February 1, 2007
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — A lively five-week campaign is shaping up in Vergennes, where a challenger has emerged for Mayor April Jin’s job and a five-way race for three city council seats includes only one incumbent, Randall Ouellette.
Jin, an alderman who ran unchallenged for mayor two years ago, will face Michael Daniels, a 59-year-old Vergennes native who served on the city council from 2001 until 2004 before stepping down.
Daniels, a 38-year veteran of the city fire department and a district manager for the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services, said he has been considering returning to city politics for the past two years. When Alderman Michael Sullivan, who was planning to run for mayor, died unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, Daniels decided to challenge Jin.
He would not have run for mayor if Sullivan had done so, Daniels said.
“We don’t need a bunch of hats in there ... I would have supported him,” said Daniels, who also served 21 years with the Vermont Army National Guard before retiring as a first sergeant.
Daniels said if elected he would look to create an “economic council” and work with aldermen to find what the city could do to “bring more business in.”
He also believes that many residents have untapped talents that they would be willing to donate to better Vergennes.
“We could get a lot done that we wouldn’t actually have to pay for,” Daniels said.
And he would like to raise the level of civic participation in Vergennes.
“I want to take the city down a couple different avenues,” he said. “I want to get more citizens involved with the city.”
Jin, who admits to being in her mid-to-late 50s, has an extensive résumé of civic service and now serves as the chairwoman of the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center board and as a Vergennes Union High School director, as well as mayor.
She believes she has demonstrated leadership in a series of challenging situations, including a funding dispute with the state and federal governments over Northlands Job Corps and a disagreement with state officials over whether the city should host a new mental health facility.
“During the past two years we’ve had a couple crises, to put it mildly,” Jin said. “Basically I guess I feel, and people have said to me, I was the right person for the right time. That means there was somebody to step up to the plate and tackle these issues instead of just sitting back … I believe that the council made the right decision in all these instances that would protect the status of Vergennes and continue to move ahead.”
Jin said she also enjoys a strong working relationship with City Manager Renny Perry, and that she would be the right choice to help the city face the challenges of the future.
“Sometimes I think people get stuck in the past,” she said. “They don’t see that change in some fashion is inevitable. Growth is inevitable, and you have to decide things accordingly. You can’t find all your answers in actions of past councils.”
One of the seats that will open on the council on March 6 belonged to Sullivan, while the terms of Ouellette and Tracy MacLean will also expire on Town Meeting Day. Ouellette has said he intends to stay in politics for the long term, but MacLean decided not to run again.
Joining Ouellette in seeking two-year terms on the city council are Matthew Chabot, Christine Collette, Peter Garon and Diane Lanpher; Lanpher also ran for a Vermont House seat last fall.
Depending on the results of the election, there could be more than 50-percent turnover on the seven-member council: If Jin and Ouellette are both defeated, four newcomers would join incumbents Craig Miner, Clara “Ziggy” Comeau, and David Austin.