Birong joins veteran Lanpher in painting Addison-3 blue

VERGENNES — Vergennes restaurateur Matt Birong will join veteran legislator and fellow city resident Diane Lanpher in the Vermont House this fall to give the Addison-3 District two Democratic representatives for what is believed to be the first time.  
Birong was a first-time office-seeker who served as a Vermont delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. The owner-operator of popular Vergennes eatery 3 Squares Café, Birong became the top vote-getter in a district that includes Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham. He won in his home town of Vergennes; Ferrisburgh, the largest of the five towns; and Panton.
Birong polled 2,023 votes, Lanpher earned 1,960 votes, and incumbent Warren Van Wyck, a Ferrisburgh Republican, was third in the three-way race for two seats with 1,763 votes.
Birong on Tuesday night in part credited hard work — he said he knocked on more than 1,800 doors — for his win. He added that voters’ familiarity with him through his restaurant gave him an edge that many first-time candidates lack.
“I reached out to a really large range of people. I had the ability to build on existing relationships with a big range in the community that I had through almost 12 years at the café,” Birong said.
He also said his successful lobbying efforts both locally and in Montpelier on behalf of the Main Street Alliance, particularly on the issue of legislation on paid sick days and its impact on small businesses, raised his profile.
“They had a good understanding of the work and energy I put into working in Montpelier through the Main Street Alliance, and working locally with selectboard members and city council members,” Birong said. “They already understood I was really committed to serving the community.”
He thanked the voters and his volunteers, donors, advisors and wife Danelle Birong.
“I’ve had a great team of people helping me, as well, supporting me,” Birong said.
Birong cited as his priorities making Vermont more affordable for young people, families and seniors and “working with the state in an economic development capacity so we can start getting job growth in a direction that can help people stay here more comfortably and help people who want to be rooted here do it.”
That means “doing what we can to encourage business here,” he said, while at the same time having a “happy, healthy, stable, well-educated workforce to complement the business growth,” a goal that means providing a living wage, education, healthcare and childcare.
Lanpher won her sixth two-year term with across-the-board support. She won in Waltham and finished second everywhere else.
On Wednesday morning she took a break from a roadside stint waving thank you to voters to talk about the race. Lanpher said she was most excited to be joining Birong in the historic Democratic first for the district.
“Not only have I won, but our district has totally won as well,” Lanpher said. “Having Matt being part of that history is very humbling. We’re honored. And it feels really, really good.”
Voter participation was key in their victory, she said.
“Waltham, 72 percent turnout in a midterm. People wanted to be able to express their feelings in that constructive way,” she said.
Lanpher said she believes many were motivated to see government work better, noting with results elsewhere the Vermont House now has enough Democrats and Progressives to, if enough agree, over-ride gubernatorial vetoes. She said she those vetoes were a sore spot for many House members and, she believes, many Vermonters.
“There was an anxiety in the electorate that was palpable about the chaos, both at the national level and some of what happened with three vetoes of the budget,” Lanpher said. “People want their government to function, and it wasn’t functioning at its highest level.”
Lanpher is looking forward to remaining on the important House Appropriations Committee, where she will continue to focus on education funding, childcare and family leave. As an increasingly senior member of her party she also hopes to act as a leader for less experienced representatives.
“I still want to be where I can be the most effective,” she said, adding, “I have to make sure I can be a mentor and be there for my colleagues.”
Van Wyck is a Ferrisburgh resident and three-term incumbent who initially had decided not to run. But he changed his mind this summer and mounted a successful write-in campaign in the primary to get his name on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The University of Vermont computer analyst programmer had served on House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs, and then on the Committee on Energy and Technology. On Tuesday he won in Addison.
In response to a phone message seeking his thoughts on the results and his political future, Van Wyck sent a short email explaining he was busy collecting signs.
It also included a brief comment: “We (the campaign team) understand the challenges. With generous support, we executed the plan. The buck stops here (me). I am not conducting a post mortem exam.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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