Burlington Mayoral Candidate Profile: Steve Goodkind // Published in Offprint Magazine // March 1, 2015
Steve Goodkind might be familiar to many Burlington residents for his ubiquitous fur hat, Gandalfian white beard or frequent appearances at Three Needs Taproom. His “every-man” appearance and demeanor make him seem more like a friendly, if quirky, local Burlingtonian than an ambitious politician. Yet, Goodkind, 63, is the Progressive Party candidate in the Burlington mayoral race and incumbent Miro Weinberger’s most serious opponent.
A city resident since 1970, Goodkind spent 32 years in municipal government, first as a city engineer. He moved on to become the Public Health and Safety Administrator, as well as the City Health Officer before ultimately serving as the Director of Public Works under five mayors. A close ally of Bernie Sanders during his time as mayor in the 1980s, Goodkind has deep ties to the Queen City’s Progressive Party.
Goodkind, a New Jersey native who earned his engineering degree from the University of Vermont in 1974, oversaw several long-term projects during his tenure as Director of Public Works, including a ten-year street revamp and the installation of a multi-million dollar stormwater system. He retired from public service in 2013 but quickly reentered the political scene, announcing his candidacy for mayor in November of last year.
In a recent interview with Offprint, Goodkind discussed issues and concerns that affect all residents of Burlington, including young residents who are in college, out of college, or somewhere in between. Goodkind said he was motivated to run as an alternative to Weinberger’s Democratic administration.
“I’m not just saying ‘no’ to the mayor,” he says, “It’s ‘here are specific things that I will do and you’ll have choices, which you haven’t had before.’ I’m giving people a choice. And viable choices based on my experiences in city government.”
Goodkind, who lives in the New North End, seeks to position himself as a candidate with progressive values and different options for voters, but also one who could realistically win because of his city government experience.
One area of debate between Goodkind and Weinberger is how to manage the city’s high cost of housing and low rental vacancy. Goodkind believes prioritizing low-income housing rather than market-rate housing is a first step. He argues that the construction of low-income housing units will help lower all residents’ costs and equalize the rental market. He adds that generating ownership opportunities is another important step.
“We’re always looking to create ownership of housing, which is one way to stabilize and actually keep your housing costs lower,” he says.
However, Goodkind believes the more serious problem is dealing with the housing needs of students, particularly those who attend UVM. About 4,500 of the college’s 9,950 undergraduates live off-campus, predominantly in downtown Burlington.
“I’m a strong believer that the University of Vermont needs to do a lot more to take care of its housing needs. Sixty-one percent [of students] are housed on campus. That means 40 percent are not,” he explains. “If you were to take, let’s say, 3,000 students and get them out of downtown, I think you’d find a situation for vacancy and cost would be much improved, much improved.”
Goodkind says the solution is for the university to require more students to live on campus. He opposes building student housing in the city center, such as a proposal from Champlain College to build 115 units on St. Paul Street, which Weinberger supports.
Goodkind is careful to say he does not find fault with UVM students, but with the university.
“I think the university creates, through its rules and its costs, a lot of incentives to get off campus and see it you can do it cheaper and have a little more freedom,” he admits. “But I think we’ve got to work with them and we’ve got to find ways to make it palatable for students to stay up there, or rules that require more students to stay up there.”
Creating incentives for students to remain on-campus will alleviate some of Burlington’s downtown housing “crisis,” as some have called it.
Since Burlington is a center for higher education in the state, it follows that the city must increase its employment opportunities in order to keep graduates working and living in Vermont. Goodkind sees two areas of potential job and economic growth: arts and technology.
“I think the arts is a huge untapped resource,” he says. “We’ve got a very interesting artists’ colony but I think a lot more could be done to foster that and ensure that grows and those artists and artisans.”
Preserving the city’s South End arts and entrepreneurial community by sheltering it from big-scale development is one way that Goodkind would sustain economic growth in the arts. Far more modern, and lucrative, is Burlington’s burgeoning tech sector.
“The other area that makes us kind of unique is the tech,” Goodkind says. “That’s one thing we have now, besides being a great place to live, we are a gigabyte city, so that’s an area I think we should be pursuing very hard right now.”
As mayor, Goodkind would encourage Burlington city employees to conduct outreach efforts to other parts of the country, speaking to graduates and young tech workers who looking to relocate to a vibrant and liveable small city.
