The campaign of Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Peter Clavelle plans to turn things up a notch or two this week. And it's certainly not a moment too soon.
Just yesterday a friend said he dropped off a facetious six-word letter to the editor at The Burlington Free Press: "Is Peter Clavelle running for governor?"
Yes, he is, believe it or not, and as Seven Days hits the street Wednesday, Candidate Moonie plans a press conference to unveil his much-anticipated plan to redesign Vermont's health-care system.
Then, Wednesday evening, just after Dan Rather, the Clavelle campaign will broadcast a three-minute one-on-one with the candidate.
"That big sucking sound you hear," says Clavelle, "is the cost of health care... The health-care system is broken. Everybody knows it. Everybody but Jim Douglas."
Clavelle's calling his plan the "Vermon-ters First Health Care Plan," and he says it "will make comprehensive, affordable, health insurance available to everyone."
Apparently, the Douglas campaign got wind of all this. Gov. Scissorhands upstaged the challenger by a day, rolling out his own new health-care plan before a Chamber of Commerce audience on Tuesday.
On Thursday, Clavelle and Douglas face off at the Capitol Plaza in the first debate of the campaign. If Clavelle doesn't land at least one solid punch, this baby could be over sooner rather than later.
One veteran political organizer pointed out that one of Clavelle's biggest handicaps may be the fact that, for the first time in his career, he's relying on the Vermont Democratic Party's campaign apparatus, instead of the more aggressive Progressive Party machine, to get him to victory lane.
Already it's apparent Peter is having difficulty getting his side of things into the paper and on the air. There have been too many stretches when the Clavelle name has not been in the news at all.
The Democratic Party machine, we can report, does send out emails, some of which are pretty good. But rarely, if ever, do they follow up with phone calls pushing their case.
Don't they have any idea how many emails a news operation gets in one day?
It reminds us of the lack of aggressiveness that sank Doug Racine two years ago. Racine sat back while the persistent GOP Nasty Boys, Jim Barnett and Neale Lunderville, pecked him to death.
If Clavelle's going to pull off an upset, he and his campaign staff are not going to do it by being shy.
Douglas Overconfident? — The quote of the week came from the lips of Republican Gov. Jim Douglas. When asked about his obvious confidence of victory in November, the governor replied, "A lot of people say that they don't generally vote for Democrats. In some cases they've told me they've never voted for a Democrat before, but they're going to vote for me!"
Gov. Scissorhands then rattled off his top accomplishments like they were on tape in his brain. Finally he took a breath and a reporter asked if he realized what he'd said.
The reporter read back his quote.
"Freudian slip, I guess!" replied a blushing Douglas.
Does that mean that playing a Democrat, even briefly, was a pleasurable experience for our governor?
Dean Has the Power — Former Gov. Howard Dean's latest book, You've Got the Power, comes in a small package but, like its author, it packs an extra-large punch. Or rather, punches.
Dean settles the score with a few of his least-favorite national reporters, such as Michael Issikoff of Newsweek, Rick Lyman of The New York Times, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times and Jim VandeHei of The Washington Post.
Have to agree with Ho-Ho, they deserved it. A couple of these reporters called here, and it was obvious from the get-go they just could not accept the fact that a nationally unknown governor of little Vermont was qualified to swim with the sharks.
One interesting tidbit for Vermont readers is Dean's report that President Bill Clinton thought our former guv was unelectable because he had signed the civil-unions bill in 2000, allowing marriage rights for same-sex couples.
According to Dean's book, Monica Lewinsky's former lover was trying to drum up support for Wes Clark at the time. As luck would have it, Clinton called someone who'd converted to Dean.
"Howard Dean," Clinton said, "forfeited his right to run for president when he signed the civil-unions bill. He can't win."
"It was a rare mistake for the president," wrote Dean. "The supporter was gay and called to tip us off."
Ho-Ho then gives quite the stirring argument for equal rights and the importance of his historic signing of the landmark legislation.
