- Associated Press - Friday, March 3, 2017

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The mayor of Rutland, seeking his sixth two-year term Tuesday on Town Meeting Day, would like to focus his race against three challengers on his response to the issues facing the city, including drug use and joblessness, but his plan to bring up to 100 Syrian refugees to the city overshadows everything.

Mayor Christopher Louras said that under his leadership, Rutland has made great strides in confronting the heroin use that put the city of about 16,500 in the national news, and that it would be a mistake to change leadership while progress is being made.

He said he is also working to create jobs and make Rutland a more attractive place for young people to live and raise their families. Louras points to statistics that show crime is down, says people in Rutland feel safer than they did four years ago, and says the city’s Project Vision has become a national model for confronting drugs.

“The greatest threat is a change of leadership at the top,” Louras said.

Louras is being challenged on Town Meeting Day by City Councilor David Allaire, who ran against Louras in the last two elections; Michael Coppinger, the executive director of the Downtown Rutland Partnership, which promotes the community; and resident Kam Johnston, who is also running for the Board of Aldermen, school board and city assessor.

The candidates do not run under a party affiliation.

Both Allaire and Coppinger say a change in leadership is needed to heal a city that has been divided by Louras‘ plans to bring up to 100 Syrian refugees to the community this year, and possibly more in years to come. They say it wasn’t the plan for the refugees, but the way Louras rolled out the program, announcing it last April without having sought input from the public and city officials.

When he announced his candidacy in December, Allaire said the issue was not with the city taking in refugees, but the secrecy of the program.

“I’m sure if this had been handled differently, you would not see the divide you see in this community right now,” he said at the time. “We are a thoughtful, helpful community.”

Two Syrian families arrived in Rutland in mid-January, just before President Donald Trump took office. Given changes to the national refugee program, it’s now unclear how many, if any, more families will reach Rutland.

On his campaign website, Coppinger, a lifelong Rutlander and executive director of the Downtown Rutland Partnership, focuses on issues facing the city beyond the refugees, planning, the economy and the need to restore population growth. But it comes back to the divisions that have popped up in the city in the last year, since Louras announced his refugee plan.

“I don’t believe Mr. Allaire or Mayor Louras has the ability to heal the wounds in this community,” he said.


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