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Batting Cleanup in Burlington: Hartland Native Miro Weinberger Leads Vt.’s Biggest City

  • Burlington, Vt. Mayor Miro Weinberger talks over breakfast at Bagel Cafe and Deli in the New North End of Burlington with resident Sarah   DeShaw about her concerns about a proposed solar energy farm near her home Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Weinberger, a Hartland, Vt. native has held a small forum with constituents at the restaurant since his campaign for office in 2012.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Burlington, Vt. Mayor Miro Weinberger talks over breakfast at Bagel Cafe and Deli in the New North End of Burlington with resident Sarah DeShaw about her concerns about a proposed solar energy farm near her home Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Weinberger, a Hartland, Vt. native has held a small forum with constituents at the restaurant since his campaign for office in 2012.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Hartland, Vt. native, enters his office in Burlington City Hall Wednesday, April 9, 2014. During Weinberger's tenure he has been forced to address financial trouble with Burlington Telecom, workers issues with CCTA, the company that provides bus service to the city, and infrastructure issues.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Hartland, Vt. native, enters his office in Burlington City Hall Wednesday, April 9, 2014. During Weinberger's tenure he has been forced to address financial trouble with Burlington Telecom, workers issues with CCTA, the company that provides bus service to the city, and infrastructure issues.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, left, and his Chief of Staff Mike Kanarick, second from left, stop on Church Street on their way to lunch to talk with Erika Nestor, obscured, and John Burns, right, Wednesday, April 9, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, left, and his Chief of Staff Mike Kanarick, second from left, stop on Church Street on their way to lunch to talk with Erika Nestor, obscured, and John Burns, right, Wednesday, April 9, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, left, meets with Bill Watterson of CCTA, top right, Bethany Whitaker, of Nelson Nygaard, middle right, and Steve Carlson of CCTA, bottom right, at City Hall Wednesday, April 9, 2014 concerning goals for the bussing company following the drivers' strike that ended April 4.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, left, meets with Bill Watterson of CCTA, top right, Bethany Whitaker, of Nelson Nygaard, middle right, and Steve Carlson of CCTA, bottom right, at City Hall Wednesday, April 9, 2014 concerning goals for the bussing company following the drivers' strike that ended April 4.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Miro Weinberger makes the ten minute walk to and from work daily, year round. Wednesday, April 9, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Miro Weinberger makes the ten minute walk to and from work daily, year round. Wednesday, April 9, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Burlington, Vt. Mayor Miro Weinberger talks over breakfast at Bagel Cafe and Deli in the New North End of Burlington with resident Sarah   DeShaw about her concerns about a proposed solar energy farm near her home Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Weinberger, a Hartland, Vt. native has held a small forum with constituents at the restaurant since his campaign for office in 2012.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Hartland, Vt. native, enters his office in Burlington City Hall Wednesday, April 9, 2014. During Weinberger's tenure he has been forced to address financial trouble with Burlington Telecom, workers issues with CCTA, the company that provides bus service to the city, and infrastructure issues.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, left, and his Chief of Staff Mike Kanarick, second from left, stop on Church Street on their way to lunch to talk with Erika Nestor, obscured, and John Burns, right, Wednesday, April 9, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, left, meets with Bill Watterson of CCTA, top right, Bethany Whitaker, of Nelson Nygaard, middle right, and Steve Carlson of CCTA, bottom right, at City Hall Wednesday, April 9, 2014 concerning goals for the bussing company following the drivers' strike that ended April 4.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Miro Weinberger makes the ten minute walk to and from work daily, year round. Wednesday, April 9, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Burlington — From the hipster college town by the (almost but not quite) Great Lake that launched the careers of Bernie, Ben and Jerry, now comes Miro (rhymes with burro).

Miro Weinberger, that is, who grew up in Hartland and graduated from Woodstock Union High School in 1988. The former housing developer with two Ivy League degrees was elected mayor of Vermont’s largest city in 2012. When Weinberger took office a little more than two years ago, Burlington was deep in the throes of a financial crisis and suffering from the perception that it had lost momentum.

