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Back Track: 1999 in Review 

Inside Track

It won’t be long now, folks. Just days until we experience the impact — if any — of that monster killer insect bent on destroying the world as we know it: the Y2K Bug!

We’re All-American Boy-Scout-prepared for this one. See, we’ve stocked up with a dozen cans of Raid Insect Repellent, and ant traps surround the desk upon which yours truly’s iMac rests. C’mon, Big Bad Y2K buggie, you mess with my iMac and I send you swiftly to meet your maker! Did I ever tell you how many bugs I slaughtered as a child?

What will change on January 1 are the digits we use to name a year. No more 19-this or 19-that. In a few days it will be 2000 — still looks and sounds weird, but I predict we will adjust as we do with everything else. If you told folks 100 years ago the next century would turn the human race into a bunch of monkeys sitting in the fetal position while driving 2000-pound, four-wheel rigs using decayed fossils for fuel, well, they would have said you were a nut case in desperate need of medical attention.

Well, guess what.

We dare not go so far as to predict 100 years ahead — when androids run the world for The Earth Inc., the $100,000,000,000,000 corporation left standing after the golden age of mergers and acquisitions has reached its logical conclusion. Ah, yes, The Earth Inc. — the only manufacturer, the only employer and the only governmental institution on the planet.

But enough of waxing horrific about the future. It’s time for one last look back at 1999, the second-to-last year of the millennium. A look back through the pages of Inside Track, the first draft of Vermont history.

January

The 1999 Burlington mayor’s race was just starting to move into third gear. Republican City Councilor Kurt Wright had stepped up to challenge Progressive Mayor Peter Clavelle. Kwik-Stop Kurt vs. Mayor Moonie. Wright called for a $15,000 election spending cap. Clavelle told him to take a hike.

We also reported the first inklings of a possible Bernie Sanders vs. Jim Jeffords U.S. Senate race. In fact, we kept that one sizzling all year, until in November when Ol’ Bernardo took a pass. It sure was fun while it lasted.

On the crime beat, we noted the unusual visitor to the Vermont legislature who just happened to be “released on conditions” following a December 21 violent incident that ended when the distinguished gentleman was arrested at gunpoint — a scene captured by Channel 3 News.

Haskell Garrett, the executive director of ALANA, a minority healthcare nonprofit, was charged with kidnapping and aggravated domestic assault. Mr. Garrett’s conditions of release were quickly tightened up. Haskell is a real smoothie. He eventually copped a sweet deal for a seven-year sentence, to be served on furlough. But his soap-opera speech before Judge Harold Van Benthuysen so touched the judge’s heart, the sentence was cut further, to just five years.

Garrett was sent home instead of to the slammer, and by year’s end was serving out his sentence for a most violent crime while working in the men’s-wear department at Filene’s.

Yeah, sure makes one wonder if Larry, Darryl and Darryl run Vermont’s criminal justice system. At least if they did, we’d have some sort of explanation of how kidnappers get sent to work at the city’s new department store.

February

We’re having trouble remembering February, and it’s not the pot. Let’s see, the Burlington mayor’s race moved into fourth gear. Sure seemed like it was going down to the wire. Hey, remember when Clavelle got upset in the 1993 race by Republican Peter Brownell? We put the word out that history was looking to repeat. That sure got the Progressives motivated. Clavelle was running scared, worried a blue-collar Republican was about to upset the Progressives’ grip on the Queen City.

Statewide, the mighty Vermont Republican Party was going through a changing-of-the-guard in the wake of its pathetic showing in the general election the previous November. The new kid on the block was Skip Vallee, a.k.a. Gasoline Vallee, the new Republican national committeeman for the Green Mountain State. Gotta say, Skippy was a down right refreshing change. The GOP torch was finally being passed to a new generation.

And Skip’s Faerie Queen, Ruthless Ruth Dwyer of Thetford, who lost the 1998 governor’s race to Howard Dean by 15 points, decided to start early on a 2000 rematch by declaring her candidacy on the WGOP, er, sorry, WCAX-TV airwaves. It was their lead story on February 22.

And — yes, it’s coming back to me now — in our final February column, we boldly predicted Kwik-Stop would be elected Burlap’s new mayor by 276 votes! Hey, we’d predicted Brownell in ‘93.