However, our once favorite presidential hopeful left out the part about how he signed it in private, behind closed doors, so that there would never be news photos or video footage of the historic event he now champions!
You Have the Power, unlike his earlier book, Winning Back America, is a pretty good read. A lot juicier and snappier, as one would expect from a now-seasoned veteran of the presidential campaign trail.
Ho-Ho will do a book-signing at Borders in Burlington on Sunday, September 26, at 2 p.m.
Presidential Neighborhood — We were out for a spin on the two-wheeler this weekend on a loop around South Cove Road. That's the undulating street with about 45 well-maintained homes at the southern tip of Burlington. It's only accessible by Austin Drive or the Burlington Bikepath. Some homes are on the lakefront. Most have lake views.
It was just woods until the late 1960s, when lots sold for $8000. Doctors and university types bought them up. It's also a neighborhood that almost had a rendezvous with history because, you see, it's Howard Dean's neighborhood.
One frigid day last winter, yours truly guided a news crew from Dutch Television down there. They were the only ones during the Dean media frenzy who wanted to see where the frontrunner actually lived.
The reporter was surprised. And impressed. The home of the world-famous Howard Dean looked quite modest and unpretentious to the frugal Dutchman.
The Deans bought it back in 1986 for around $163,000. What's it worth today?
Well, according to City Hall records, South Cove Road has officially turned into a neighborhood of million-dollar homes, even if there won't be presidential helicopter landings in Oakledge Park anytime soon.
Since last October, three South Cove haciendas have sold for $1 million and up. Not to worry, reappraisal is underway in the Queen City.
Roper Dope — Rob Roper, press secretary to Republican millionaire wacko Jack McMullen, was on "Charlie & Ernie" the other morning implying that yours truly hasn't mentioned the name of his boss lately because we'd been scared off by McMullen's challenge to a foot race.
Yes, we're afraid of self-absorbed, wealthy lunatics who act like they're living in a different universe. Always have been. McLonesome, the geeky-guy from either Massachusetts or Mars, is living out a personal fantasy and using our political stage to do it.
We haven't mentioned him because it's a waste of space! So pay attention one last time.
Unlike previous nut-jobs who've sought fame and glory in the spotlight of electoral politics, McMullen's got beaucoup bucks to burn on his quest. He's already dropped several hundred thousand dollars. Imagine how far that cash would have gone at one of the many budget-strapped charities around the state?
Nope, Jack's ego comes first. His TV spot is an exercise in self-worship. Creepy!
He has as much chance of becoming Vermont's U.S. Senator as I have of playing goalie for the Montreal Canadians. The difference is, I realize it and Jack doesn't.
The other day the Valley News referred to McMullen's "political fecklessness." And "feckless" hits the nail squarely on McMullen's swollen little head. It means: weak, ineffective, worthless and irresponsible.
Sounds like it fits Jack to a "T."
The fact is, Jack McFeckless couldn't carry Pat Leahy's jockstrap, and everybody knows it. Everybody except Jack.
Now, let's get back to reality.
Home Again — Sunday's "You Can Quote Me" on WCAX had a few viewers rubbing their eyes.
Joining Environmental Commissioner Jeff Wennberg as a guest, the new executive director of the Governor's Clean and Clear Action Plan looked quite at home on the Ch. 3 set. That's because Brad Wright spent the 1980s on the same TV set as a versatile news and sports reporter for WGOP, sorry, WCAX-TV.
Wright departed for CNN in 1991. The fledgling cable-news network, he said, "got a big bounce" out of the first Gulf War and was hiring big-time. Brad became a producer for "Inside Politics," wrote copy for Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw and in 1995 became a field producer, traveling cross-country on a moment's notice. He even blew through town for one of Howard Dean's presidential events.
Ah, the good old days!
And Brad's wife Doreen Wright is back working as a copy editor in the Burlington Free Press sports department. Doreen's even making picks on the weekend football games.
Welcome home, folks!