A Valley News reporter and photographer recently spent a day on the job with Weinberger, 44, as he dealt with everything from poison ivy in a neighborhood park to the city’s credit rating, which had collapsed due to the financial mess he inherited.

Only twice during Weinberger’s 10-hour workday did visitors to his office ask that the Valley News not stick around for their closed-door talks with the mayor. The first meeting involved four lawyers; the other a Catholic priest. Draw your own conclusions.

8:04 a.m.

Weinberger, insulated travel coffee mug in hand, arrives at the Bagel Cafe in the city’s New North End. He started stopping by the coffee shop during the 2012 campaign for informal chats with residents from a part of the city that has often felt neglected by the powers that be.

Stepping out from behind the counter, owner Peter Bahrenburg said, “I don’t know if (Weinberger’s predecessor, Bob Kiss) knew this neighborhood was even part of Burlington.”

“Historically, there’s been a fair amount of polarization between the South End and North End,” said Weinberger. “It’s been a priority for us to have a presence here.”

During the campaign, Weinberger told Bahrenburg that, if elected, he’d continue coming by to hear what residents had on their minds.

“He kept his word,” said Bahrenburg.

8:09 a.m.

Weinberger and Jennifer Kaulius, the mayor’s 24-year-old administrative assistant, push two tables together near the Bagel Cafe’s front door. Kaulius, a 2012 University of Vermont graduate, started out as a volunteer on Weinberger’s campaign.

On this morning, she picked up her boss at his house near UVM for his meet-and-greet session with constituents. (Weinberger and his wife, Stacy, are a one-car family. The mayor, who has twice run the New York City Marathon, usually walks the half-mile down the hill to City Hall.)

The half a dozen seats around Weinberger quickly fill up. Weinberger pulls out a notebook and pen. Two older women have come to talk about their neighborhood park. With spring in the air, they’re hoping the city will clean up the graffiti and remove poison ivy.

“I’ll get on it,” Weinberger assures them, jotting down notes that will later serve as a reminder for him to relay their requests to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

In a city with 40,000 people and an annual operating budget of more than $60 million, Weinberger still sweats the small stuff. He was a little more than a year into his three-year term, when a couple of veterans approached him at a Memorial Day ceremony at the city’s Battery Park.

They were annoyed that next to a soldiers memorial, the city had installed a metal box that dispensed plastic bags for people to use to pick up after their dogs. It seemed a tad disrespectful.

The next day, Weinberger made sure the dispenser was moved to another part of the park. Not a major deal, but still a “crystallizing moment,” he said. To make something happen, sometimes all it took was a phone call or email from him. “But not everything is like that,” he warns.

8:30 a.m.

“Jim, what’s on your mind this morning?” Weinberger asks a regular to his Wednesday coffee klatches.

The proposed Burlington School District budget that voters rejected at Town Meeting in March comes up. Weinberger supported the budget, but over his buttered sunflower seed bagel, acknowledges that the School Board needs to come back with a reduced spending plan that voters find more palatable.

Weinberger turns to Julie Hathaway, who has stopped by with her three young children. “Do you guys have any questions for me this morning?” he asks.

With a nudge from his mother, 7-year-old Angus, stops munching on his bagel. “Why did you want to be mayor?”

It goes back to his childhood, Weinberger explains. Michael and Ethel Weinberger encouraged their son and his two younger sisters to discuss news and current events over their nightly family dinners. Michael, an architect, and Ethel, an elementary school teacher, had their doubts that anything they talked about was sinking in with young Miro. He seemed obsessed with sports.

In an interview last week, Michael Weinberger said that when Miro was about 10, he and his wife came home one evening to find their son on the telephone. Apparently, he not only listened to sports radio talk shows, he was also a caller. “I don’t Know where his interest in sports came from. It wasn’t from us,” said his father. “We didn’t talk a lot of sports.”

Concerned that his son’s spectrum of knowledge was limited to what happened on athletic fields, Michael Weinberger asked him, “Are you aware of who Hitler was and what happened in World War II?”

