WATERBURY — Sue Minter is banking on her leadership after Tropical Storm Irene to motivate voters to make her the next leader of Vermont.
The former transportation secretary and Irene recovery officer for the state kicked off her campaign for governor before a cheering hometown crowd of about 150 people Tuesday afternoon. She and her fellow speakers touted her hard work and results after the flooding that devastated the state in 2011.
In some ways, Waterbury — which Minter represented in the Vermont House from 2004 until 2010 — was the poster child for the flooding that followed Irene, which damaged state office buildings and destroyed downtown businesses.
“Then, I experienced the unbreakable spirit of this community, as neighbors and volunteers from near and far pulled together and made sure no one was left behind,” Minter said Tuesday. “Over the course of four years following this disaster, I have watched Waterbury move from a place of despair to a place brimming with hope and with a vision of the future.”
Minter pointed to her response to the disaster, leading the rebuilding of 500 miles of roads and 700 homes across the state, and to the bipartisan effort that drove the recovery.
“We did it not as Democrats or Republicans. We did it as Vermonters,” Minter said. “Vermonters don’t need politicians who just talk about problems. They need a leader who brings people together to help solve problems.”
With Gov. Peter Shumlin not seeking a fourth term, Minter joins an increasingly crowded 2016 Democratic gubernatorial field that includes House Speaker Shap Smith and Google executive and former Windsor County Sen. Matt Dunne, who formally kicked off his campaign Monday in Barre.
Minter acknowledged she isn’t well known in the state; only 38 percent of voters know who she is, compared with 57 percent for Dunne and 61 percent for Smith, according to the Castleton Polling Institute. But she had some high-profile people to speak on her behalf Tuesday.
Doug Racine, a former legislator and state human services secretary, endorsed Minter’s candidacy.
“She’s the most qualified candidate in this race,” Racine said. “I’ve worked with Sue in many capacities — as a legislator and in the governor’s Cabinet — and I know who she is. Sue Minter is a leader. She has the qualities and experience I am looking for and I think Vermonters are looking for.”
Minter also received the endorsement of Vermont’s only female governor, Madeleine Kunin.
“You may not be able to see this,” Kunin said, holding up her raised fist, “but I’m carrying a torch, and I’ve been carrying this torch for a long time — actually, since 1991, when I stepped down as the first woman governor and served for three terms.”
“It’s beginning to burn my fingers,” Kunin joked. “I’m willing, ready and able and enthusiastic to pass it on to Sue Minter.”