Speaking of Ch. 3 — Mount Mansfield Television is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this weekend with a big bash at the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn. Gov. Jim Douglas and our congressional delegation are expected to attend the invitation-only affair.
No, yours truly didn't get an invite. Wasn't expecting one. No hard feelings.
Despite owner Red Martin's right-wing political leanings and the generous campaign contributions that back them up, Vermont voters have decidedly gone the other way over the last few decades. Red's picks, such as Susan Sweetser and Ruth Dwyer, never made it, though the more moderate Jim Douglas finally put him in the winner's circle.
Back when it all began, WCAX was owned by C.P. Hasbrook. Hasbrook was the publisher of the now-defunct Burlington Daily News. The station went on the air September 7, 1954, with a test pattern. On September 24 the first programs aired. The Age of Television had begun in Vermont.
WCAX has always been a family affair. Red Martin had the good fortune to marry Hasbrook's daughter. Son Peter Martin has been the GM for years. It's a tight, well-oiled ship.
It's also a Vermont cultural institution. Ch. 3's hour-long evening newscast is the state's electronic paper-of-record (even more so now that news scripts are posted on the web: http://www.wcax.com).
And while every company has to watch its bottom line, the Martins have always invested in the best and latest technology money could buy.
In an age of corporate consolidation, where TV stations and even TV networks are owned by giant corporate conglomerates, Vermont's Ch. 3 is the last of a breed in American broadcasting: a locally owned and operated independent station.
Another Happy Birthday! — "Like a bird on a wire. Like a drunk in a midnight choir. I have tried in my way to be free."
Leonard Cohen, the one-of-a-kind poet/singer-songwriter from Montreal turns 70 on Friday.
Time flies, eh?
Since the late 1960s, Cohen's "Suzanne" has led millions of hearts "down to her place by the river." And we all got to "see the boats go by" and we all "spent the night beside her."
And no one can ever separate the haunting beauty of Cohen's soundtrack from the haunting beauty of Director Robert Altman's lens in McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
Long ago and far away, in the frozen Minnesota that Bob Dylan left behind, friends trying to lift my spirits used to say, "Will you stop listening to Leonard Cohen! For crissakes, it just makes you depressed!"
Actually, I was depressed, but not because of Leonard. I was depressed because the most corrupt, lying president of my young life, Richard Nixon, had just been re-elected in a landslide. I was depressed because the bad guys were winning and my generation was filling body bags in Vietnam. It wasn't Leonard Cohen's fault. All he did was make it bearable, even understandable.
Back in February, I was listening to an Australian radio interview of Belfast-born Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein. It's still available at www.abc.net.au/queensland/stories/s1044708.htm.
The format called for the guest to have three of his favorite songs played. Two of Gerry's picks were obvious choices: Luke Kelly's "A Song for Ireland" and Van Morrison, a fellow Ulsterman, singing "Irish Heartbeat."
No surprises there, eh?
But when the brave and daring leader of the latest struggle for freedom on the Emerald Isle picked a Leonard Cohen song as his third choice, I did a double take.
Gerry Adams, from the meanest streets of Belfast? Gerry Adams, the former political prisoner? Gerry Adams, who describes himself as "a man who has been blessed by incompetent assassins?"
You mean all these years, while Ireland bled and wept and buried its dead in the eternal struggle for peace and justice, Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams has been turning on a little Leonard Cohen to keep it together?
"I think Leonard Cohen is a brilliant poet," said Adams. "He gets the reputation back home, with some people anyway, of being a bit of a depressant. But I just think he's a marvelous poet."
Small world, eh?
Mr. Adams' musical choice was "In My Secret Life," an interesting selection from one who has led such a public life.
I smile when I'm angry
I cheat and I lie
I do what I have to do
...to get by.
But I know what is wrong
and I know what is right
and I'd die for the truth
In my secret life.
P.S. The good news is that Leonard, who spent most of the 1990s living as a Buddhist monk at a California Zen center, has a new album coming out next month. It will be released worldwide on October 25. I think we all know two Irishmen who'll be picking up a copy, eh?