Miro’s response was sufficient for his father to inquire how he had come to know so much about Hitler. “I was reading a book about Jesse Owens,” he said.

Since he was a kid, Miro Weinberger has been asked about his unusual first name. Although it would make for a good story, he wasn’t named after Joan Miro, a renowned Spanish painter. Truth be told, Weinberger’s parents were students at the University of California, Berkeley during the 1960s when his mother heard of a child named Miro, and she filed it away.

9:15 a.m.

Weinberger settles into his corner office on the third floor of City Hall, a massive 1920s brick building, where he’ll spend much of the next 81/2 hours in meetings with staff, advisers and constituents.

Instead of sitting at a desk, the 5-foot-9-inch Weinberger prefers to work standing up at an old draftsman’s table he picked up at a second-hand shop in Bellows Falls.

The window closest to his work station provides a view of Church Street, which was closed to traffic more than 30 years ago to make way for a pedestrian mall. Burlington is one of the few cities in America where shutting off a large part of downtown to vehicles has worked.

Shoppers and diners, along with those just interested in people-watching, give Burlington’s downtown the feel of a mini-Seattle. Skateboarders toting guitar cases rumble past a hot dog vendor’s cart. A 20-something musician plays his trumpet while standing on a bench. Occasionally, an appreciative listener tosses a dollar bill into a glass jar.

A door across the street from City Hall leads to a fortune teller’s shop. Farther up the street, a pub promotes itself as a “Husband Day Care Center. Drop-offs Welcome.” Ben & Jerry’s, which started out in a shuttered downtown gas station more than 30 years ago, with Ben and Jerry stirring batches of Oreo mint themselves, occupies a prominent storefront. In another week, the weather will be warm enough for the outdoor tables of Church Street’s restaurants and bars to fill up on weekday mid-afternoons.

But the sights and sounds can be deceiving.

Financially, the city is more like Detroit than Seattle.

Starting in 1981, when Bernie Sanders was elected mayor by 12 votes, Progressives dominated Burlington politics. But the city’s chief position became up for grabs after the public learned in late 2009 that the administration of Mayor Bob Kiss had secretly “loaned” $16.9 million in taxpayer money to Burlington Telecom, the city’s financially troubled utility, to keep it afloat. The money didn’t get repaid.

In June 2011, Chittenden County Attorney T.J. Donovan decided against filing criminal charges, but criticized city officials for “mismanagement, lack of oversight, lack of accountability, lack of communication, ignorance and bad judgment.”

Kiss, who served as mayor for six years, opted not to seek re-election in 2012. In a hotly contested Democratic caucus, Weinberger prevailed over three other candidates to win the nomination.

Promising residents a “fresh start,” Weinberger captured 58 percent of the vote in his victory over Republican Kurt Wright.

9:23 a.m.

Two Champlain College administrators are Weinberger’s first visitors. They’ve made an appointment to try to sell him on enrolling city staffers in the private college’s leadership skills-building workshops.

The meeting doesn’t seem to rise to the level of needing a mayor’s involvement and could have been handled by the city’s director of human resources, who also attended. But after everything that’s happened with Burlington Telecom, Weinberger sees a big part of his job as “rebuilding trust” in city government.

That involves sitting down regularly with Burlington’s stakeholders, such as Champlain College, to put a face on City Hall. “To get anything done, you need to have people’s trust,” said Weinberger. “Burlington Telecom really shattered that.”

After listening to the sales pitch for 15 minutes, Weinberger gets down to business. How much is it going to cost? he asks.

Anywhere from $2,300 to $5,000 per person, he’s told. “Do we have a budget for this?” he asks his human resources director.

“It’s something we’d have to create.”

Weinberger rises from his seat at the head of the conference table. “You’ve given us some things to think about,” he tells the Champlain administrators.

On the way out the door, they pass a coat rack loaded down with sports jackets and neckties — attire that Weinberger seldom wears around the office. “I share Ted Williams’ attitude about ties,” he said. “Avoid them whenever possible.”

