Is Montpelier missing in diversity? We all know that Vermont continues to be a predominantly white state and that people of color remain in the minority. In years past it was as occasional to have people of color in your community as to have non-native Vermonters here centuries ago. Thankfully we change. But how diverse are we really?
Per state demographics, Montpelier residents currently total approximately 7,800. Of those, 93 percent are white, 7 percent are people of color, and 54 percent are women. These numbers are fluid. What is not so fluid is the number of registered voters. At this year’s town meeting day, District 1 had 1,887 active registered voters, District 2 had 2,011, and District 3 had 1,901. Votes cast at the March election in each district totaled 769, 878, and 669, respectively. That’s 2,316, or just 29 percent of our active registered voters who participated in our latest election.
This writer cannot discern what percentage of voters is in the lower versus higher economic strata. I can say that we lack diversity on our boards and city council given the dearth of diverse nationalities in our population and the inability of lower-income residents to commit to the expense and time of serving in leadership roles. Lalitha Mailwaganam, a recent candidate to fill the vacant city council seat left by Mayor Watson, is a prime example. Mailwaganam would have brought to the council the perspective of a single working mother who has experienced the struggle in Montpelier for good housing and income adequate to pay the cost of city services. But she did not have the means to competitively run for the office.
In many ways Montpelier is succeeding in diversifying. Look at our Tree Board for instance, planting and replanting dozens of diverse trees in the downtown each year. We have a fairly diverse array of businesses in the downtown, although restaurant fares do overlap. We certainly have an array of churches and choices for spiritual reflection. Our topography is diverse, from the rivers and their banks to the surrounding hillsides and the parks and high points. Our buildings are diverse in architecture while successfully retaining the feel of the historic downtown.
Although maybe not in skin color, our people are diverse: hippies, “crunchies,” yuppies, legislators, business executives, all-American families, Vermont farm families, and professionals are parts of our makeup. Our current kid population, at approximately 11 percent, is growing. We are married, single, divorced, living together, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and transgender, and all a part of an embracing and supportive community.
As a close friend of mine notes, Montpelier caters to special interest groups. This is evident in the city voting and budgets. Every ballot is loaded with special requests. Some say we spend too much on frivolity, not enough on infrastructure, always trying to balance our expenditures against increases in utility costs and taxes. I like Councilman Jack McCullough’s approach. He says change the focus. Ask not what we can cut but what we can add. But with that thinking, spend on what’s necessary first and keep government transparent. High living expenses and taxes are much more palatable if we, as a diverse group, all reap the community benefits. To address our diverse needs, each of us needs to participate in the process and add our diverse voices to the dialogue.
Now educate yourselves on the candidates and get out to vote in the August 14 primary!