Burlington, VT

Burlington, VT

Socialist Bernie Sanders surprised Burlington by winning election for Mayor by ten votes in 1981, ushering in a period of progressive control of the city that was still in effect in 2011. After a year of fierce opposition from the city council, Sanders was able to implement reforms, notably through the establishment of a Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) in 1983 and the appointment of several key administrators. One result was a set of “good government” reforms: Treasurer Jonathan Leopold found ways to save the city significant expenses and Sanders opened up city hall to citizen participation. There were also new citizen boards and commissions. There was a program to train women in the construction trades and place them in jobs. The city also exerted control on development in new ways. Most striking may have been the housing programs promoted by CEDO, in concert with the Burlington Community Land Trust, which created “permanently affordable” units and generated community support for city housing policies.

In the 1990s, Sanders’ successor as mayor, Peter Clavelle, consolidated progressive initiatives. Major features that distinguished the city included city composting and recycling facilities, continued housing development, and a host of other innovations.


Several books have appeared reporting on progressive government in Burlington. See Greg Guma, The People’s Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution (1989) and John Davis, The Affordable City (1994). Cornell thesis treatments include Renee Jakobs, “Planning and Politics: A Case Study of Progressive City Administration in Burlington, Vermont, 1981-1983” (1984); Catherine Hill, “Bernie Sanders, The Working Classes’ Candidate” (1989;) and Maile Deppe, “Reinventing Local Government: Creating a Culture of Concern, Participation, and Decision-making – A Case Study of Burlington, Vermont” (2000).

Burlington, VT: History, People, Documents, and Links

RMC Resources

Series VII: Burlington
The collection includes interview tapes and transcripts, 52 key city documents, and over 500 news clippings.



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