Updated: Gottlieb ends campaign for state's attorney

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BENNINGTON — Arnold Gottlieb, who mounted a strong Democratic primary challenge to incumbent Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage, has ended his independent campaign for the office, saying he sees "no viable path to victory."

While he lost to Marthage in the Aug. 14 primary by 526 votes, Gottlieb also had qualified as an independent and his name will therefore appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. Also on the ballot will be the incumbent, who is on both the Democratic and Republican lines, and another independent, Christina Rainville, a former deputy prosecutor in Marthage's office.

"Although the results were close, I fell short on primary election day," Gottlieb said in a statement issued Thursday night. "Not enough Democratic Party voters were convinced that change and the institution of criminal justice reforms were either needed or wanted."

The Dorset resident and private practice attorney added that supporters have encouraged him to continue in the race as an independent.

But Gottlieb said that "as a lifelong Democrat I was hesitant. I have always believed in the tenets and ideals of the party. The idea of `second chance party jumping' and the ability to be a candidate on behalf of more than one major party, as permitted under Vermont law, puts an emphasis on winning rather than encouraging a sense of loyalty to a party and its ideals."

Gottlieb added that "it is under these circumstances and with mixed emotions that I am withdrawing my candidacy for Bennington County State's Attorney, as I see no viable path to victory."

His withdrawal leaves the race one pitting Marthage, a three-term incumbent, against Rainville, who served nearly nine years as an assistant state's attorney in the office before being dismissed by Marthage in early 2016.

Supporter disappointed

Responding to the announcement, Marthage said Friday afternoon: "Since he is withdrawing from the State's Attorney's race, I want to thank Mr. Gottlieb for running an issues-based campaign. A discussion of different ideas is important, and I appreciate his recognition that Bennington County voters continue to support my approach to criminal justice issues. I also hope he will encourage the Democratic voters who supported him to unite behind my campaign."

"Throughout his campaign, he always had the best interests of Bennington County at heart," Rainville said. "Mr. Gottlieb clearly saw the need for change in the Bennington County State's Attorney's office. He ran an honorable campaign and advanced progressive ideas, many of which I share, particularly the need for a Drug Court.

She added that she wants to meet with Gottlieb and his supporters to discuss ideas for combating opioid addiction and other issues.

"Bennington County voters now have a clear choice between the old, stale, failed approach of the present state's attorney," Rainville said, "and the plan for change that I am advancing and will continue to put forward, and that I am hopeful Arnie Gottlieb will support."

But a vocal supporter of Gottlieb during the primary campaign, attorney Amelia Silver, of the Vermont office of Martin, Harding & Mazzotti in Manchester, said it was "terribly unfortunate" that he is withdrawing. She said she can find little reason to back either of the two remaining candidates.

Marthage and Rainville are "both terrible lawyers," Silver contended, adding that "Bennington County is losing out big time."



Called for reforms

"Seven months ago we began a campaign as the Democratic Party representative for the position of Bennington County State's Attorney in order to bring criminal justice reform to Bennington County," Gottlieb said in a written statement. "The issues included ending mass incarceration, providing treatment options to those with addiction issues, streamlining the court docket system and eliminating disparities in the handling of cases when minorities and those of lesser economic means were charged with crimes."

He added, "It is under these circumstances and with mixed emotions that I am withdrawing my candidacy for Bennington County State's Attorney as I see no viable path to victory."

Even though his campaign is over, Gottlieb said he'll "continue to be an advocate for criminal justice reform and to speak out when circumstances dictate."

Gottlieb had challenged Marthage over what he said was a comparatively high rate of incarceration of Bennington residents compared to other Vermont counties, and over what he termed an outdated "tough on crime" culture in the Bennington office.

He promised to call for a formal drug court docket here and to rely more on diversion programs for those arrested, especially when the crime involved addiction or mental health issues.

Marthage questioned the statistics offered on incarceration rates and said she has worked with local organizations for many years to establish strong court diversion programs in the county, independent of annual funding levels provided by the state.

Silver said that the contention of some Marthage supporters that the philosophy of her office has become more progressive over the years "is wishful thinking. Nothing has changed."

She said "a lot of people are very disappointed" by the withdrawal of Gottlieb from the race.

Marthage was first elected to the post in 2006.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. Email: jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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