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Cliche Cops a Deal 

Freyne pokes holes in a poll conducted by the Rutland Herald and WCAX that gives Jeffords the lead over Sanders in a potential Senate race. The columnist sees it as a statistical dead heat.

Fantasy hit the brick wall of reality last week as saloon-keeper Shawn Cliche copped a plea to end his long-pending criminal case.

Cliche was charged with one felony count of aggravated assault and two misdemeanor simple assault counts following a punch-up at a Church Street nightclub back in December 1997. With an iffy jury trial looking him in the eye, Cliche took a deal in which the state's attorney dropped the felony in return for his "no contest" pleas on the misdemeanors. Judge Brian Burgess gave him a one-year suspended sentence, fined him $535, and ordered him to perform 200 hours of community service.

Cliche told Seven Days, "It was time to take my share of the responsibility and move on." Meanwhile, Mr. Cliche's lawsuit against Burlington for revoking the liquor license he’d been awarded for a new club on Cherry Street is pending at Chittenden Superior Court.

But two weeks ago Shawn Cliche starred in a somewhat different role at, of all places, Trinity College. Shawn was the guest of honor before Communications Professor Jeff Haig's senior seminar on censorship.

Who can forget the brouhaha a few years back over Cliche's Club Fantasy on Williston Road? Remember the hundreds of righteous citizens who packed the South Burlington City Council meeting, demanding their elected officials protect the Traffic Jam Capital of Vermont from the moral depravity that exposed female flesh would rain upon their pristine community? Cliche was forced out of business. The blue noses triumphed. Today the good citizens rest assured that their youngins can shop safely at Bon-Ton without experiencing the temptations of flesh. Unfortunately, the price sense of moral purity was one's First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

Cliche told us the students were all lined up against him when the seminar started, but once they heard the naked truth, so to speak, they got quite the lesson on censorship in action.

Haig told Seven Days his female students were “very impressed by Shawn.” They were familiar with the local media coverage of the Club Fantasy affair, but they didn’t realize there was another side to the story.

There always is.

Haig’s class also looked at the recent flap over the art exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. That’s the one New York Mayor Rudy “Elephant Dunghead” Giuliani tried to wear the censor’s hat on.

“Censorship is a very important issue,” said Haig. “It’s not raised often enough.”


Poll Spin Aids Jeffords — Congress was on the verge of recess Tuesday. That means U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords will shortly be checking into the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for back surgery. And Congressman Bernie Sanders will let the cat out of the bag on his plans for Election 2000.


Last week the Rutland Herald and WCAX-TV jumped into the middle of it all with a statewide poll they spun as evidence that most Vermonters don't want Ol’ Bernardo to run against Sen. Jeffords. Considering the sources, what else would you have expected them to say?

Look, polls are like the Bible — you can quote scripture to defend anything. And for this poll, the tab was picked up by Jeezum Jim's hometown paper and WGOP, sorry, WCAX.

The Rutland daily had a glaring summertime blind spot to Bernie's activities, while featuring every little twist and turn in Jim's career, including a front-page hike along the Long Trail!

For a while last summer, during Ol' Bernardo's run-up on the IBM pension switcheroo and the prescription drug pricing rip-off, you were more likely to catch Vermont's congressman in The New York Times or on "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather" than in the Rutland Herald or on "Vermont's Own" Ch. 3.

After all, this is the TV station founded and owned by Stuart "Red" Martin, Vermont's most successful broadcaster, who once told yours truly he considered "getting rid of Bernie Sanders a public service." The comment came when Ol’ Red was questioned about the refund he'd received from the campaign treasury of Sanders' Republican opponent that year. Damn campaign rules. Red Martin's generosity had unfortunately exceeded the federal limits.

Fact is, those who pay the piper do get to call the tune. It's free enterprise. So it was hardly surprising that the message spun from the poll numbers was “Bernie, don’t do it!” Which is exactly the same message the Jeffords camp has been spreading for over a year. Jeezum’s re-election strategy is simple and clear — keep Ol’ Bernado out of the race. The Rutland Herald and WGOP have done their bit to help. Nice teamwork, don’t you think?

Yes, 53 percent of the respondents said they’d prefer Bernie to run for reelection to the House. But it turns out more than one-third of that 53 percent are Sanders supporters who do not want The Bern to risk losing a job on Capitol Hill. If only the little chickadees knew the risk isn’t as high as they imagine.

See, they had no way of knowing, when interviewed, that Jim Jeffords’ support remains on the weak side. The media sponsors played down the numbers that showed the incumbent in trouble. Nonetheless, the buzz around Washington was over the head-to-head match up between two main contenders. Jeezum, the Republican senator who’s represented Vermont in Washington for 25 years, was in a statistical dead heat with Sanders, the socialist congressman. Jeezum had the backing of just 42 percent of the respondents.

