BENNINGTON — In the closely watched four-way race for two Bennington 2-2 House seat, incumbents Republican Mary Morrissey and Democrat Jim Carroll are challenged by former Rep. Peter Brady and business owner Michael Nigro.
The top two finishers in the Nov. 3 election will represent the district in the next legislative biennium, beginning in January. Profiles of the candidates follow:
MARY MORRISSEYMorrissey began in the Legislature in 1997 and is finishing her 12th two-year term in the House. She serves on the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions.
“I believe that the top issue for the next legislative session will be centered around the “State of Our State,” in regards to our financial stability and economic recovery since COVID-19 and long into the future,” she said in discussing priority issues for the next session.
“Unfortunately, most of what the state does for its citizens and communities is based on our financial health and available resources,” Morrissey said. “Both have been significantly struggling for quite some time, as we have seen with the underfunding of our state colleges; our [employee] pension and retirement obligations and liability; statewide economic development growth initiatives and broadband expansion to completion across the state, just to mention a few.”
All of Vermont’s large budgetary line items “have also had challenges to sustain essential programs or create new programs,” she said, adding that “Vermont’s tax base is high, our population is declining and we have an older population which adds further challenges.”
The COVID-19 pandemic “has dramatically impacted our state and our country,” she said, slashing state tax revenue and reducing employment levels.
While federal COVID relief funding helped stabilize the state economy, “These funds are temporary, and our revenues are falling significantly short, almost across the board,” she said. “The next legislature must build a realistic and sustainable budget from the ground up and that will take great discipline. The new legislature cannot be looking to add more tax burden onto our taxpaying citizens and businesses, especially at this time.”
Working to control sharp increases in the Education budget and the cost of health care during the epidemic and insurance are other priorities, she said, along with “issues that have been in discussion during this past biennium, such as racial equity, judicial re-investment, Act 250, clean water and environmental issues and others.”
Morrissey, 63, is a town native who has been involved with in a number of local organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, Bennington Project Independence, the Vermont Veterans Home, local service clubs and others, and has received numerous citations for her work.
JIM CARROLLCarroll, 58, was elected to his District 2-2 seat in 2018, after being chosen by Bennington Democrats to replace former Rep. Kiah Morris, who has ended her re-election campaign citing online racially motivated harassment, on the November ballot.
A member of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, Carroll said he has worked hard to forward legislation that could lessen the impacts of the epidemic on businesses and individuals in Bennington.
“I have not taken a single second for granted while serving on the Commerce committee in the Legislature,” he said. “I showed up every day in committee and brought Bennington with me.”
A major focus, he said, was to “work hard to bring COVID relief and to bring assistance to businesses in town. By and large we were successful, and we were able to help many people get relief [funding] and in assisting businesses.”
In the next session, Carroll added, “My hope is to work even harder for business expansion, particularly on broadband.”
In terms of attracting people, especially young people with families and new businesses to Vermont, broadband internet service expansion is one of his top priorities, he said.
With the epidemic, many students will still not be able to attend school in person, he said, citing another area of broadband expansion the state must address.
“These are the kinds of things that motivate me,” he said, “and Bennington is always with me.”
Finding a way for Vermont to ensure universal child care in another priority, Carroll said.
“One of the saddest things I ever heard,” he said, was when a woman with a child told him on a street in Bennington, “I can’t afford to work,” because her costs for child care would nearly wipe out take-home earnings from most types of employment.
Carroll said he once asked another lawmaker to calculate the cost of providing child care to the approximately 6,000 children in the state whose parents might benefit from such a program, and the figure he received was $85 million to $87 million.
The state would not likely provide the entire amount, but offering a significant percentage “would still be a big lift,” Carroll said, and would “take a long time” to win support in the Legislature.
But with such assistance, he said, “people would stampede to the [Vermont] border” to raise children here — and would spend much of the money they saved on child care in the state’s economy.
“It would not be free, but it addresses so many problems,” he said.
Carroll also said he has strongly supported efforts to bring in state or other funding to create affordable housing, such as the multiple units created by the Shires Housing not-for profit organization.
Regarding the construction projects generated, he said he has insisted that local contractors be hired whenever possible.
Also a member of the town Select Board since 2012, Carroll owned Jimmy Joe’s Curbside Grill for many years and now operates a window cleaning business.
He is a native of Bennington who formerly lived in New York City for approximately 18 years as owner/operator of men’s retail clothing stores in New York, Philadelphia and Fire Island, New York. He returned to Vermont in 2003.
Carroll is a graduate of the former Southern Vermont College.
MICHAEL NIGRONigro, a Democrat, worked in the health care industry for many years as regional director with Bayada Home Health Care and now operates a concessions/catering business based in Bennington. He is making his first bid for elective office.
“As a small-business owner, strengthening the economy and making Southern Vermont a great place to start a business has always been a top focus of mine,” Nigro said. “That’s become even more important now; we still do not know how when the pandemic will end, but its economic impacts are sure to last even longer.”
Nigro, 42, is the co-owner of Green Mountain Concessions, with his wife, Bennington Select Board member Sarah Perrin.
“The state budget will be under significant pressure, and many businesses and individuals are still struggling,” Nigro said. “I like a lot of what the state has done during the pandemic, but the work of supporting our small businesses and individuals affected by the pandemic is far from over.”