9:46 a.m.

He has 14 minutes before his next meeting. A visitor inquires about the collection of autographed baseballs, one from a Burlington Little League team, that fill a shelf on his office bookcase. “I get a lot of baseballs given to me,” he explains. “People of kind of know me as the baseball mayor.”

That’s because he plays for the Burlington team in the 35-and-over Vermont Senior Baseball League that opens its season today. In high school, he played second base for Woodstock in the 1987 state championship game. With two outs in the last inning, Fair Haven Union High School had the tying run 90 feet away. The potential winning run stood on second base.

What happened next? “It was a hard hit ball that hugged the ground,” said Weinberger, having no difficulty recalling what happened on a baseball diamond 27 years ago. “To this day, I’m grateful that I was able to make that play.

“It’s an exaggeration, of course, but I feel like my whole life would have been different if I had blown that play.”

It’s probably a safe bet that the admissions office at Yale wouldn’t have held an error in the state championship game against Woodstock Union High’s 1988 class valedictorian. After Yale, Weinberger earned a master’s degree in public policy and urban planning from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

What he learned in the Ivy League has undoubtedly been useful in his two years as mayor, but his ability to talk baseball — and genuine love for the game — has helped, too.

Weinberger doesn’t give off a I’m-the-smartest-guy-in-the-room vibe, although, in fact, he might well be. He comes across as a regular guy who doesn’t wear his political ambitions on his sleeve. Chris Graff, a former reporter and bureau chief for The Associated Press who covered Vermont politics for nearly 30 years, compares Weinberger to another politician who got his start in Burlington. “People want their mayor to be someone who cares about their neighborhoods and fixes the potholes in their streets. That was part of Bernie’s success,” said Graff.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders spent nearly a decade as Burlington’s mayor before being elected to Congress in 1990. (For Sanders, the sport was basketball.)

10:05 a.m.

Since being elected in March 2012, Weinberger has penciled into his weekly schedule a Wednesday morning meeting with the team of lawyers, city staffers and advisers in charge of cleaning up the Burlington Telecom mess.

On this morning, the team has assembled around the mayor’s conference table to talk about the settlement of a lawsuit reached in February with Citibank. In 2011, the bank sued Burlington Telecom after it failed to repay $33.5 million in loans. Under the settlement, Citibank will receive 50 percent of the revenue the city collects in the future sale of the utility, which provides high-speed Internet to residents and businesses.

City Attorney Eileen Blackwood is joined at the table by three other lawyers. “We’re hoping an end is in sight,” said Weinberger, referring to Burlington Telecom’s troubles. “We can’t keep paying all these lawyers forever.”

Terry Dorman, who lives in Quechee, is participating in the meeting via speaker phone. Dorman’s company, Dorman & Fawcett, is a turnaround specialist that was hired in 2010 to take over the day-to-day management of Burlington Telecom.

Although the hire was made prior to his election, Weinberger calls Dorman part of the “Upper Valley influence” on Burlington. Pat Robins, a Burlington businessman who helped negotiate the Citibank settlement, received his MBA from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. Peter Owens, who is from Hanover and has a background in urban planning, was appointed by Weinberger to head the city’s Community and Economic Development Office. Chief of staff Mike Kanarick is a 1990 Dartmouth graduate.

After a few minutes of chit-chat at the start of the meeting, the door closes. The lawyers in the room wanted the meeting to be off-limits to the media. They didn’t give a reason.

As mayor, Weinberger made the settlement of the Citibank lawsuit his top priority, but “he has righted Burlington’s fiscal problems faster than anyone expected,” said Graff, the author of Dateline Vermont, a book on the state’s politics.

In some ways, it was sink or swim. Two months after Weinberger took office, the credit rating agency Moody’s responded to the Burlington Telecom scandal by downgrading the city’s rating to near junk bond status.

Two years ago, Burlington was a city where “everything seemed to have gone dead and stale,” said Graff. “The financial hole was so deep. Every day there seemed to be more bad news.”