Remember, in 1994 he won with just 50 percent of the vote? That ain't no landslide, folks. In fact, it's a distant cry from the 63 percent of the vote Bernie raked in last time. For an incumbent to be at 42 percent one year before the election means this race is a certifiable toss-up, with a challenger gaining momentum. And everybody knows Sanders campaigns like a whirling dervish.

Meanwhile, Vermont's junior senator has been all over the press this week, from wailing away on Hydro-Quebec to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Matthew Shepherd's parents in a push for hate-crimes legislation. But on Monday the Good Ship Jeezum hit rough waters, sparked by a report in Roll Call he might not seek re-election. Roll Call reported that unnamed sources said GOP Senate leader Trent Lott had told Democrat leader Tom Daschle, "Don't be surprised if you hear news about another Republican retirement."

According to Roll Call the three possibilities include Finance Chairman William Roth (R-Delaware), Conrad Burns (R-Montana), and Jim Jeffords of Vermont.

Everybody involved denied it. They always do.

A Jeffords staffer sarcastically described the Roll Call report as "speculation with no basis" and "not a possibility."

Not to worry.

The other poll result Jeffords’ media pals played down was the trouncing Democrat Ed Flanagan gives Republican Jim Douglas in a head-to-head match-up to fill Bernie’s seat. Fast Eddie crunched Gentle James, the Vermont GOP’s perennial hood ornament, 37-22.

We’ve heard some Vermont lefties suggest the current Vermont congressional line-up is pretty decent. They truly fear losing Bernie. But what if he knocked Jeffords off, as many think he could?

A Leahy-Sanders-Flanagan delegation would be quite the interesting team. And unlike today, Vermont’s trio would all be on the same page in the play book, too.

Home Rule Ahead? — Get ready, folks. If you’re wondering what will be the next big public policy battle on the Vermont political stage, we think we’ve found a likely candidate.

Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle recently received a new title — “president”, as in president of the board of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. The VCLT looks out for the interests of that other government in the Green Mountains — local government. And President Pete advises Seven Days to get ready for a revival of the battle for local control. The goal is to wean local government from the regressive property tax. It’s been 10 years since the Home Rule fight was front-page news in Vermont, and Clavelle and VLCT are arming themselves for the coming season under Montpelier’s golden dome.

Simply put, Clavelle wants Vermont’s vities and towns to be able to amend their charters without seeking Montpeculiar’s blessing. First and foremost, he said, that means the right to local option taxes, particularly regional option taxes like a countywide sales tax or gas tax. Manchester’s one-cent sales tax, he said, serves as a breach in the state’s dam.

Presently, said Mayor Proggy, “local control is largely a myth.” The way things have been going in Vermont, he said, “local government has become increasingly irrelevant as state government becomes highly centralized.”

We couldn’t help but remark that the Queen City Progressive was sounding an awful lot like the conservative Republican from Thetford, Ruth Dwyer.

“Local control,” he answered with a smile, “is the place where the left meets the right.”

Hey, this sounds like a hell of a party. “Home Rule” — the issue for the 21st century!

P.S. Clavelle’s assistant, Bill Mitchell, has returned from a one-month urban affairs fellowship in Germany, where he traveled with fellow mayoral staffers from Bridgeport, Connecticut, Scottsdale, Arizona, and Waco, Texas. He’s got great stories to tell. But Bill just had to ask his colleague from Waco if he’d ever heard of the Branch Davidians before the big federal siege.

He hadn’t. Interesting, huh?

”60 Minutes” in Vermont? — Thursday morning at 10, former “60 Minutes” producer Lowell Bergman will be Jeff Kaufman’s guest on Middlebury’s WFAD at 1490 on the AM dial. Bergman produced the controversial “60 Minutes” piece on Big Tobacco that’s the subject of the current hit movie The Insider. Al Pacino plays Bergman.

Getting Closer All the Time — Former Gutterson great Martin St. Louis will be lacing up the skates in Philidelphia Friday night, but that more famous ex-Catamount, John Leclair, won’t be on the ice with him. That’s because St. Loooie’s team will be playing the Philidelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League, not the Philidelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League. At 24, UVM’s former pint-sized Pocket Rocket is on the verge of breaking through into the NHL. He scored a hat trick against the Syracuse Crunch Saturday night, and he’s the top scorer on New Brunswick’s St. John Flames, Calgary’s top farm club. St. Loooie is also the top scorer in the AHL, with 13 goals and eight assists in just 14 games. Yes!

Mazeltov! — More national media attention hit the birthplace of Ted Bundy this week as The People’s Republic of Burlington was crawling with “Access Hollywood”-types digging into the past of the future Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld. On Monday the 45-year-old sitcom legend confirmed his engagement to Burlington-bred Jessica Sklar, a graduate of BHS and UVM. Jerry and Jessica reportedly met at Manhattan’s tony Reebok Sports Center just after she returned from her Italian honeymoon with husband Eric Nederlender a Broadway scion. Maybe Jerry will buy Henry’s Diner? Why not?

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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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