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Bernie to Tony the Prog: Fuggedaboutit? 

Sanders distances himself from Progessive gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina of the Vermont Progressive Party.

Thank you, Rutland Herald, for posting on your Web site the names of more than 1600 Vermonters who put money into the campaign kitty of Progressive Party gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina.

Along with Gov. Howard Dean and Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, Tony the Prog has led the way in qualifying for public campaign financing. The trio is breaking new ground in Vermont’s bold move to whittle down the influence rich people and rich corporations have over our politicians. It’s certainly worth a shot. And once again, little Vermont is on the cutting edge!

Mr. Pollina’s list of donors reads like a “Who’s Who” of the grassroots base of Vermont’s political left. There are veterans of all the major battles from the Vietnam War and the civil rights struggle to the nuclear freeze, the livable wage and the women’s movements.

Tony the Prog has an impressive base. It’s a veritable all-star roster that encompasses everyone from Dave Dellinger, Jerry Greenfield and Sally Conrad to John Freidin, the “Father of Act 60,” and Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle (and his parents).

There are the names of Progressive city councilors like Jane Knodell, Phil Fiermonte, Bill Stahl, Chapin Spencer and Tom Smith. There’s even more than a half-dozen of Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders’ present and former congressional staffers, including Gretchen Bailey, chief of constituent services, Jenny Nelson, agricultural liaison, and Sue Trainor, his scheduler.

But something is terribly wrong with Pollina’s list of contributors. Something is shockingly missing. One name above all others. It’s kind of like Abbott without Costello or bread without butter, but the sad fact is the Progressive candidate for governor couldn’t even get one lousy dollar out of the person regarded as the founder of Vermont’s progressive movement — Bernie Sanders!

It wasn’t just a case of Ol’ Bernardo demonstrating his legendary stinginess. (Some will recall the column back in 1996 based on El Cheapo’s 1040 and an embarrassing dearth of charitable contributions.)

No, it wasn’t because he didn’t have the money. Rather, it’s because Bernie Sanders is determined to stay as far away from the Vermont Progressive Party as humanly possible. It may well be that Washington has done to Vermont’s socialist radical the one thing no one thought possible — turned him into a Democrat after all!

Mr. Sanders, the Vermont Democrat, er, sorry, Independent, explained the other day that he simply doesn’t “have time” for Tony the Prog and all the other Sanderistas who think of him as their political hero. A living legend.

“My major function right now,” said Sanders, “is representing the people in the Congress, and I spend a whole lot of time in that and that’s where my energy is going right now.”

Needless to say, The Bern will not be attending Mr. Pollina’s official campaign kick-off in Barre this week. Way too busy.

“As you know,” said Sanders, “when I was mayor of Burlington (1981-89), by definition, I was heavily involved in starting the Progressive Coalition. But I have not been involved in starting the Progressive Party. I just don’t have the time.”

Now that Bernie’s made it to prime time, is he ditching all the loyal, little people who made him such a big star? Or maybe he just thinks he did it all by himself and made it big by riding the power of his own personality and ideas?

“When I was mayor of Burlington,” said Sanders, “and I’m here 24 hours a day, I have a sense of what’s going on. I don’t like to do things in a half-baked manner.”

Tony the Prog was on the campaign trail in Bennington County Tuesday when we caught up with him via cell phone to ask the Bernie question. For five years, Mr. Pollina served on Bernie’s staff as his Vermont director, and later, as a senior policy analyst. Hey, Anthony, how come Ol’ Bernardo’s ignoring you? What’s up with that?

“I guess Bernie just has to take the time to decide,” said Pollina politely. “I am leaving it up to him to make his own decision. If it takes Bernie more time than others to think this through, I’m going to give him the time and the space to do that.”

We politely described the Bernie situation to Anthony as an “awkward” one. The congressman obviously hates being asked about it. He goes into his “paranoia on a late night subway” mode. He quickly loses eye contact and starts getting fidgety. It’s like he has ants in his pants. And people are starting to notice.