Also in February, we highlighted the planned launch of the Republican-backed Addison Eagle newspaper. The weekly ran into a little blizzard when we reported there was an arrest warrant out for its new managing editor. By year’s end, that gentleman is no longer with the Eagle, but ex-Rutland Mayor Jeff Wennberg is. That’s known as “trading up.”

March

On election night, Mayor Moonie rolled to victory by just 2000 votes. Pretty close, eh?

The one lesson we learned from the experience was that eating crow isn’t so bad if you lather it up good with plenty of Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise. And yours truly ate several helpings of crow that month. ‘Course, Clavelle did have the endorsement of Gov. Howard Dean, who’s never been known to care much for Progressives. Still, it would have been nicer if it had been closer — personally speaking.

Also in March we coined the moniker for that fearless band of passionately dedicated moderate-centrists who inhabit the left-leaning House Democrat Caucus under Montpeculiar’s golden dome — the Blue Dog Democrats. The Blue Dogs stood up on their hind legs and barked the bark that let Speaker Michael Obuchowslci know he’d better stall stocking up on doggie treats pronto. Under the Blue Dog Rules of Politics, Gov. Ho-Ho, their hero, calls the tune in the House. Without the Blue Dogs raising their paws and voting “yes,” Obie can’t pass a damn thing on the House floor. The Speaker finally realized that — math wiz that he is — and it hasn’t been the same since.

The Bernie for Senate campaign got a big boost when the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee shelled out $15,000 for a poll that showed Ol’ Bernardo would beat Jeezum Jim 45-40 in a head-to-head showdown. The poll even showed Sanders with a higher favorability rating than Ho-Ho. According to pollster Rick Mailman, Jeffords vulnerability stemmed not from his own weakness, but from the enormously high regard Vermont voters have for Congressman Sanders.

Sure looked promising at the time.

March also brought a St. Patrick’s Day tribute — to the new Irish pub, Rì Rà, that opened in the former Merchant’s Bank lobby. Cheers!

And also a tribute to the Ireland of the day, pockmarked with buggering clergymen, political assassins and Mafia-style gangsters. Holy Ireland dead and gone.

April

Things got off to a dodgy start as the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service responded to Debbie Salomon‘s puff piece on Rì Rà in The Burlington Free Press by busting the staff that had crossed the ocean wide to bring the sound of genuine Irish brogues to Burlap. The Burlington Seven wanted to remain, but Uncle Sam ordered them out. “We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time,” said Juicy Lucy Kelly, the leader of the band. Yes, it was a good time. Wish it had lasted.

On the international front, Congressman Sanders and wife Jane toured the Middle East and North Africa. This was our non-eyewitness account:

They’re all sitting around on carpets in a big tent in Morocco Monday night. It’s after dinner and everyone’s sipping Turkish coffee and sucking on the dozen or so connections to the giant hookah in the middle of the tent — some more than others. King Hassan II, the Moroccan ruler, exhales a big cloud of yellow smoke, clears his throat and turns to the visiting US. congressional delegation with a glassy look in his eye.

“So which one of you guys is from Vermont?”

Up pops a startled Bernie Sanders in a white dinner jacket. “I am, King. I am Bernie Sanders,” replies The Bern. “I am from Vermont.”

King Hassan nods knowingly to his prime minister sitting cross-legged on the adjacent rug, winks and says, “I hear you’re running against Jim Jeffords.”

“My God” exclaims Bernie. “I mean, Allah be praised! How did you know, your majesty? This is unbelievable!”

“Relax, Bernie,” replies King Hassan. “There are no secrets in Casablanca.”

Upon Bernie’s return, the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia began. Protesters occupied Sanders’ Burlington office and were arrested. Among them our favorite “cute Cork whore,” sorry, distinguished poet from Cork, Ireland, Greg Delanty. “There have to be ways to communicate without killing people,” said the poet.

May

The month began with a town meeting on the crisis in Yugoslavia hosted by Congressman Sanders. It was standing room only at the Pavilion Auditorium in Montpelier. A small band of righteous hecklers were shouted down by Ol’ Bernardo, who questioned whether the protesters of the moment would also have advocated a similar do-nothing policy when the Nazis were rounding up the Jews in Germany.

Good question. So good, in fact, the anti-war tribe didn’t have a comeback.

Shortly thereafter, Sanders joined another congressional delegation that set off to Vienna to meet with representatives of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. Those negotiations at the downtown Radisson Hotel directly led to the release of three captured U.S. soldiers. Bernie’s star was rising rapidly. The Vienna trip led to a meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Sanders was running with the big dogs now!

