Montpelier will see some new faces on the city council in 2023, with District 3 Councilor Jennifer Morton choosing not to run again and former District 2 councilor Conor Casey having left his council seat to represent Montpelier in the Vermont Statehouse. Current District 2 council member Jack McCullough is also stepping aside to run for mayor.
Two council seats — one in District 3 and one in District 2 — are contested, with Tim Heney and Tom Abdelnour vying for Morton’s seat in District 3, and Merrick Modun and Sal Alfano 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 — who was recently appointed to fill Casey’s vacated seat until Town Meeting Day on March 7, is running unopposed for a two-year term in District 2.
The Bridge reached out to the candidates in the contested races for this article.
District 3 Candidates for a Two-Year Term
Northeast Kingdom native Tom Abdelnour moved to Montpelier in 2016 after starting his career as a work-study staffer for Sen. Bernie Sanders, then as a field organizer for President Barack Obama in North Carolina, as well as working on Sen. Cory Booker’s first campaign for the U.S. Senate, he said in a statement to The Bridge.
“While I loved this work, I missed my home state, and I want to work on the council to make sure that young people in Montpelier are able to start their careers and families in our city,” he wrote.
“While I hope to own a home in Montpelier someday, for now, like many young people, I can’t afford it. As the renter in this race, decent, affordable housing will be a top priority of mine on the council. If we’re going to keep taxes for homeowners from rising and keep people in our community, we have to grow as a city and grow our housing stock along with it. For those like me who rent, I’ll support rent stabilization so that nobody in our community has to leave just because our city is too unaffordable.”
Abdelnour said his other priorities are “to fix our crumbling infrastructure, and to support our small businesses with a common sense approach to public transportation that makes sure everybody can shop and eat downtown.”
Also running for the District 3 seat, Montpelier native Tim Heney grew up in town with nine siblings and joined his father in the family real estate company. As a business owner, real estate broker, and manager of several downtown properties, Heney said in a statement to The Bridge that he has “participated in the creation of neighborhoods, including Independence Green/Freedom Drive, North Park Drive, Essex Way, and Mansfield Lane in Berlin.”
Heney has served on several local boards and committees, he said, including the school board for nine years; the city parking study committee, the city audit committee, and the fire department service review committee, as well as being a board member of the Montpelier Development Corp., board member and treasurer of the Montpelier Foundation, and a member of the Rotary Club of Montpelier, where he is active with the Rotary Scholarship Committee and Montpelier Backpack Program.
Asked why he is running for city council, Heney stated “this is an exciting time with important opportunities that will mold the future of our community. I believe it is important that we make decisions and act in such a way that Montpelier is even better for those who follow us. I look forward to being part of these conversations.”
District 2 Candidates to Complete a Two-Year Term
Sal Alfano brings 50 years of work experience, 20 as a builder and remodeler and 30 as a writer and editor for industry magazines, he said in a statement to The Bridge. Alfano’s priorities are both housing and infrastructure, he wrote.
Married to Elaine Alfano (a former Vermont state representative and former head of ProChoice Vermont) the couple lives in Montpelier in a 1935 “maintenance-deferred house.”
“It’s important to make initial housing cost(s) affordable,” Alfano wrote, “but operating costs are important over time. Unfortunately, the components of energy efficiency — insulation, air sealing, triple-glazed windows, heat pumps, etc. — raise (the) initial cost. The challenge is to find a way to make resilient housing affordable to more people, both up front and over time.”
Alfano has served on the Calais school board, on the Central Vermont Community Land Trust board (later reorganized as DownStreet), and on the board of Living Well Group, an eldercare organization that operates Heaton Woods Residence in Montpelier.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I think I’m asking the right questions,” Alfano said. “I’m detail-oriented, I like to think things through, and I’m not afraid to look for innovative solutions to complicated problems.”
Running against Alfano, Merrick Modun is a Montpelier High School senior who ran in the 2022 Democratic Primary for state representative in Montpelier as a 17-year-old. He has since turned 18.
After campaigning and talking to voters, Modun said, “Hearing from this community has driven me to help address the numerous challenges we face.”
Modun is a student representative on the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools board, “where I have made it my mission to give younger voices across the district a seat at the table.” He also serves on the city Complete Streets committee, “which is dedicated to ensuring that Montpelier’s streets are safe and accessible for all.”
“As a young Montpelier resident, I am passionate about having diverse voices in the decision-making process. I absolutely think that everyone should feel represented and heard. I am focused on addressing the disparity between what people make and what they can afford, especially regarding housing in Montpelier. I also plan to continue working on efforts to fight climate change, champion LGBTQ+ equality, and support sustainable and safe infrastructure — including roads, drinking water, and sewage treatment.”
In-person voting happens at city hall on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday, March 7. To register to vote online or request an early ballot, go to mvp.vermont.gov. For a Montpelier voter guide, go to montpelier-vt.org/922/City-Voter-Guide.