Middlebury educator and consultant Esther Charlestin announces run for governor

The former dean of climate and culture at Middlebury Union Middle School left her position in September after facing racism. She is the first candidate to join Vermont’s 2024 gubernatorial race.

MONTPELIER — Esther Charlestin, a former administrator who spoke out against the racism she faced at a Middlebury middle school, is running for governor of Vermont.

Charlestin, co-chair of the Vermont Commission on Women and a former Middlebury Selectboard member, announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination on the steps of the Statehouse on Friday afternoon.

“Vermont is changing, change is coming, and we must be ready, we must embrace it, we must shape it, and that’s what I plan to do as your governor,” she said.

Charlestin, who described herself as a Haitian-American child of immigrants, was introduced at the campaign kickoff by former state legislator Kiah Morris. She described Charlestin as a “new option” to move the state forward.

“She’s stepping up in a way that is so courageous, truly courageous, at a time when we’re seeing party politics gearing up to put money in for junk candidates who are not going to support the needs of the people but are there for their own political gain,” Morris said.

A woman wearing glasses and a scarf is speaking at a rally.
“Vermont is changing, change is coming, and we must be ready, we must embrace it, we must shape it, and that’s what I plan to do as your governor,” Charlestin said. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

According to Charlestin, the state lacks a clear vision to tackle major issues that it will grapple with for years to come, such as climate change and the housing crisis. She cited her own firsthand experience with the latter, saying that she did not have housing for eight weeks, which resulted in her stepping down from the Middlebury Selectboard.

“We need to know where we’re going to be 20 years from now and that starts with implementing things now and working together,” she said. “The Vermont I want to see, I can’t imagine right now, the way it is right now. I’m running for the Vermont 20 years from now, and it starts now, it starts today.”

Charlestin has less political experience than many previous candidates for governor but said she has the skills to get the job done.

“The good news is being governor, you’re not governor by yourself. It takes a village and you work with legislators. There are people who are doing amazing work in this state already,” she said. “I don’t think you need a professional resume.”

Charlestin moved to Vermont from Rhode Island in 2019. Last fall, she left her job as dean of climate and culture at the Middlebury Union Middle School after facing racism. She then founded a consulting organization that helps individuals and institutions engage in strategic planning and build culture through diversity, equity and inclusion education.

A group of people holding signs in front of a building.
Charlestin speaks to members of the media and supporters as she announces her candidacy for governor. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

A graduate of Emerge Vermont, a program that trains Democratic women to run for office, Charlestin was presented last October with the Vermont Democratic Party’s Leahy Award for up-and-coming Democrats.

“I think Esther is a magnetic personality,” said Jim Dandeneau, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party. “She is a very interesting candidate for governor.”

Other potential gubernatorial candidates, such as Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and Rep. Caleb Elder, D-Starksboro, have expressed interest in the race. But according to Dandeneau, Charlestin is the first Democrat to officially announce she is running for governor.

The winner of the party’s August primary election may face off against incumbent Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican who was first elected in 2016, though Scott has not said whether he would seek a fifth term.