Unlike most new mayors, Weinberger didn’t have the luxury of a honeymoon period. In August 2012, five months into his three-year term, he told residents that it was critical the city get its financial house in order. He proposed a $9 million “fiscal stability bond.” In essence, he wanted people to vote to increase their own taxes.

If voters shot down the tax increase, Weinberger’s credibility would have likely gone down with it. But he felt the risk was unavoidable. With Burlington Telecom an albatross around its neck, the city was constantly going to banks for short-term loans to pay bills. Weinberger compared Burlington to a family living off credit cards.

In November 2012, 72 percent of the voters who went to the polls supported Weinberger’s plan. If the measure had failed, “it would have been a real setback,” he said, a statement that could be applied equally to the city’s finances and his own political career.

10:18 a.m.

The mayor emerges from the behind the closed door with an i Phone at his ear. He’s talking to Burlington’s superintendent of schools. After voters rejected the school district’s proposed budget in March, Weinberger promised to make school district finances a priority with another vote scheduled for June.

As mayor, Weinberger doesn’t have a lot of clout in school matters, but he’s still immersed in the issues. “In some ways, my political base is families with children. It’s one of the reasons I was elected. As mayor, there’s no way for me not to be involved.”

Last year, he moved his office to Burlington High School for a week. If business and community leaders wanted to meet with him, they had to come to the school. He wanted the people who run Burlington to get an inside look at their public high school. They ate lunch with students in the cafeteria and the 14-member City Council met at the school as well.

10:28 a.m.

The mayor returns to the Burlington Telecom meeting, which goes on for another half hour. Robins, one of Weinberger’s most trusted advisers, is among the last to leave.

Robins represents Burlington’s business old guard. In the downtown Church Street Market, his name appears on a plaque as a co-founder of the pedestrian mall.

When Weinberger decided to run for mayor in 2011, he asked Robins to meet for coffee. “I didn’t know him,” said Robins.

Few people in Burlington did. Weinberger and his wife moved to the city in 2002. Early on, he worked mostly behind the scenes, helping with Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign and serving as chairman of the Chittenden County Democratic Committee. “He was always a low-key person who was mostly known as a political organizer,” said Graff. “He still is pretty low key.”

At their meeting, Weinberger asked Robins for his endorsement. “I didn’t commit to him right away,” recalls Robins.

But the more he saw of Weinberger, the more he liked. “He knew the No. 1 thing he needed to do was to get the (city’s) balance sheet straightened out. He’s very decisive and focused.”

11:10 a.m.

The mayor’s office door is open. Sitting at the table with him is Jessica Nordhaus, who ran his campaign. She’s now a consultant for a nonprofit group that’s involved with making Burlington’s school system more “proficiency based.” Weinberger and Nordhaus were friends at Yale who each ended up in Burlington unbeknownst to the other. She’s here to talk about putting a “school without walls” in Burlington.

“Schools are the only institution in this country that hasn’t changed in 200 years,” she said. “It’s important to recognize that learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom.”

It’s the first that Weinberger has heard about Nordhaus’ idea of a school on wheels that would move around the city.

“Do I have to do anything on it now?” he asks.

“Not yet.”

Weinberger recognizes that Burlington’s future hinges largely on improving the city’s school and preschool systems. Currently, about half of the city’s 4,000 students are eligible for free or discount school meals. They’re either already living in poverty or on the edge.

To lift families out of poverty, educational opportunities need to be enhanced. Better schools cost money. A way to bring in more tax dollars and create more economic diversity in schools is to make Burlington an “affordable place where (upwardly mobile) families want to live,” said Weinberger.

12:19 p.m.

The booths at El Cortijo, a downtown Mexican restaurant in what was once a diner, are taken. Weinberger and Kanarick, his chief of staff, spot empty seats at the end of the lunch counter.

On their way, they pass Melinda Moulton, a developer who moved to Vermont in the early 1970s and has been a major player in the city’s downtown and waterfront reconstruction.

