Another person has declared his run for a Montpelier City Council seat, but you won’t see his name on the ballot. After having missed the deadline for filing a valid petition with the city, Zack Hughes is running as a write-in candidate for Jennifer Morton’s District 3 seat. Morton has opted to step down after serving on the council for 18 months.
City Council Shake Up
The council will have at least two new members after Town Meeting Day on March 7, with two contested races. Hughes joins Tim Heney and Tom Abdelnour in vying for Morton’s seat in District 3. In District 2, former councilor Conor Casey left to represent Montpelier in the Vermont Statehouse, and current District 2 council member — and the council president — Jack McCullough is stepping aside to run for mayor. Merrick Modun and Sal Alfano are running for the one-year term in District 2 to complete McCullough’s term.
Incumbent Lauren Hierl is running unopposed for the two-year term in District 1. Pelin Kohn — recently appointed to fill Casey’s vacated seat until Town Meeting Day, is running unopposed for a two-year term in District 2.
All the city council candidates have been invited to a forum sponsored by the Montpelier Rotary Club and The Bridge on Feb. 27.
Who is Zack Hughes?
A former 2013 city council candidate, Hughes works part-time for Washington County Mental Health Services as a peer support worker and assistant director at Maple House, an overnight peer crisis site. He also serves on Montpelier’s Homelessness Task Force and the city’s Restroom Committee (of which he says “the city could have invested in a restroom or two in the city instead of forming a committee to do it.”). Hughes also served on a 2011 committee to advise city council about the Montpelier Police Department’s purchase of tasers.
Why is he running for council? “I’d like to bring some outside perspective around the types of services I volunteer and work for — social services — and bring my experience around looking outside the box at different challenges the city has faced,” Hughes said in an interview with The Bridge.
Hughes, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, said “It’s hard in my situation to get around to get all these signatures. I did go out — I didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be.” He got within eight signatures of the 25 needed, and had some spoiled signatures from residents who didn’t realize they weren’t in his district. He was given a grace period of one day to get the remaining signatures, but during that time, he said “I thought I was having a medical event” and spent several hours in the emergency room.
“It’s challenging for me to get signatures,” Hughes said. “I’d have to have someone help me do it. I don’t drive a car. I can’t knock on people’s doors because of accessibility. It cut me down to getting on Main Street and just sitting there and taking my chances. … I was encouraged by how many people came up to me. … It’s not easy to actually run for office. Is not easy to be on council — it’s a decision process.”
Hughes said his priorities are infrastructure and housing, but “the thing most important for me is to bring attention to issues around social services and a new fresh energy perspective. That’s how I’m seeing my run, and any runs in the future.”
To learn more about other city council candidates, attend or tune into the candidate forum on Feb. 27 at city hall and broadcast by ORCA Media, and see “New Faces on City Council” in The Bridge’s Feb. 8 issue, or online at montpelierbridge.org/2023/02/new-faces-guaranteed-in-next-city-council. Several candidates have posted their position statements on the city website, at montpelier-vt.org/922/City-Voter-Guide.Voting is on Town Meeting Day, always the second Tuesday in March. This year the election occurs on March 7, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at city hall. Registered voters can also request and file mail-in ballots from the Vermont Secretary of State’s “My Voter Page” at mvp.vermont.gov.