Mayor believes his Syrian refugee plan cost him re-election

AP News
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Posted: Mar 08, 2017 2:36 PM
Mayor believes his Syrian refugee plan cost him re-election

RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) — A mayor who was handily defeated in his bid for a sixth two-year term said Wednesday that he believes his loss was due to his support for a plan to bring refugees from Syria and Iraq to the economically depressed Vermont city.

Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras lost Tuesday's four-way race to City Councilor David Allaire, who had campaigned on a platform of healing a community divided by the mayor's refugee plan.

While acknowledging that a number of local issues played a role in the race, Louras said he felt his support for refugee resettlement ultimately cost him re-election.

"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," Louras said.

According to unofficial returns, Allaire claimed 52 percent of the vote. Also in the race were downtown advocate Michael Coppinger and resident Kam Johnston. The candidates do not run under a party affiliation.

"One of the first things I want to do is restore the trust in City Hall," Allaire said, standing outside his victory party. "That's what I'm going to do."

Last spring, Louras announced a plan to bring up to 100 refugees annually from Syria and Iraq to the city of about 16,500 residents. 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. It's unclear given the changes in the immigration and refugee programs by President Donald Trump's administration how many more will arrive.

Allaire had criticized the way Louras rolled out the program, announcing it last April without getting input from the public and city officials. When he announced his candidacy, Allaire said the issue was not with the city taking in refugees but with the secrecy of the program.

During his campaign, Louras cited the importance of continuity and said his plans to create more jobs and the city's strides in confronting heroin use would be jeopardized by a change in leadership.

But he also said he wasn't sorry if his support for resettling refugees led to his defeat.

"I will say that I have no regrets whatsoever in pushing a refugee resettlement initiative, and if welcoming five children in two families to this community while they were escaping for their lives cost me this election, then I am OK with that," he said.