Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, known as REIB, and launched that new City department.

In the year since, Tyeastia has become a core member of the City’s leadership team. Too often, she is the only Black person in the room – or on the Zoom – as she holds us accountable as an organization for centering racial justice in all of our major decisions.

She has done this job fearlessly and consistently, and made us a better organization and made me a better Mayor. Tyeastia, I want to again apologize for the pain I have caused you and thank you for the grace you have shown me. I appreciate all that you have already accomplished and I am looking forward to our work together over the years ahead.

Also over the last year, we grew the new REIB Department from one to three people, and welcomed Skyler Nash and Belan Antensaye to the REIB team. Skyler and Belan, you have already forged important change, and the City is lucky to have you.

The REIB team’s work in their first year has been both broad and deep.

Last June, Tyeastia and I announced the City’s Eight-Point Plan to Protect BIPOC Communities and Ensure a Racially Just Recovery, which has changed and shaped the City’s response to the pandemic in important ways.

One example is that the City granted $315,000 to BIPOC-owned businesses and non-profit organizations in Burlington to support their pandemic recovery, using both federal funds and local, private funds that were raised by REIB. As one of the recipients of these grants wrote to REIB, “We always are forgotten – until now. Thank you for seeing us and knowing that we are here too.”

REIB’s work also included helping the City and more than 30 other organizations in Chittenden County declare racism a public health emergency, and commit to a sustained and data-driven effort to eliminate racial health disparities.

In between, REIB did much, much more, from developing the City’s nearly complete Racial Equity Strategic Plan, to supporting vaccination clinics in Burlington specifically for BIPOC Vermonters and their households, to helping Burlington launch a Task Force on Reparations.

Going forward, we should make permanent many of the successful innovations of this past year.

To that end, by the end of this month, I will issue an Executive Order to formalize the Racial Equity Toolkit that REIB has created, make it public, and require its use every time we develop a new policy or initiative to ensure that those policies positively impact racial equity, as we have attempted with every new effort during the pandemic.

Further, over the next year, all City of Burlington employees will go through an intensive anti-racism training curriculum developed by REIB.

In the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, I will include funding to make the City’s Trusted Community Voices program permanent and implement the City’s first comprehensive Language Access Plan, which the City Council approved last November and which was developed in partnership with Councilor Ali Dieng.

Also in the year ahead, our work will accelerate to eliminate race-based disparities across all social determinants of health. To forward and guide this work, the City has recently hired our first-ever Public Health Equity Manager, Marielle Matthews.

All of this work, and more, is a major undertaking that will need to be properly resourced to succeed. And so, as another action for us to take going forward, as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, I will be bringing to the City Council a proposal to substantially increase the size of the REIB Department.

Even as we work to institutionalize and build on the lessons of 2020, we also must do more.

That is why, over the next year, the City also will pursue three major initiatives to promote a greater sense of belonging here in Burlington.

The first of these initiatives will be to sponsor the City’s first annual Juneteenth Celebration.

The Juneteenth holiday celebrates June 19, 1865, when the news of the end of the Civil War reached Galveston, Texas, and the enslaved people there finally learned that they were free.

More than 200 cities across the country now host Juneteenth celebrations to promote knowledge and appreciation of Black American resilience, culture, and history, and to celebrate the date when independence could finally be enjoyed by Black Americans.

This summer, as a result of the REIB Department’s initiative and leadership, the City of Burlington will join this national movement and host a major celebration with free events, food, and entertainment – and also educational opportunities that speak to the work we still have to do to ensure that everyone in America can access the foundational rights of this country.

The second of these initiatives will be to develop a new focus in the City on increasing Black homeownership.

Homeownership is one of the most powerful indicators of belonging in a community. But in Vermont, the rates of Black homeownership are alarmingly low. Here in Burlington, according to 2019 American Community Survey data, out of about 6,000 owner-occupied homes in the city, approximately 17 of those homes – zero-point-three percent – were Black owned.

This is no accident. As discussed at the Mayor’s Book Group in September 2019, when we read “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein, federal and local laws and practices across the United States worked systematically and explicitly to deny Black families the opportunity, safety, stability, and generational wealth of homeownership.

This was done around the country with tools such as property deeds with racial covenants, discriminatory financing, and zoning laws that made certain neighborhoods accessible only for single-family homes. These practices created exclusionary and racially disparate land use patterns in cities across the country, including in some respects here in Burlington.

Today, I am announcing that this summer, we will hold another Housing Summit with a strong focus on expanding our collective understanding of housing inequities and centering racial justice in the solutions. Our goal coming out of this Summit will be to deliver to the City Council by this fall an actionable plan to eliminate the disparity in homeownership among Black Burlingtonians.

The third of these initiatives is that, over this next year, we must continue to grapple with overcoming the history of racial injustice in law enforcement.

To be a City where all belong, we must become a place where all Black and brown Burlingtonians are safe, protected, and not threatened by our public safety systems. We have made several committed attempts at this work, and our Police Department has repeatedly shown itself to be professional, skilled, and able to successfully embrace significant change and improvement.

