BRATTLEBORO—Selectboard member Tim Wessel has announced his candidacy to represent Windham County in the Vermont Senate.
“In the coming weeks, I will be officially launching my campaign website and using other tools to get the word out to those who are not yet familiar with my work for Brattleboro,” said Wessel on Feb. 1. “While continuing for another year on the Selectboard, I’ll be also making my case to voters as to why I will be a strong voice to send to Montpelier in 2023, so stay tuned.”
Wessel has served three terms on the Selectboard, elected first for one year, then for another one-year term, and then for his current three-year term. He is running unopposed for a one-year seat on the board in the March election.
Since he is eyeing an independent candidacy for the Senate, his name will not be on the August primary ballot, but rather the November election ballot.
The founder and owner of Vermont Films Group, Inc., Wessel, 54, moved to Brattleboro from Putney in 2007 and lives here with his wife, Erin, and their 4-year-old son, Declan. His 32-year-old offspring, Cal Glover-Wessel, lives in the southwest.
“I have been so lucky to serve the one-and-only Brattleboro for the past five years on the Selectboard, even with the extra challenges that our two-year pandemic has created for all local governments,” Wessel wrote in his statement released on Feb. 1.
“I feel that I have the skills to continue my commitment to active listening, respectful debate, and responsible decision-making for all of Windham County,” he said.
“Our southern Vermont region needs a strong advocate for local democracy, for affordable and quality child care, for easing our housing crisis, and so much more,” Wessel continued. “I hope to be a voice for those who want less rhetoric and more collaboration, and to bring my passion for good policy decisions to the State House.”
Wessel says he is happy to accept any “encouragement, advice, or even criticism.”
“This whole early process of speaking to supporters and preparing for this run has been humbling, exciting, and already downright daunting because I take my roles of public service very seriously, as I hope you already know,” he said.
Poking holes in rhetoric
In recent months, Wessel has found himself sparring with younger activists in town in online forums that have become downright bitter at times.
In particular, Wessel, who has owned and managed rental property in town, opposed new limits on security deposits that landlords can require in advance of occupancy, on the grounds that it wouldn’t actually address the myriad housing problems in the ways envisioned by the Tenants Union of Brattleboro, which organized the effort.
“Kudos to the local activists who are seeking to have this change enacted,” he wrote in a commentary published in The Commons on Sept. 30, 2020. “The intention of helping to get people safely and affordably housed is a good one, and this is a conversation that must happen.”
“But this ordinance feels like using a chainsaw to operate on a patient, when what we need here is a scalpel,” he wrote.
Wessel has also taken a vocal position against local masking ordinances, but far from being an anti-mask zealot, he outlined his position in a 1,100-word Facebook post.
“What I am not in support of is public policy that is either ineffective, disingenuous, or even does the opposite of what is needed for communities,” he wrote.
“A town-wide mask ‘mandate’ is just one of those policies that seems sensible on the surface but is filled with possible unintended consequences for Brattleboro,” he continued.
Wessel says he believes his acting as Selectboard chair during “those very emotional Zoom meetings of 2020” caused a bullseye to be placed on him by those “who felt very deeply that things must change quickly.”
“I get that, because I was that activist years ago, but when you chair a democratic meeting, you are responsible for letting every voice be heard and making sure that change happens democratically,” Wessel says.
“I work against rhetoric simply because it fails in the end, since rhetoric without sound policy attached to it just ends up being empty promises to those needing help,” he adds.
So, is Wessel a political moderate or trying to find common ground — and is that even possible in the country or state in 2022?
Wessel says that perhaps he is more a “pragmatic progressive.”
“I really hate labels, to be honest,” he says. “My voting record on the Selectboard is solidly liberal when you look at it, but I’m always willing to say, ‘Hold on; this policy will not do what we want it to do, and here’s why.’”
“I believe you can always find common ground here in Vermont and finding that common path is key, because if you are heading down a path that is not supported by a majority of your constituents, you are doomed to failure,” he says.
“I do believe opposing viewpoints can work together in Vermont — and nationally — but it takes leaders who are willing to roll up their sleeves, unclench their fists, and get to work,” Wessel adds.
Senate vs. House
Having considered running for the state House of Representatives, Wessel told The Commons that he ultimately found himself drawn to the Senate’s “way of doing business.”
“Pre-pandemic, during our town’s advocacy for some municipal self rule, I spent a lot of time sitting in the viewing sections of both the House and the Senate,” said the candidate.
“The Senate allows for more complete dialogue and consideration of issues,” he continued. “It’s both more intimate and more deliberative, and the smaller size allows for more direct debate.”
Wessel says he’s “drawn to that style of democracy, and I’d be honored to sit in that chamber.”
As for why he has chosen to run as an independent, he says he feels “that I can really be more of my authentic self if I am an independent. I’m sure I will be at a disadvantage by going this route, but this feels right to me.”
“I think Democratic voters will know that I largely align with their values, but that I will examine each decision carefully and call out problems,’ Wessel says. “I hope that’s what people want of all their candidates, regardless of their labels.”
What does it mean to not have a party behind him?
“I’m not sure,” he says. “It will be tough, but I’d rather lose than have to toe a party line and not be my authentic self.”
Work and politics
When asked if his work filming documentaries and reality television shows connects with his politics, or whether he comes to statewide office aspirations through community service for town government, Wessel said he came “to both passions separately, but they do sometimes inform each other.”
He said his aspiration to serve Windham County in the Vermont Senate “feels like a natural progression, since I love serving Brattleboro and I began my Vermont life in the woods of Putney.”
As a result, “I feel I can appreciate the needs of many different ways of life in Windham County,” he says.
Like other politicians around Vermont, Wessel says he understands the challenges of launching and sustaining a campaign during a pandemic.
“I guess initially it’s communicating online, which we have grown all too accustomed to, but I will be out there soon — introducing myself, meeting people, and learning about broader county concerns,” he says, calling that process “the real joy here for me.”
“I love getting surprised by a new perspective, or learning the wisdom of an old one,” he says.
And, he asks, “What’s the point of life if you don’t venture out of your comfortable bubble?”
“After two years of figurative and literal isolation, we all need to get out and shake hands and give some hugs,” Wessel says.