Steven Soifer evaluates the role local electoral politics can play in incorporating democratic-socialist principles into the United States. In this work, a case study of the administration of Burlington, Vermont mayor Bernard Sanders, Soifer examines a contemporary experiment in municipal socialist politics. The Socialist Mayor is based on over eighty interviews with people both inside and outside the Sanders administration. The book explores how the mayor and members of the Burlington Progressive Coalition were elected and re-elected several times, and assesses possibilities for implementing socialism on the municipal level.
The introductory chapter lays out a historical and theoretical framework for discussing municipal socialism in the United States. Subsequent chapters address the conditions surrounding Sanders’ election, the success of the Progressive Coalition, and development and growth issues. The workings of democracy under a socialist administration are examined by focusing on electoral involvement, neighborhood groups, and tenants’ issues. Questions of ownership are examined through the use of several case examples, such as the attempt to municipalize the city’s privately owned cable company. The topic of taxes and quality of life issues are fully explored, as is Sanders’ unique concern with the Central American peace movement. The book concludes with a detailed discussion of Sanders’ influence on Vermont politics and his position within the socialist spectrum. This book takes on added significance in light of Sanders’ November 1990 election to the U.S. House of Representatives, the first socialist to be elected to Congress since the 1940s. Soifer’s study will be an important resource for courses in political science and municipal government, as well as a valuable addition to public and academic libraries.