In announcing his candidacy in the spring, he said, “The divisive political times that we are in have certainly been a big part of what has compelled me to run. That division is most evident on a national level, but I see examples of it in our state and community as well. I believe that we draw strength from a diversity of ideas; I believe in collaboration, and think that I’m the kind of person that can help bridge divides.”
Nigro said he believes one of his qualifications is that he is “a strong communicator, and that this time calls for thoughtful communication from all leaders. The issues we face are complex and cannot be expressed simply by internet memes and 280-character tweets.”
He has said he believes his perspectives as a business owner with experience in the health care industry, and with the communications skills he has developed, “would be helpful in the Legislature.”
Nigro said he also has “worked with budgets” and understands “the importance of fiscal responsibility.”
He added, “I think this is a very important time for Southern Vermont and Bennington. There are so many things to be excited about, from new business opening downtown to, most importantly, the Putnam Block redevelopment project. However, the concerning trends of stagnant or declining population in Southern Vermont and the loss of quality jobs and institutions (of course, Southern Vermont College is the biggest recent example) have not yet ended. I feel like we are in the midst of an incredibly important time for the community.”
Concerning the economy, he said, “Many voters I speak with believe there is much Vermont can do to strengthen our educational system, from early childhood through college. I would particularly like to see better pathways to high-pay trades, for which there are employment opportunities throughout the state.”
It has been a pleasure meeting people while campaigning, he said, adding that he is eager to hear people’s thoughts.
“I would like to be a voice for Bennington,” he said. “They have so many great ideas.”
Nigro spent 18 years working in the healthcare industry, including 10 years in behavioral health and eight years in home health care.
He previously worked with Eckerd Youth Alternatives, managing a residential treatment facility for at-risk and adjudicated youth.
Nigro holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the State University of New York at Genesco and a master’s degree in business administration from Plymouth State University.
He has been involved in the local Rotary Club and is a past president.
PETER BRADYIn addition to serving in the Legislature from 1995-98, Brady, 58, is a former moderator of the Bennington School District and the Mount Anthony Union District and a former justice of the peace. He is running as an independent in the House race.
Among his key issues, he has said, are advocating for the purchase of the Southern Vermont College campus for use by the town, along with consideration of a casino at the Everett Mansion.
Brady also has called for the elimination of private out-of-state prisons for Vermont inmates; easing auto inspection requirements on emissions, and changes to rental housing regulations to benefit both renters and landlords.
Brady said the Legislature during his time there dealt with a large budget deficit similar to the one it will face during the epidemic. He said he and other lawmakers made the difficult cuts needed to address that shortfall.
Concerning the 371-acre former college property, which is in Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings and could be dispersed in one or more auctions, Brady said the town should consider purchasing it — estimating the costs to be in the range of $5 million.
He also advocated for a casino in the historic Everett Mansion, although he understands that the idea would face stiff opposition in the Legislature. Brady said he was in the House when a casino was proposed at the former Green Mountain Race Track with the promoter estimating it would create 1,000 full-time jobs was rejected by state government and Gov. Howard Dean.
Referring to key issues now before the House, Brady said, “I am pro-choice. I don’t think anyone is in favor of abortion, but there are times when it is going to be happen. It is a decision between a woman and her doctor and the government should stay out of that decision.’
With President Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court, he said, “I believe the right to choose may become more important on the state level. If the [Supreme Court] were to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion would still happen. We as a state would need to ensure that it is done in a safe manner.”
Brady said he’s also “pro-Second Amendment. I will fight to keep the right to keep arms for self-defense and preserving a free society. Every country that has ever given up that right or had it taken has witnessed government atrocities and mass murders. In trying to prevent mass shootings that we have witnessed in the last few decades, I think we need to look at the common denominator which is psychotropic drugs that almost all mass shooters were prescribed at one point in their lives.”
He added, “The same pharmaceutical industry that has given us the opioid epidemic has also given us a generation of children who were given psychotropic drugs as children. These drugs are usually discontinued at adulthood and can cause psychosis. Vermont is one of the safest states in the union and has some of the least gun laws. States with the most gun restrictions are the states with the most gun deaths.”
On small business, he said, “I worked in my last term of the Legislature to eliminate the machinery and equipment tax. I will work in the next biennium to ensure that small businesses can grow and prosper in Vermont.
Brady said he favors “the Green Movement on a national level. I think if the state of Vermont is going to try to cut down on our carbon footprint it needs to be done through incentives and not with punitive actions. I think an 80-cent increase in gasoline tax would hurt working people too much.”
He also favors retail marijuana sales and believes “this could help with the state revenue problem. I think the state should put up tourism monies to market the legal sales here.”
Brady said he moved to Bennington in 1968 at the age of 6 and attended local schools. He was appointed in 1995 to complete the term of former state Rep. Timothy Corcoran when Corcoran was elected Bennington town clerk. Brady was then re-elected to the House and served one full term.
In a letter to the Banner during his campaign, Brady said about his time in Montpelier, “What mattered to me at all times wasn’t the Democratic agenda or the Republican agenda. It was the people of Bennington that I was there to represent. I left the race running unopposed for a third term. It was to spend more time with my kids. I was missing too much. Glad I did, wouldn’t change it for the world.
Now’s the time to get back to having Bennington’s back.”