Moulton credits Sanders and another Progressive mayor, Peter Clavelle, who later ran for governor, for transforming Burlington into a vibrant city. In recent years, however, the city had grown stagnant, she said. But once Weinberger was elected, “things started to happen again,” she said. “He’s a doer.”

It’s not surprising that Weinberger is getting favorable reviews from a developer. It wasn’t so long ago that he was one of them.

In 2002, Weinberger and a partner started the Hartland Group, a real estate development company that worked with nonprofit organizations to build affordable housing complexes in Vermont and New Hampshire. Gile Hill in Hanover is one of the company’s projects. (Now that he’s mayor, Weinberger is no longer with the company.)

Seven Days, Burlington’s widely circulated weekly tabloid, recently ran a cover story about the city’s “development boom.” Yves Bradley, a commercial real estate broker who chairs the city’s Planning Commission, told the tabloid that “Miro’s arrival was nothing short of a sea change. All of sudden there was a mayor who brought with him an economic development director (Peter Owens) who understood (that) businesses and philanthropists play a really important role in the community, and it’s important to help them succeed.”

Not everyone looks at Weinberger as Burlington’s savior. John Franco, an attorney who served in Sanders’ administration, told Seven Days that he doesn’t buy the argument that Weinberger has ushered in a “magic golden age of development that didn’t exist before. To say Miro is more development friendly than Peter Clavelle is a thousand times bull----.”

1:31 p.m.

As Weinberger and Kanarick take a shortcut through a parking lot back to City Hall, an older woman in a sweatsuit, puffing on a cigarette, waves at the mayor.

“Congratulations on getting the buses running again,” she shouts.

They start talking. Just then a Chittenden Country Transit Authority bus zips past them. Nearly 10,000 people, including 2,400 Burlington public school students, ride the buses each day. But in a contract dispute over wages and work conditions, bus drivers went on strike for more than three weeks this spring.

The bus company is a county entity which Weinberger doesn’t have much control over. He didn’t have a seat at the negotiating table, but, along with some city councilors, was credited with helping bring the company’s management and drivers together in the end.

Should he have stepped in earlier? “I’ve asked my staff that question,” he said. “We’ve kicked it around in a staff meeting. It’s hard to know when is the right time.”

1:50 p.m.

Before starting a string of five afternoon meetings, Weinberger answers a few questions about his future political plans. His first term expires next April.

“I’m definitely intending to run again,” he said. “Beyond that, I don’t know what will happen. I’m just getting started in this job. I’m really in no hurry to move onto something else.”

If he’s interested in eventually running for statewide office, he’s in the right place. “Burlington’s a good launching pad,” said Graff. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sanders and Dean can all trace their early success to Chittenden County, which has 25 percent of the state’s population. Burlington is also home to WCAX-TV, the state’s largest media outlet. “Being mayor of Burlington gets you a lot of name recognition,” said Graff.

In politics, as the saying goes, timing is everything. “A lot of people are waiting in the wings because there hasn’t been much movement at the top,” said Graff, referring to Leahy and Sanders, who combined have represented Vermont in Washington for more than 60 years. (It was Leahy who attempted in 19 98 to slip legislation through Congress that would have made Champlain the sixth Great Lake.)

“If anyone in the Democratic Party was putting together a list of statewide candidates in the next six to eight years, (Weinberger) would certainly be on that list,” said Graff.

Weinberger is starting to be mentioned outside of his home state. This month’s Atlantic magazine has included Weinberger in a story headlined “Why Cities Work Even When Washington Doesn’t.” He’s part of the “New Deal,” short for “Developing Exceptional American Leaders,” that Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, of Alaska, head up. The group consists of “rising elected officials from across the country who champion ideas to build broadly earned, sustainable economic growth.”

2:47 p.m.

The Rev. Richard O’Donnell, the priest at St. Anthony Church in the South End, waits in the mayor’s outer office for an economic development staff meeting to wrap up. Like the lawyers earlier in the day, O’Donnell indicated to Weinberger that he preferred the media not be in on their conversation.