Despite this, though, our public safety reform efforts in the last couple of years simply have not succeeded in achieving the cultural and structural change that is needed, or in forging the new consensus on public safety in Burlington that we all hoped they would. I know that this is an issue on which Burlingtonians have been divided.

There are some in Burlington who fear that changes to our public safety systems will make them less safe. There are also neighbors in Burlington with the lived experience and fear that our public safety systems have never kept them safe.

My fellow Burlingtonians, this is an issue we must address, and one we can only successfully address with a mayor and city council that work together to forge consensus. This work must include engagement with both the community and our officers, and listening intently and with purpose to those most impacted.

After the many conversations I have had with Councilors since Town Meeting Day, conversations that were open and genuine and I truly believe we share a desire to heal this division and work to become a genuinely anti-racist community in every sector, including law enforcement.

I want to speak to some of the work this will entail. Right now, the City has several police transformation processes underway, including, critically, an operational and functional assessment of the Police Department. This assessment is designed, as outlined in the RFP, to give us a roadmap to transition to a new public safety system.

It is my strong hope that this report and ensuing discussions will give us the tools to collectively understand our public safety needs and help resolve the disagreement that has existed since last summer over how many Burlington police officers we should have. If we get this work right, we can replace that tense disagreement with empowering clarity about what well-resourced and professional public safety services should look like here in Burlington.

Relatedly, I am excited to be meeting later this week with community leaders and Bob Bick, the Executive Director of the Howard Center, to explore how best to bring an initiative like the CAHOOTS model that is in place in Eugene, Oregon, as well as other cities, here to Burlington.

I believe there also is broad agreement that changes to our system for administering officer discipline will increase trust in our police department. Despite that agreement, the details of how to get this right have eluded us. I am committed to trying again on this issue as one of the first orders of business ahead and I know my Council colleagues are equally committed to finding common ground.

As we embark on another year of this difficult and critical work, it is clear that we also have considerably more to do to ensure that our officer recruitment, training, retention, and performance review systems are aligned with the values and goals of this community.

Another part of the way forward to a new consensus will be to improve communication and understanding between our officers and the community. I attended the most recent community conversation at the YMCA and thought the dialogue was rare, important, and healing. We must continue and expand these kinds of conversations in the year ahead.

Too often over this past year, racial justice and public safety have seemed in tension with each other. Going forward, I am convinced that we can and must find a way to achieve both.

As I am speaking about the ways that the City of Burlington will work toward racial justice, I also know that our success will rely on many other organizations and individuals being part of this work as well. And, indeed, this is work that all of us – including and especially white Burlingtonians like myself – have a stake in, for the simple fact that we will not realize the promise of this country or this community until everyone enjoys the dignity and opportunity that will come from achieving racial equity.

Last summer, at an outdoor event in front of City Hall, when we declared racism a public health emergency and committed to ongoing action, City Councilor Zoraya Hightower spoke and shared words that really stuck with me and many present that day. She said, “Our job is not to be saviors, but to find areas where you have embedded racism in your institution and remove it.”

That is what I am seeking to do in the years ahead  – to find the places where the City of Burlington has racism embedded in our institution and to remove it. We will continue this work – and tonight, I also call on all of the organizations and individuals in Burlington and our area to work to do the same. I say this knowing that many organizations already have embarked on this journey, and in some cases are ahead of where the City is. I am grateful for your efforts, hope that you will continue them, and that we can work together as committed partners.

I would like to close with a personal story. This past weekend, my family celebrated the seventh anniversary of the day when my daughter Ada officially became part of our family. The celebration, marked in pandemic-style with takeout from one of Burlington’s many great restaurants, brought back powerful memories of the amazing process of becoming a family through adoption.

It is a process that involves all of the typical preparations for parenthood, as well as many things that biological families often don’t experience: getting fingerprinted, having social workers visit your home, and, for us, considering whether our interracial family would belong here in the very white state of Vermont. My family has been fortunate that Ada and her older sister, Li Lin, have enjoyed an inclusive community throughout their public school experiences.

But the question still weighs on me as a community leader. My daughters will always enjoy certain privileges that many do not. At the same time, I fear that they will encounter discrimination that Stacy and I don't, and I know that there is only so much I can do to protect them from a racist world. And so, I have resolved that I must do more to change that world, and to make sure that Ada, Li Lin, and all other children of color in Burlington know that they fully belong here.

This work will be challenging and it will be long. I am sure that I will continue to make mistakes along the way and that I always will need to strive to do better. Tonight, I commit and recommit to this work, and I ask all of you to join me.

As I said at the beginning of this address, the State of the City is one of great hope. We have hard challenges ahead. But this is also a moment of promise and opportunity to rebuild a better City in the years just ahead than the one that was hit hard by Covid a year ago. Together, we can realize that potential for the great City of Burlington. Thank you.

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Press Release Date: 
04/05/2021
City Department: 
Mayor's Office