As City Councilor Brian Pine makes his pitch to be Burlington’s next ‘Progressive’ mayor (and receives some one-sided press coverage as a ‘Bridge Builder‘), most of the public may not know that his personal image is drastically different from who he is behind the scenes. While he sells himself as being different from Democrats, his decade-long strategy of backroom deals with landlords, developers, and slumlords, shows that he cares more about placating those in power than organizing or supporting the working class. Bridge builders often build in public, but in private they show their true nature and allegiances.
As we have seen with city councilors like Joan Shannon, a common local strategy is to plan and organize with landlords privately. When those folks then speak at public comment, this ‘outspoken random support’ is then used as a way to justify their reactionary, and anti-working class votes. While Brian Pine may occasionally pivot with the political winds, if he is mayor we will see the same bullying, shady backroom deals, and nakedly political upper-class maneuvering that we have seen under Weinberger and the Burlington Democrats.
Brian Can’t Keep His Mall Support Story Straight
My experience and involvement in Burlington politics gives me insight into who Councilor Pine really is. My story starts in August 2016, when I received a call from Brian Pine about the mall redevelopment ballot items. I was chair of the Burlington Progressive Steering Committee at the time, and we had recently released all the reasons we did not support the mall redevelopment. At the time, Pine publicly said he was uncomfortable with the statement because he worried it would “have the effect of potentially alienating not only Progressives, but I think it would put the party at odds with the consensus of Burlington.”
At this point I had been trying to get Pine involved again in the party for months and he had refused, so I was surprised to receive a call out of the blue from him. In this call he yelled at me for not supporting the mall project. He blamed me for ‘ruining the party’ (I had been chair for maybe a year at that point) and put the mall redevelopment inter-party conflict at my feet. Afterwards he told other Party members that we had a great conversation and were friendly afterwards. That wasn’t true.
The truth is that Brian’s opinions on most things constantly change with the political winds; as a Progressive his ideology is neoliberalism with a twist. After yelling at me for not support the mall redevelopment, Pine tried to distance himself from his very public support of it, lying many times in the process.
…former city councilor Brian Pine actively encouraged local residents to pass two ballot items that clear the way for developer Don Sinex to build up to 14 stories and for the city to restore two streets and improve others using $21.8 million in tax increment financing.”(Seven Days)
Brian actively supported the project in 2016 with no public qualms. He went on to say that ‘increasing the housing supply should help reduce real estate costs across the income spectrum‘, a classic neoliberal and Mayor Weinberger argument. He also took a video supporting the mall redevelopment for Mayor Weinberger’s developer-heavy PAC, the Partnership for Burlington’s Future.
In a Seven Days article from 2018 when he was running for council, Pine said he supported the mall redevelopment and ‘would have voted to boost the building height limits’.
The story keeps changing. In a Burlington Free Press article from August of this year, Pine said,
…that early on, from 2014 through 2016, Sinex and CityPlace forged a great “synergy” with the Burlington community, promising “rebirth” for the core of downtown. “Things were great,” Pine said. “If they had continued to focus on essentially delivering on the possibility that came from that synergy, leveraging lots of public and private resources to pull off this project, I think we’d be in a very different place.”
“Things have not gone at all according to plan,” he said. “Promises made were not kept. Trust that was built has been shattered. I’d say we are very skeptical of the ability to repair that relationship.”Burlington Free Press
Then, just last week, Pine changed his story for a fourth time on a Reddit AMA. When pressed about his support for the mall redevelopment, he said he was not on City Council when the vote was taken, and that the property was likely headed for foreclosure and that’ something had to be done…he had reservations about the scale of the project and was not sure the developer could be trusted’.
Brian Pine, Bissonette Mouthpiece and Conduit
My second interaction: After a blog post in February 2018 about how the Bissonettes mass-evicted 300 low income households from the Old North End, Councilor Pine reached out to me on behalf of Bill Bissonette (338 units, $40,000,000). Pine’s campaign signs hung proudly in Bissonette’s office on North Street in 2018.
Although Pine could not understand why emailing me on behalf of a local slumlord he has known for over 20 years, with his ‘large and diverse network’ (let me dry heave a little here) was a bit shocking, I did end up meeting with Bill Bissonette and he agreed to speak on the record.
In this conversation he told me that he has known Brian for 30 years. That when Brian couldn’t get city funding for Battery Park, he went to Bissonette and another local landlord to fund it.
Do undemocratic, ‘public-private’ means justify the end goal of getting a park fixed up? There are lots of ways for government raise money transparently and democratically for a community playground; it seems odd for a progressive politician to do it privately with a couple wealthy backers.
Brian’s Deep Connections to Local Gentrifiers and Landlords
Does Councilor Pine ever text you about issues you are facing in the community? If you are a local developer, especially one he has worked alongside to weaken inclusionary zoning, he will text you! Are these the sort of bridges he is building in the community?
Early this year councilor Pine worked very closely with Erik Hoekstra of Redstone (371 Units, $73,000,000), the guy who has gentrified the Old North End, to stop bike lanes from being built on North Winooski Avenue in Ward 2, Councilor Tracy’s ward. Why was Pine working behind scenes with local developers to undermine bike lanes in Councilor Tracy’s ward and Councilor Freeman’s district? Might be because of his and Hoekstra’s close friendship.