“What we need is part of city government going out there, and economic development groups to go out there and search the country,” he explains. “Testimonials from some of the firms that are here. Let them know that we are here, we want them, and what our advantages are.”
As Burlington cements its position as a tech hub and draws more people, improvements to the city’s infrastructure will become more critical. Goodkind points to bicycle facilities as one area that needs attention.
“Realistically, we have to realize that we have limited geography in this city to work with, we don’t have some of the roads that bigger cities might have,” he cautions. But, he agrees there are options. “Some people want us to do things like a cycle track, and I think that should be explored, but that’s where you have almost a separate lane and I don’t know if there are too many places in our town where we have the geometry for that, but we should look at it.”
However, the infrastructure project about which Goodkind feels most strongly is the Champlain Parkway — also referred to as the Southern Connector—which was initiated in his time as Director of Public Works.
“That project was around when Bernie was elected [as mayor] and I came in with him against the project,” he recalls, “It was more like a piece of interstate that was just going to come down and slice the city, and kind of cut it in half.”
Goodkind fought against the project during his tenure, and continued to speak out after he left office.
“When I left the city, when I retired, I began looking at this and said, ‘Wait a minute. I can be my own person now on this, I can say what I’ve always said, that this is not a good project, that we don’t need it,’” he says.
The Parkway project has undergone many revisions since its initial proposal. Its current iteration will connect Pine Street to the end of Interstate 189 at Shelburne Road. But Goodkind maintains the current plan, which Weinberger says will alleviate traffic congestion in the South End, is still unnecessary and will damage already existing neighborhoods and traffic patterns near King, Maple, and Pine streets.
“One of my principles of this campaign is I don’t want to do anything that will sacrifice one neighborhood over another, so it certainly meets that criteria,” he claims. “We’re no longer going to do those kind of things, whether it’s downtown development or the connector.”
Development is perhaps Goodkind’s most salient campaign issue, and the one that most separates his views from Weinberger’s. He doesn’t hesitate to criticize the mayor’s vision for developing the city.
“I think he’s very much, at heart he’s a developer, and he won’t deny that,” says Goodkind. “A lot of his support is from developers, and their vision of Burlington is it needs to develop at a better, or a quicker pace.”
In particular, Goodkind opposes the idea of acquiring the Burlington College land plot on North Avenue for development.
“I think there’s some room for building out there along the actual roadway corridor,” he concedes, “But you start getting back into the undeveloped areas, and I’m not in favor of that at all, we need to preserve that. [Weinberger] seems to be all for ‘let’s develop this.’”
Accordingly, Goodkind’s development vision is nearly opposite Weinberger’s. He wants to focus on small- and medium-sized mixed use projects, rather than large commercial projects or luxury condominiums. He has reservations about the mayor’s endorsement of a plan to revamp the Burlington Center Mall.
“Instead of just having a monolithic block of just all one thing…you could have stores or offices downstairs maybe two floors even, then a mix of income and demographics up inside the building, and not let it be too large,” he says.
His reason for rejecting mega projects? The threat to Burlington’s curious mix of town charm and small-city feel.
“After a while the city’s not going to be the same at all. And what we thought was special, the things we cherished, they’re not going to be around,” Goodkind warns.
Goodkind’s emphasis on preserving Burlington as it already exists is, perhaps, the ethos of his campaign. Seeking to limit large-scale development and rejecting the idea that Burlington needs to “catch up” to other cities, he instead positions himself as the mayor who would turn inward to concerns that have plagued the city for years. A commitment to “all the communities of Burlington and not just development and downtown,” is the cornerstone of his mayoral vision, and he touts his three decades of experience in city government as the means to accomplish those goals.
That Goodkind has seen the city evolve over thirty years might make his candidacy more appealing to long-time residents. Yet, he believes his experience will prove valuable to young Burlingtonians as well, since housing, job growth and development are all issues on the minds of young people considering whether to make the city a permanent home.
“I just understand city government a lot more than most people do. I’ve seen it, I’ve observed it, I know the shortcomings, or most of them, and I’m also not afraid to take them on,” Goodkind states. “I think I’ve got a good package of ideas and proposals and that’s what I run on.” ‡
Election Day is March 3. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in each of the Burlington’s 8 wards. Learn more at http://www.burlingtonvt.gov/CT/Elections