Friday, March 10, 2017

Mayor says refugee plan cost him his job; paper says it was how he presented the issue

The mayor of Rutland, Vt. (Best Places map), blames the resounding loss of his bid for a sixth term Tuesday on his support for bringing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the town of 16,500, Wilson Ring reports for The Associated Press. Chris Louras, mayor for 10 years, got only 33 percent of the vote, losing handily to City Councilman David Allaire, who earned 51 percent. Louras had twice beaten Allaire by large margins.

Louras told reporters Wednesday, “Though I wanted to think this was not a referendum on refugee resettlement, I continue to believe, as I’ve articulated, Rutland is a microcosm of the national conversation on immigration and refugees, and ultimately it was not an election on the issues but an election based on emotions.”

"Last spring, Louras announced a plan to bring up to 100 refugees annually from Syria and Iraq to the city," AP reports. "The plan split the community, with many residents eager to greet the newcomers but with others citing concerns the refugees could be security threats or economic burdens. So far, two families, both with young children, have arrived."

In an editorial the Rutland Herald argues that the issue wasn't refugee resettlement—four of the six candidates supported it—but the way Louras presented it. "Where Louras got into trouble was in trying to couch resettlement as an economic-development opportunity for Rutland—that inviting people from afar to settle in our fair city would change the culture and lead to ethnic diversity, and that in turn would spur economic growth and enrich the lives of people who are already here. Listening to him talk, the mayor sometimes made it sound like Rutland’s bigger problem is that the city has too many jobs just waiting to be filled. That didn’t square with most people’s economic reality, and it cost Louras credibility, even among people who had no particular objection to inviting 100 or so refugees to relocate to Rutland."

The editorial continued, "The way the mayor went about it didn’t help his standing, either. Rather than engaging the community in a dialogue beforehand, by the time resettlement was rolled out a lot of people felt it was cast as a done deal, with the implicit message that you either backed the mayor or you were wrong. That’s hardly a recipe for getting yourself re-elected, and it ignored the fact that not everyone who questioned the wisdom of the program, or the lack of transparency in the process, was a raving xenophobe."

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