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Vermont Lt. Gov. Molly Gray talks to local leaders and citizens at the Works Cafe, in Brattleboro, Vt., on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021.

BRATTLEBORO — Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, who visited town Tuesday, called Brattleboro “the hub of innovation.”

“I think Brattleboro is a good model for the state, particularly southern Vermont and rural communities, in how to come out of this pandemic stronger,” Gray said in an interview after meeting with staff from Brattleboro Development Credit Corp.

She also spoke with community members and leaders at The Works Cafe, and those behind the effort to bring refugees from around the world to Brattleboro by opening a field office for the Ethiopian Community Development Council.

The local field office recently received federal approval. Gray said the effort for refugee resettlement in Brattleboro requires ensuring resources are lined up related to health care, housing, education and transportation.

Welcoming more refugees to the state puts a “laser focus” on Vermont’s housing challenges and federal funds related to the COVID-19 pandemic provide an opportunity to make strategic investments for households of all ages, Gray said.

“I think Brattleboro can be a model for Vermont on how to rally community support, how to rally stakeholders throughout the community and to be a welcoming community for refugees coming to Vermont,” she said. “I think that Brattleboro is a model for Vermont on how to bring people together to create a really welcoming environment.”

Gray was elected in November. Asked how the job is going, she said, “Well, I think there’s no playbook for first-term in a Statehouse that’s closed.

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“I think there was a lot of challenges just in terms of trying to figure out how to engage with the Legislature, with a remote session,” she said. “I can’t wait until the Statehouse is open again and there’s legislators in the building but I don’t shy away from problem solving and I don’t shy away from tough things. And I do believe out of every crisis comes opportunity and we do have opportunity coming out of this pandemic to do things differently, to really look at community need, human need, and align our budget with our need.”

Gray said after the legislative session closed, she has devoted a day each week in a different community in Vermont to meet with leaders and anyone who wants to talk about lessons learned from the pandemic. Also discussed in such sessions are community needs.

“I feel really grateful to bring my experience to bear in this moment and look forward to doing a lot of good work for the state through the rest of my term,” Gray said. “I think we need to listen to Vermonters more than ever and be out in these communities really understanding human need and let that need drive how we form a budget and our decision making.”

With federal pandemic funds coming to Vermont and its municipalities, Gray said strong coordination is needed so communities can be strategic in making long-term investments.

Gray said she wants even more Vermonters to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and for booster shots to go to people as soon as they are eligible. She also wants clear guidance on masking, which she believes should be required inside establishments.

“I think we’re in the fourth quarter but the game isn’t over and we have to remind Vermonters of that, and we have to lead like we are still in a pandemic because we are,” she said. “We can’t let up as leaders in our fight against this pandemic and we need to make sure all Vermonters know what to do to make this state safe.”

Her plan is to make herself as accessible as possible, organizing gatherings like Tuesday’s and keeping her office open to the public. She said to prevent an incident like the Jan. 6 United States Capitol attack, the government needs to be trusted.

Asked at The Works if she might consider a run for Congress if Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., retires, Gray called Leahy “a national treasure.”

“And we are deeply, deeply lucky to have him serving Vermont,” Gray said. “I personally hope that he runs again, because as a small rural state, with an aging population, we have a lot of needs, we have a lot of need coming out of this pandemic. But if he doesn’t decide to run and Congressman [Peter] Welch, who has also been incredible leader for the state, decides to run for Senate, I’ll be certainly giving a run for Congress a lot of thought. I think that we need strong partners in Vermont right now that understand every corner of our state and the needs that we have.”

Bob Audette contributed to this report.