Vermont Business Magazine Anne Watson, the city’s longest currently-serving councilor, announced Monday night that she is running for mayor of Montpelier in the 2018 March election. This announcement comes shortly after Mayor John Hollar announced last week that he will not seek re-election. Watson is an award-winning physics teacher at Montpelier High School, where she has taught for the past 13 years. As president of the council for the past three years, she has assumed the duties of the mayor in his absence. Watson was joined by former Mayor Mary Hooper and Housing Task Force member Jack McCullough at the announcement at City Hall.
Hooper is one of the few women to ever be elected a mayor in Vermont. She said at the event, “Anne doesn’t just have ideas about the direction we should take as a community, she also listens to others. She engages them, and she knows that by developing a consensus we will go farther, faster.”
From left, Anne Watson, Housing Task Force member Jack McCullough and former Mayor Mary Hooper at the announcement Monday at City Hall. Courtesy photo.
McCullough said she has widespread support, “Earlier this year Anne ran for re-election to city council, and I went door to door with her materials and talked to voters. I couldn’t tell you the number of people who were excited to hear that I was out supporting Anne, saying how happy they were to be voting for her and to have a chance to support her.”
“I’m excited to help steer Montpelier towards a more sustainable future,” Watson said during her announcement speech on the steps of City Hall. “As mayor I will bring a deep commitment to including all voices and listening to residents. The council makes its best decisions when everyone impacted is heard.”
Watson cited flood resiliency and affordable housing as high priorities. Downtown Montpelier has experienced damaging and costly flooding several times in recent. Over a third of all mortgaged homeowners and renters in Montpelier spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Watson discussed how affordability was a high priority for both older residents looking to downsize, as we well as young families looking to move to Montpelier.
Watson was originally appointed to the city council in 2012 and has won three council races since then. She has been a champion of the council’s net zero energy goal, which has led to many cost-saving and energy-saving projects. She co-authored the document that landed the city a one megawatt solar array, saving taxpayers $50,000 per year on municipal electric bills.
“Great things are happening in our city. Between our District Heat plant, freshly paved roads, new businesses on Barre Street, and the Net Zero Montpelier Design Competition, it’s an exciting time to live in Montpelier.”
RELATED STORY: Montpelier Mayor John Hollar will not seek re-election
Below is the prepared text from Anne Watson's announcement speech.
I’m delighted today to announce my candidacy for mayor of Montpelier. As a teacher I have made a career out of serving this community, and I am excited to take on this new role. I have served on the city council for five years, and I’ve been the president of the council for the last three years. That means I have been filling in, doing the mayor’s job of leading the council while John Hollar was unavailable.
In order for you to get to know me a little bit, I want to tell you a little about a couple of values I hold dear and the top issues I see Montpelier facing in the coming years. As mayor, I’m looking forward to focusing on three main areas: financial sustainability, environmental sustainability, and housing.
The lack of affordable housing is a huge issue facing Montpelier today. Last weekend, I went to a meeting of a group called the Downsizers. This is a group of mostly retired Montpelier residents who would like to downsize while staying in Montpelier. At this meeting of over 70 people, they went over survey data, that showed that one of the group’s top priorities is affordability of housing. Affordability is also a concern for young families. I personally know a young couple that chose to live elsewhere in central VT because they could not find a home that was affordable in Montpelier. In fact, right now, one third of all Montpelier renters and mortgaged homeowners are considered housing burdened. That is to say, they are struggling to afford their homes. To help ease this burden, I will lead the council towards policies that create conditions conducive to growing the quantity and quality of our housing. Affordable housing will be a key part of Montpelier’s future success.
Environmentally speaking, I have two main areas of concern. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m passionate about Montpelier’s net zero energy goal. That is to say, we want Montpelier to source its heating, electricity, and transportation energy from local, renewable sources. There is another environmental concern that I think is equally as pressing, and that’s our flood resiliency. Montpelier has a long history of flooding. We may not be able to prevent all future flooding, but we can enact policies that can ameliorate its impacts. We can take our stormwater masterplan seriously and figure out how to implement it. We can continue to make our combined sewer-water overflow points compliant with State statute. We can build out the army corps of engineer’s recommendations for the Montpelier portion of the Winooski.
In terms of financial sustainability, I have always been willing to have difficult discussions about Montpelier’s budget. While I welcome those hard conversations about Montpelier’s finances, I’m also very realistic about the level of services that Montpelier residents expect. I have appreciated the framework the council used the past couple of years, where we looked at a set of discrete budget items and then deliberated about what we could afford. I’d like to continue that budgetary process because it was a framework that facilitated those tough budgetary choices.
I want to take a minute to tell you about my values, and why I want pursue this position.
A deeply important value to me is listening. I like to think that I will argue like I’m right, but I’ll listen like I’m wrong. I remember a few years ago when the council was about to face some really difficult budget choices, so we had a mid-year community forum to put the question to the people. We met in the cafeteria of the high school and put up posters on the walls with the different budget options, and people voted using little sticky dots. That process where people expressed their opinions with little colorful dots directly influenced our budget that year. I think the council works best and makes its best decisions when all voices and perspectives have been invited and heard. For this reason, I’d like to have more single-theme community-forum events, to create more spaces for people to participate in their city government.
Another value that I hold dear and want to foster in others is civic engagement. About ten years ago a biology teacher at the high school came to me asking what type of renewable energy source we should use for the greenhouse. I took that question to my students. We analyzed all sorts of possibilities for that space. We looked at power from the Winooski; we looked into using rain water; we crunched numbers about what kind of power we could generate from bicycles. In the end, the students presented their conclusions to the principal, head custodian, and that biology teacher. Together they concluded that we should build bicycle generators and put solar panels on the roof of the greenhouse. The following year, my students wrote grants to fund those panels, and the year after that my students worked alongside a team of professionals to install the solar panels on the roof. Oh, and we did build bicycle generators in a summer school class.
I did that because I believe deeply that every person can make a difference in their community and I wanted to give my students first-hand experience with changing their community. I want to live in a place where people feel empowered. It’s not just about my vision for the City, but it’s about the Montpelier we want to build together. I can’t do it alone. The future is not set in stone. We have to show up to build it. And I believe in showing up. I believe in participation is at the heart of democracy. It’s a value that I know a lot of Montpelierites share.
Great things are happening in our city. Between our District Heat plant, freshly paved roads, new businesses on Barre Street and the Net Zero Montpelier competition, it’s an exciting time to live in Montpelier. I’m looking forward to steering Montpelier towards a sustainable future. Thank you.