New North End Secession = hot air

The Burlington Free Press recently ran an article about talk of the New North End neighborhood seceding from the town.  Aside from the fact that I think that’s a dumb idea and would never actually go anywhere, the article itself seemed to be trying to report a nonexistent story.

There was not a single quote from anyone advocating for secession, and the sixth paragraph admits that there’s no official movement.  You get a few quotes from City Councilor Paul Decelles and neighborhood activist Lea Terhune saying “people” are discontented.  Terhune, in particular, provides the only real substantial quote:

Still, people like Lea Terhune, a Ward 4 resident, see a good deal of political discontent over a good number of issues: zoning, code enforcement, instant-runoff voting, use of tax dollars and the disc-golf proposal at Leddy Park. People in her neighborhood are disgruntled, and with reason, she said.

“The question is, will things change significantly in the city so that the New North End feels less alienated from the decisions that are made in City Hall?” she said.

After those introductory paragraphs, there’s a short history of the area, which is only marginally related to secession.  Stats are provided that show the NNE differs demographically from the rest of the city: more people there vote, own homes, and then one semi-misleading stat is provided: 40% of Burlington residents 65 and over live in the New North End.

I couldn’t find census data that was broken out by age and neighborhood, so I couldn’t verify the stat itself, but according to the 2000 census, the 65 and over age group was 10.5% of the population of Burlington, or 4,092 people.  40% of that is 1637 people.  My question is, what’s the total population of the NNE?  What percentage of that total is made up of people 65 and older?

The next paragraphs of the story give some interesting (but unattributed) statistics about how voter turnout is much higher in Wards 4 and 7, and how much lower percentages of Wards 4 and 7 voted to approve the school budget, which did pass, but only narrowly.  Jean O’Sullivan, a former city councilor and longtime NNE resident, explains it this way:

Senior citizens on limited incomes are sensitive to tax increases, and this explains part of the voting on school issues in the New North End, O’Sullivan suggested. It’s a mistake to assume New North End residents are all conservatives, as many do, the Democrat emphasized.

“I have been re-elected three times,” O’Sullivan said. “No one could possibly accuse me of being conservative in any way, shape or form.”

A paragraph later, a conservative weighs in:

Vincent Dober Sr., a newly elected Republican city councilor from Ward 7, heard many constituents voice concern about the school budget’s increasing so much this year, on the heels of a 10 percent increase last year. Budget approval by the rest of the city left some residents of Wards 4 and 7 feeling they must pay the tab for food somebody else ordered.

“Everyone wants good schools, but we can’t afford to keep going at this pace,” Dober said.

So by this point of the story, you get the strong impression that the NNE is full of older folks who don’t want to pay for those durn schools any more.  I guess the quote from O’Sullivan is meant to show it’s not universal, and Decelles ends the article by saying that he’s head secession talk come and go, and how his goal is to keep the NNE as part of Burlington, but the stereotype of our neighborhood came through quite strongly.

As a member of the Flynn Elementary community and a parent of young children in the NNE, I can officially say that stereotype is not true.  Sure, there are lots of retirees in our neighborhood.  But the article downplayed the fact that there are two senior centers located out here, which in my view would more than account for the fact that our population is older than in other city ‘hoods.  And there was virtually no mention of what might be the largest demographic in the neighboorhood: middle-class families. Stroll down North Avenue at 2:30 and you will see hundreds of kids getting out of school and going home to their younger families that live here.

2 Responses to “New North End Secession = hot air”

  1. Rich says:

    John, it is a mixed bag, though, a little bit of everything, which is why it’s so hard to categorize.

    One thing we do need in the NNE is the right businesses. I’m trying to work on whether it’s possible to turn the DMV space (my old Thayer School) into a software incubator or maybe even home to a gaming company. Or maybe even moving the syndicate there!

    It would be perfect for that industry – soft footprint, close to Leddy’s parks beaches and bikepaths, and, who knows, maybe if we got some good biz there, something good would happen to that shopping center.

    Something like that would change the whole NNE conversation.

  2. Lea Terhune says:

    Don’t know how thus got turned into a school tax issue, because I think the North End passes school taxes. We are very proud of our neighborhood schools, and have active walk-to-school, safe-routes-to-school initiatives.

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