“I feel awkward,” said Pollina, “when people ask the question,” on the campaign trail. “I’m not in a position to speak for him or to speak about his connection to the Progressive Party.”

Actually, Anthony, it looks like Bernie doesn’t want a connection. I mean, what’s in it for him?

On Capitol Hill, Mr. Sanders has lined up with the Democrats. They like him. He likes them. House Speaker Dick Gephardt has promised Ol’ Bernardo a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee if the Ds gain back the majority in November. It’s a reward for Bernie’s being a good little Democrat. By declining to challenge Republican Jim Jeffords for the senate, Bernie acknowledged whose tune he dances to.

It’s easy to imagine things getting a little awkward for Bernie on Capitol Hill if, back home in Vermont, he was boosting Tony the Prog’s campaign to defeat a veteran Democrat governor.

Look, Bernie’s no dummy. He’s a quick study artist and he’s done fabulous in Congress. He’s become a player. But it’s looking like all the rhetoric about “big-monied interests” and defending “poor people, working people and the elderly” just masks the fact that Vermont’s legendary radical, Bernie Sanders, went to Washington D.C. to become a Democrat. Bye-bye, third-party politics.

The other successful Progressive with a similar dilemma is Peter Clavelle. Mayor Moonie dropped $25 on Tony the Prog’s campaign plate. (His dad, Raymond Clavelle, kicked in twice that.) Mayor Clavelle, however, is torn. In the last election, Ho-Ho endorsed him. They get along quite well. Mutual admiration society. When the school budget finally squeaked by, Gov. Dean showed up at the mayor’s hacienda to join in the victory celebration.

Clavelle’s between a rock and a hard place. He’d like to do his part to support the Progressive movement statewide. He gave a great speech at the Progressive Party convention last week. But getting Ruth Dwyer elected governor gives Clavelle chest pains. What to do?

If you have any suggestions, give him a call.

Legislative Sweepstakes — Monday was the big deadline day for the major party candidates to file for the fall’s Golden Dome Derby. The Democrat majorities in both House and Senate are under attack.

The race for the six state senate seats representing Chittenden County promises be a real barn burner. The Democrats are putting up a pretty tough-looking slate with three incumbents topping their ticket: Sen. Jim Leddy (South Burlington); and the “telling it like it is” Granny Caucus of Sen. Jean Ankeney (St. George) and Sen. Janet Munt (South Burlington). Quarterback Jimmy “The Jogger” Leddy, a bike path regular, did a pretty good recruiting job by signing up South Burlington’s city council chairman, Jim Condos and Rep. Karen Lafayette from Burlap’s South End. If you check their past political performances, you’ll find Condos and Lafayette are seasoned political winners.

Both parties will whittle down their eight entries to six primed racehorses in the September 12 primary. Interesting to note that in Vermont’s most populous county, only one of the 16 state senate candidates hails from the state’s largest city — Karen Lafayette. So much for Big Bad Burlington throwing its weight around. Madame Lafayette made her decision to run for the senate late. She told Seven Days her work on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee on issues of “smart growth” and “downtown development” have given her both solid legislative experience and a county-wide outlook.

Over on the Republican side, former Lite-Gov. Barbara Snelling is looking to start her own GOP Granny Caucus in the senate by mounting another courageous political comeback. In 1998 she lost the lite-gov race to Doug Racine by a whisker.

Sen. Peter Brownell of Richmond is the only actual incumbent the party of Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon has put up. He’ll be joined by Lady Babs of Shelburne, and a pack of Ruth Dwyer-Pat Robertson Christian conservatives determined to undo the granting of constitutional rights to gay and lesbian Vermonters.

Tut Parmly of Richmond and Bill Parkinson of Hinesburg have tried. Don Brunelle of Winooski, a former conservative state rep, hates Act 60 and civil unions — and loves Ruth Dwyer.