In March, O’Donnell made news by proposing that the rectory and parish hall next to the historic church might be demolished to make way for a four-story apartment building. Neighbors immediately objected to the church’s plan.

“I gathered from what I was hearing that the project had gotten off on the wrong foot,” said Weinberger, who offered to meet with O’Donnell, the Burlington Fire Department’s chaplain, after seeing him at a city event.

With his background as a developer in Vermont, and prior to that in New York City, Weinberger knows the importance of public perception. When he started campaigning for mayor, he had to persuade people that there was such a thing as a “pro-growth Democrat” and that he “wasn’t a strip mall developer.” Looking back, “it was definitely a challenge,” he said.

As mayor, one of his challenges is reversing the city’s housing trend. “We haven’t had a lot of growth in downtown housing in 20 years,” he said. On top of that, more and more single-family housing has been converted into apartments for college students. UVM and Champlain have a combined 16,000 students. Many live off campus.

“It’s not optimal to have as many students as we do living in the neighborhoods near (UVM and Champlain),” said Weinberger.

To help adjust the housing balance — or imbalance, as the case might be — Weinberger got solidly behind a Champlain College-private developer project called Eagles Landing. The proposed six-story building features 115 apartments for students, commercial space on the first floor and two public parking garages.

In early April, however, the city’s Development Review Board rejected the proposal. Apparently, Weinberger’s remark earlier in the day was true: Not everything is as easy as getting a plastic bag dispenser moved in a city park.

4:08 p.m.

Representatives of the Chittenden County Transit Authority, including Bill Watterson, the bus company’s general manager, sit down with Weinberger and staffers. They usually meet every few months, but the bus strike put them off schedule. “It’s good to be back,” starts out Weinberger. “It’s been a tumultuous month.”

Prior to the bus strike, Weinberger pushed transit officials to consider installing GPS technology in their buses. That would allow people to use their smart phones to track where a bus was on its route. Riders waiting to be picked up would then know whether their bus was on schedule.

Watterson indicates that Weinberger’s idea isn’t a high priority.

“I’m disappointed,” responds the mayor. “I thought you were looking into that.”

Later, Weinberger acknowledges that he was having a difficult time hiding his frustration with transit officials. “That conversation has moved more slowly than I’d like.”

5:04 p.m.

The final appointment of the day. Carolyn Raffensperger, an environmental lawyer visiting from Iowa, wants Weinberger to think about ways to make Burlington one of the “greenest cities in America.”

She tells Weinberger that she’s been working with the city of San Francisco on the same initiative. Either Raffensperger has done her homework ahead of the meeting, or her hosts in Burlington, who include a friend of Weinberger’s mother, have done a good job prepping her.

She asks Weinberger about his plans for the “Moran,” the city’s ancient coal-burning power plant that shut down in the 1980s. “It’s been a conundrum for so many administrations,” Weinberger tells her. “It’s a symbol of the city’s lack of progress and stagnancy.”

The previous administration proposed spending $20 million to turn the plant into an entertainment and recreational center with rock and ice climbing walls.

Weinberger nixed the idea. The proposal “essentially had the city acting as the developer,” he said. “I didn’t think this was the time for the city to take on this new risky role.”

Weinberger prefers the rehabbing of the Moran be part of a bigger plan that would use Burlington’s Lake Champlain waterfront to the city’s financial advantage. He’s proposed a major expansion to the city’s marina to bring in more revenue.

A plan has emerged for a “New Moran” that would feature restaurants, retail stores and a concert venue. But Weinberger has insisted that tax dollars can’t be used to cover any pre-development costs. If the project gets off the ground, there’s $6.3 million of city money available to help with the redevelopment. If it doesn’t happen, the city will use its money to demolish the plant.

“This is the last chance,” said Weinberger. “If it can’t get done this time, it never will.”

5:38 p.m.

Weinberger turns off his office lights. He grabs his black messenger bag and heads for the door.

The scuff marks on his worn black dress shoes are a tipoff that this isn’t the first time he’s hoofed it up the hill to home. So far, the climb is going pretty smoothly for Burlington’s mayor.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.