When community members were concerned recently about Central Market being priced out and displaced by Jakes ONE Market, did Councilor Pine work with the community? Nope, instead he held a private meeting with Hoekstra and city officials, and even said he didn’t care if Councilor Tracy made it to the meeting. Councilor Tracy represents that ward; Councilor Pine does not.
(As an aside, Hoekstra uses some unfortunate racism, disrespecting his long term tenants at Central Market and other ethnic markets in the ONE, claiming that Jakes ONE is the ‘first grocery store in the ONE in 20 years’. Is associating with racist gentrifiers a way to build bridges?)
It’s not clear whether Councilor Pine did this as his new gig as a private consultant for his own consulting company (Pine Consulting, LLC) or as a city councilor (if he did that is a huge conflict of interest!), but at least he invited his fellow Progressive city councilors who actually represent this neighborhood for the initial meeting. However one has to ask if he wasn’t ‘able to organize people or engage in outreach’, why did he continue to do just that?
Thirteen minutes later Pine seems to change his mind and suggest a handful of business owners and landlords (Michael Monte of CHT, 875 units, $75-$100,000,000) contact Councilor Freeman. Why was Pine working with former councilor Knodell and a handful of landlords (who he has worked closely with on different committees) to stop the bike lanes that weren’t even in his ward?
Later, Pine voted against the bike lane changes and used these ‘stakeholders’ (aka members of the incredibly wealthy landlord class) to justify it, saying the planning stage wasn’t ‘sufficiently inclusive‘.
(Unrelated, here’s local landlord Stu McGowan (76 Units, $9,000,000) making an incredibly racist and classist comment to Pine that he worked for 40+ years to get ONE out of ‘ghetto status’ and then blamed bikers for being privileged. Is it bridge building to allow racist comments to go unchallenged?)
On top of this, Brian (jokingly?) suggests that they eminent domain the parking lot at Old Spokes Home because they wanted the bike lanes. Is it bridge building to talk about taking a community non-profit’s parking lot because they disagree with your position on bike lanes?
If that wasn’t enough, Pine even disparages my own mental health in an incredibly gross way. In this amazing exchange, Erik Hoekstra calls me ‘Winkledork’ and suggests Councilor Tracy can get through to me that ‘we can’t fight during Covid’….even though people are facing eviction and loss of income…Councilor Pine responds not by correcting the lazy name calling, but by saying I am a ‘really polarizing person – it seems like a mental health issue to many’. Is it bridge building to allow powerful landlords allies to call community organizers names and then make light of their mental health?
I want to sit on this for a moment. A year ago I was harassed by the police chief and am recovering from PTSD. For someone who claims to care about people’s health and a healthy society, what did Pine do when I was harrassed?
According to Vermont Digger, ‘City Councilors Joan Shannon, D-South District; Kurt Wright, R-Ward 4; Franklin Paulino, D-North District; and Brian Pine, P-Ward 3, all said they were concerned by del Pozo’s behavior. They generally expressed the view that del Pozo is contrite and deserves compassion.’
Pine also called for ‘a restorative justice process in which del Pozo and Winkleman would meet and collaboratively address the issue’, which he never followed up on. At all. Not once.
On WCAX he said, “I think that we, as a community, expect our top officials — and we hold them accountable. We expect them to conduct themselves in a certain way that respects citizens and respects the right of citizens to criticize our government. That’s what our democracy is based on,” said Brian Pine, P-Burlington City Council.
The same could be said about Councilor Pine.
Tracy and Pine: Tenant Advocate or Slumlord Deal Maker?
The last piece of this story has us returning to Bill Bissonette, our lovable decades-long friend of Councilor Pine.
One of Bissonette’s tenants, C, had been trying to get some serious issues in their apartment fixed, including stopping noxious fumes (likely meth smoke and cigarette smoke) from downstairs neighbors. Councilor Tracy and I went to this tenants’ apartment and Councilor Tracy even offered to write an affidavit about what he saw and smelled.
What does Councilor Pine do? Well, he has gross private text messages with Bissonette and doesn’t challenge gross statements made about myself and C.
(Unrelated, here’s a really fun email where Bill Bissonette complains about how no one advocates for him, how C is anti-landlord and will terrorize a hypothetical young landlording family, and how much taxes he pays to the city. A real community member.)
Councilor Tracy also started advocating for a second set of Bissonette tenants who are being illegally evicted, and his lawyer sent Tracy essentially a cease and desist. His lawyer, Angela Zaikowski, is also the head of the Vermont Landlord Association. It is odd that that when Tracy talks to Bissonette he gets a cease and desist, but when Pine does it their relationship continues just fine. While Tracy is an advocate for tenants and marginalized community members in public AND private, Pine only advocates for marginalized members in public.
Who do you want to represent you? Someone who is willing to face legal pushback for advocating for tenants, or someone who will make backroom deals with landlords and business owners, lie about his own history with the Downtown Pit, yell at people who disagree with him, and say incredibly disparaging things/allow disparaging things to be said about community members? Councilor Pine isn’t a progressive; he’s a shady backroom deal maker.