Hey, you think voters might confuse Brunelle with Brownell? Brownell, you see, doesn’t love Ruth Dwyer and the hardcore Republican right doesn’t love him. Sen. Brownell belongs to the moderate wing of the Vermont GOP. Don’t forget, Vermont was a one-party Republican state until the 1960s. The rebellious “moderate” wing is known as the “Gibson wing.” The wing that took over from the “Proctor wing.” The Gibsons wouldn’t kowtow to the banks and the railroads and the New York developers. Today, the Gibson wing doesn’t like to see folks try to turn a political party into some sort of religious political movement using the Bible as the party platform. Gibson-wing Republicans include George Aiken, Deane Davis, Jim Jeffords, Dick Snelling, Jeff Amestoy, Art Gibb and Dick Mallary.

By the way, Mr. Mallary certainly showed his mettle this week. The Brookfield legislator, former congressman and House Speaker is being targeted by the GOP God Squad led by Steve Webster of Randolph. They want to take Mallary out in the primary as God’s punishment for supporting civil unions. So Mallary has gone “Independent” to secure his spot on the November ballot, thus outflanking the Bible-belters’ strategy of emptying pews to cut him down in September.

Then there’s the star rookie candidate of the Republican state senate team — Skip Vallee of South Burlington. Gasoline Vallee is looking to reunite in the senate chamber with his old college buddy, Sen. John Bloomer, the Rutland Rocket. They both graduated Williams College.

And speaking of Williams College, guess who Skippy has signed up as his campaign treasurer?

Would you believe the son of former Democratic Governor Madeleine Kunin?

That’s right. Peter Kunin, an attorney at Downs Rachlin & Martin and a Williams grad, is treasurer of the Vallee for Senate campaign. So you’re wondering, how could the offspring of Queen Madeleine the Democrat sign on with the campaign of a pro-life, anti-civil union, Ruth Dwyer Republican mini-mart mogul?

“I am not a Republican and I am not a Democrat,” Mr. Kunin explained to Seven Days. “I support the person, not the party.” Attorney Kunin represents Gasoline Vallee on legal matters involving Skip’s successful business interests.

“He’s smart and hard-working,” said Kunin. “I don’t agree with him on every issue, but as a person, I really like him,” he said. As for his own location on the political spectrum, Prince Peter told us that at home, he’s “the conservative” in the Kunin clan. And at work in the land of corporate law, he’s “the liberal at the law firm.”

Mr. Kunin said he supports civil unions “fully and completely.” And as for abortion, he said, “I’m totally pro-choice.”

Relax, Madeleine, he’ll be okay. This Vallee thing is probably just a phase.

Update: Backus Taxes — Two weeks ago, Seven Days broke the news that Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Jan Backus was delinquent in paying property taxes on her Winooski home. The day the story broke, Jan of Arc rushed down to city hall and paid up. There she was on the Ch. 3 news holding up her receipt. “I forgot,” she said. “My fault. Stupid mistake. No excuse. I forgot, but I have paid them all up now and I’m happy to do so.”

What’s really funny is the fact that several news operations ignored it, including The Burlington Free Press, the Rutland Herald and the other TVs. Stupid mistake, or were they just ashamed they didn’t have it first?

Hey, lucky for Ms. Backus. The fewer voters who know about it, the better.

Media Notes — The top political reporter at The Burlington Free Press is bidding bachelorhood adieu. We got the scoop out on the Burlington bike path one recent sunny afternoon. We spotted Adam Lisberg and Rachel Klein peddling in sync. Later, heading back south, we overtook Ms. Klein peddling alone.

“Where’s Adam?” we asked. “Did you lose him?”

“No, I didn’t lose him,” replied Ms. Klein. “I’ve got him forever and I’ve got the ring to prove it!” she said with a smile. Rachel proudly showed us the evidence. Very nice. Didn’t know the Freeps paid that much. The wedding’s set for September 3 in the Big Apple. Mazeltov!

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

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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