Former mayor is seeking a repeat: Daniels challenges incumbent Benton
VERGENNES — Vergennes residents will have a choice on Town Meeting Day between an incumbent mayor who recently announced he will seek a third — and he says final — term, and a former mayor who served three terms between 2007 and 2013 and became mayor by unseating an incumbent.
Mike Daniels, 69, who has also served five years in two separate stints on the Vergennes City Council, the second of which ended this past March, said late this summer he began to get the itch to return to city politics.
In particular, Daniels said he wanted city government to be more responsive to residents.
“I had a lot of fun working with people, and I’d like to have the opportunity again to represent them,” Daniels said. “I miss being in there, and I really enjoyed representing them and working with them, and I’d like to get the community involved more at this point.”
Bill Benton, like Daniels, defeated former Mayor April Jin to earn the mayor’s job. Jin — a former alderwoman who served as mayor from 2005 to 2007 — came out of political retirement to challenge for mayor in 2013, but lost to Benton. Daniels, then a former alderman, challenged Jin and won in 2007.
Benton, a real estate appraiser with a history of local volunteerism, said he is seeking one more term because he wants to oversee a number of efforts he believes are about to pay off — including Otter Creek basin projects, city pool upgrades, and work to improve downtown pedestrian and bicycle safety.
Daniels retired in 2013 from a management position with the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services and has since kept busy with a variety of part-time jobs and volunteer projects, including renovation work at City Hall, helping out at the annual Vergennes Youth Fishing Derby, and remaining active in the Vergennes Fire Department — he said he is still certified to do interior firefighting in burning structures.
Asked what he does for fun, Daniels replied, “That is fun.”
Attending community events — including hearings on the city’s Downtown and Otter Creek Basin Master Plan (which, like Benton, he supports), Pumpkins in the Park, and the Holiday Stroll — and talking to residents helped convince Daniels to throw his hat in the ring again.
He wants to make sure residents’ opinions reach City Hall, and to do so he would, among other things, revive the “Cracker Barrel” meetings that were a hallmark of his earlier tenure.
“On the issues, I don’t necessarily agree with them, but I think their views should be heard,” Daniels said. “I don’t feel that’s always the case. I feel that might be slipping slightly and I would like to get it back.”
ON THE ISSUES
Some of those residents have also suggested he return, he said, because his fiscal responsibility would be welcome.
“Some people have been asking me to run,” Daniels said.
He feels strongly Vergennes should push to get trucks out of downtown, saying it would be “one of his crusades.”
“I’d also like to hear more ideas from citizens, getting people to work on the traffic situation in the city,” Daniels said, adding, “It’s been put on the back-burner by the state, and it’s a sleeping dog, and I think we just need to get that dog out of bed and see if we can get it to do some exercise.”
He also would like the city council to improve sidewalks and continue to upgrade Falls Park along Otter Creek. He would also like to focus on the “Rail Trail,” a proposed walking path to connect the rail station and Agency of Transportation commuter lot with the Otter Creek basin. Daniels believes it could be more feasible if it swung further north onto state land near Comfort Hill.
Daniels said he supports efforts to improve pedestrian safety, but was wary of digging too deeply into the Water Tower Fund to do so.
“I agree we should use grants as much as we can, but I think we should be really careful. I want to be wise on how many times we tap the Water Tower Fund. At some point the well will run dry,” he said. “I think we should use those funds extremely wise and in line with what the community wants to see done. And that’s where the involvement comes in.”
Daniels acknowledged that at times during his most recent stint on the city council he found himself on the short end of a few 5-1 and 6-1 votes, but was not critical of the group.
“I did remove myself from the council in the short term,” he said. “I am just starting to get back in and revisit the issues, other than reading the stuff that’s in the paper. I think they are trying some new approaches.”
Nor was Daniels critical of Benton.
“I have no complaints about what Bill has been doing,” he said. “As a matter of fact, if I were to win, I would sincerely ask him to help along with the goals he set and started and are close to being finished.”
Asked why Vergennes voters should pick him, Daniels cited his collaborative style of leadership.
“I don’t like to take credit. I like to give credit,” he said. “As far as accomplishments go, I don’t feel I accomplish things. Committees accomplish things. People accomplish things. I just help steer or get the resources that are needed to get the job done.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].