Meanwhile, Jeezum Jim Jeffords announced he’d introduced legislation to protect the great apes by banning the illegal trade in bush-meat.

Hey, whatever it takes, right?

June

June began with our bestowing on WCAX-TV the first ever Inside Track “Hot Air Award.” News Director Marselis Parsons accepted on behalf of the station. The coveted Hot Air Prize was earned by the station’s big news scoop. Seems some clown had filed a complaint with the Professional Conduct Board against the board’s perennial whipping boy — State Senator and Essex County State’s Attorney Vince Illuzzi. The basis for the complaint doesn’t even deserve repeating, it was so out to lunch. But the airing of it by WCAX was priceless. How low can they go?

The complaint was promptly tossed out, and Marsillyiss subsequently stumbled over his tongue several times trying to correct the error in news judgment. Lead story, my arse.

Hey, it’s not easy being Vince Illuzzi, the “rascal of the north,” as the Boston Globe dubbed him in a laudatory magazine piece by Jon Margolis.

June also was Rivka Medow month. The 29-year-old beauty was a stylish local artist and bartender who had a side job driving huge shipments of cocaine around the country for the Cali Cartel.

The feds at the U.S. Attorney’s office were absolutely smitten by her. You or I would have gotten life behind bars. Ms. Medow got a 15-month slap on the wrist from Judge William Sessions, as requested by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Tavana. As we wrote then, “We wouldn’t have been surprised if Tavana had asked for an autograph or a lock of her hair.”

Others suggested a pair of her undies was more like it. Ah, yes, the War on Drugs — where would we be without it?

July

Enough was finally enough. We finally suggested Rutland Herald Publisher R. John Mitchell do the right thing and register his newspaper as a Jim Jeffords political action committee. In the pages of the Herald — Jeezum’s hometown paper — Jeffords could do go wrong, and it was usually on the front page.

On the other hand, Bernie could do no right, as writers Jack Hoffman and Diane Derby demonstrated again and again. Once The Burlington Free Press, Vermont’s Gannett-chain paper, was our favorite print punching bag. But the Rutland Herald went so far over the line to prop up our aging junior senator that we just couldn’t ignore it.

Our ears still ring with the nasty rebuke insisting we had it all wrong in criticizing the Rutland Herald for a pro-Jeffords bias. Yes, indeed, the critical voice of Jeffords’ Washington, D.C., press secretary is as fresh today as it was then. And just as off-base.

Jeezum crow, give me a break.

July also brought our major journalistic coup of the year. A column about yours truly’s tumble at Dead Man’s Corner on the Burlington Bikepath prompted instant action by the Parks & Rec Department. The hanging vines that blocked the sight lines at the hold-your-breath corner were quickly cut down. And in a couple weeks the black and blue marks disappeared, too. A happy ending!

August

August kicked off with a visit to the Green Mountains by a band of anti-gay Christian hate merchants from Kansas. The August 3 protest in Montpelier by members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka drew a welcoming committee comprising a couple hundred hospitable Vermonters. The Kansas kooks and their “God Hates Fags” protest signs got a well-deserved, measured Vermont welcome, and were then run out-of Dodge.

Folks like that sure give Christianity a lousy rep.

Next up — one of the Vermont news events of the year. It was indeed a shot heard ‘round the nation as Congressman Sanders hosted an August 17 town meeting at St. Michael’s College on the issue of IBM’s pension switcheroo. The crowd overflowed the auditorium as 800 IBMers turned out to voice their sense of betrayal by Big Blue.

News accounts from the meeting went national on the “CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.”

Turns out the IBMers had contacted Jim Jeffords, too, but he ignored them. His finger was still testing the wind direction. So did the Rutland Herald. Didn’t bother to send a reporter to cover it. What a surprise!

August was a bad month for politicians and money. In a deal with prosecutors, former Vermont GOP state chairman Dan Hillard pled guilty in federal court to embezzling $65,000 from a little old lady. And in Burlap, Progressive Councilor Tom Smith took the witness stand to try to weasel out of paying the $18,000 bail bond he’d signed to get a domestic abuser out of the slammer. The gentleman had split for parts unknown. Not Mr. Smith’s finest hour.

