BRATTLEBORO — Wendy Harrison has announced her candidacy for one of two soon-to-be vacant Windham County state Senate seats. She is running as a Democrat in the Aug. 9 primary.
Harrison has more than 30 years of local government experience and “a passion for working together with everyone in the community to address challenges and seize opportunities.”
“We can solve our problems from the ground up, as long as the process is inclusive,” she says. “I am committed to identifying barriers and developing solutions that empower individuals. This benefits us all.”
Harrison grew up on the Space Coast of Florida, the region encompassing the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. She studied urban and environmental economics at Bryn Mawr College and earned her master of government administration at the University of Pennsylvania, where she met her husband, recently retired Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell.
After spending time in Florida, in 2015, Harrison and Elwell permanently moved to his home town of Brattleboro. Their daughter is a public school teacher in New Hampshire.
Harrison says she decided to run because she appreciates Vermont, “and I want to keep it the wonderful place it is now.” She also says, “I like a challenge.”
“I know I can help with housing and transportation,” says the candidate, noting that “the most recent legislature made a lot of progress, particularly in housing, and I want to carry that forward.”
“I'm very aware that public money needs to be spent carefully and spent intentionally and with as much bang for the buck as you can get,” she adds.
Having worked as director of development and communications for the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT) from 2015 to 2016, Harrison she thinks the Trust's model is a sound one.
“It's a great model and it's been in use for, I think, 50 years,” she says. “And now other states have copied it because it's been so successful. [The organization has] ways to make purchase of houses less expensive, which is a great model, where the Housing Trust owns the land under the house and the individual owners own the house.”
As a result, when the property is sold, “the land is still owned by the Trust, but the house owner can get any increased value of the house, so it's an investment, and that's important.”
Harrison described that scenario as “an example of public money being spent right, because the benefit continues in perpetuity, not to just one family, but to all who will own it the future.”
Asked about the current controversy over the Trust's plan to build affordable housing in Putney, Harrison says it's important for any development to have community support.
She's also “very concerned about the lack of civility in government.”
“And that's increasing,” she says. “One of my strengths is working with people who have very different opinions, and I think a key is to bring everyone to the table as early in the process as possible and actively reach out to those who will be opposed or negatively impacted.”
In addition to emphasizing what she describes in her campaign literature as her “broad and enduring commitment to inclusive processes,” Harrison names housing, sustainable transportation, child care and parental leave, and equitable economic development as her major issues if elected.
In Vermont, Harrison has served as Bellows Falls/Rockingham municipal manager, as interim town administrator in Vernon, and as interim city manager in Winooski.
She chairs the Southeast Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS) board and is a member of the state Transportation Board.
Previously, she served on the Windham Regional Commission and the Southeast Vermont Transit board, as the interim CEO at New England Center for Circus Arts, and in senior staff positions with WWHT and Retreat Farm.
Early in her career, Harrison worked for the city of Philadelphia on a payroll personnel pension system under the direction of the city's finance department. In Florida, she was solid waste director for Martin County, assistant village manager for Tequesta, and an eight-year elected member of the Jupiter Town Council.
Harrison has garnered much support in her government work here since 2015 with formal endorsements from citizens and municipal and state officials alike.
“As municipal manager in Rockingham and Bellows Falls, Wendy treated the public with respect, communicated proactively and responded efficiently to requests,” says Rick Cowan of Rockingham. “She did an enviable job of addressing the frequently divergent interests of the town and village.”
Joel Bluming of Jamaica, who worked with Harrison on the Windham Regional Commission and on the board of Southeast Vermont Transit, called Harrison “an effective collaborator and a tireless advocate for bus riders.”
“Honest, dependable, smart, dedicated, passionate, and compassionate: These are words I use to describe Wendy Harrison,” says Katie Buckley, former commissioner of housing and community development for the state.
Harrison “actively listens and is always open to new ideas and beliefs,” she says in her endorsement. “She is not afraid to tackle the most challenging situations and does so with patience, commitment, and civility.”
“I trust her as a leader,” Buckley says, “and am proud to call her not only my professional colleague but my personal friend.”