September

The month began with our report that Howard Dean was the fourth choice — at odds of 14 to 1 — to be the vice-presidential candidate on the Democrats’ 2000 ticket. It might just be the only way to get Ho-Ho out of town and let somebody else play governor for a little while. Jeez, what a hog!

In other news, Inside Track had the exclusive on mayoral candidate Eric Brenner’s latest side-occupation — stripping at bachelorette parties. The multi-talented Mr. Brenner is, at year’s end, running for a seat on the city council from Ward 3. He’s definitely a future something.

And Freeps education reporter Anne Geggis departed the local daily after 10 years, for the Daytona Beach News Journal — not a Gannett paper. In sunny Florida, Anne’s a crime reporter. Cool. After all, she learned it all at the feet of Mike Donoghue, the great one who in 1999 got transferred off the cop beat to the sports page.

Never mind.

Ch. 22 returned to the news biz with a totally new operation. Everybody took notice. Especially the competition.

Also in September, you could hardly cross the street in Burlap without bumping into Jim Jeffords. Jeezum invaded Bernie’s turf to hand out federal dollars for anything and everything. He gave a cool million to the Flynn Theatre on a Thursday, and was the guest of honor at a fundraiser at a mansion belonging to the chair of the theater’s board the following night.

Party! Party!

Unfortunately Flynn board Chair Amy Tarrant declined to permit the Fourth Estate to step on the grounds of her 14,000-square-foot chateau, Chez Amy. Word is the dogs were on patrol that evening. Hey, I’m a cat man, anyway. No problemo.

October

TV news viewers adjusted their sets as WCAX introduced a new format. They insisted it had absolutely nothing to do with the arrival of the new gang at Ch. 22. All of a sudden there was Marsillyiss Parsons sharing the set with a woman half his age — Sera Congi. It certainly was a painfully awkward start, but by year’s end, the rough edges have been smoothed out. Well, pretty much.

And in Burlington, even the broccoli started screaming as The Food Fight of the Century picked up steam. Everybody had a passionate opinion on who should run a planned new downtown grocery store. In Burlington everything involves politics, and food is certainly no exception. Things got pretty outrageous before the city council made the call in December.

On the political beat, we continued jousting with the wise men who run the Vermont Republican Party, i.e., Chairman Pat Garahan and Executive Director James Dwinell. Finally, we struck a nerve. Dwinell subsequently sent a tender letter to Seven Days praising our positive traits, but urging us not to be so “personal” in our barbs.

At first, we were stunned, unable to recall a “personal” attack on a distinguished Republican. But then Jimmy the Joker bought it to our attention. See, we had referred to Mr. Dwinell as the GOP’s “hired mudslinger.”

Sorry, James, but if the shoe fits...

November

Jeezum Jim kicked off the month with a blistering attack on Hydro-Quebec. Jeffords threatened federal action if the provincial utility did not renegotiate its long-term power contract with Vermont at a lower price, gentler to Vermont’s pocketbook.

Ballsy move, but ludicrous at best. Hey, Jim, you went to law school — since when is a contract not a contract?

Jeezum’s gambit eventually backfired, making HQ all the more determined to get its money, down to the last loonie.

Inside Track also broke the story on the latest crackdown in the War on Beer. Greg Knight, the new chief inspector of the Vermont Liquor Control Board, had started writing letters to the out-of-state parents of underage drinkers, informing them their offspring had an upcoming court date on a criminal charge. Gets their attention, says Knight.

And the A&E cable network named Burlington, Vermont, the most livable city in America. Whoopee!

Burlap sure is livable, all right — assuming you can find a place to live. By year’s end the Queen City had the lowest housing vacancy rate since the white man arrived.

Inside Track caused a bit of a stink reporting how the Times Argus sacked writer Terry Allen in the wake of her story on Indonesian military cadets attending Norwich University in Northfield. That attracted the attention of Brill’s Content, a media watchdog magazine, which sent a reporter to Barre to interview the powers that be at the TA. Should be a good read.

December

Still a work in progress, but so far: Wow! The University of Vermont’s Hockey Hazing Scandal is the talk of the town, with no end in sight. Did the frosh really have to hold their teammates’ wee-wees and march around in an “elephant walk”?

Stay tuned in 2000 for the answers to these and other questions, such as, which UVM heads will roll before this one is put to bed?

See you in January — and don’t forget the bug spray for New Year’s, all right?

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Bio:
Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.

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