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Flanagan’s Shaky Start 

Inside Track

Somebody please sign Democratic US Senate candidate Ed Flanagan up for “Fire in the Belly” classes pronto. The incumbent state auditor didn’t even give the best speech at his own campaign kickoff Monday.

The best-speech prize goes to Peter Welch, once the rising liberal star of the Democratic Party, now an ambulance-chaser-style lawyer who does those 1-800-call-me-and-we’ll-sue-the-bastards television commercials.

Fast Eddie wants to “return” to the U.S. Senate, where his father once worked for Sen. George Aiken, and he held a nebulous summer patronage job in his youth. Flanagan wants Jim Jeffords’ job. But first he’ll have to deal with state Sen. Jan Backus in a September primary. He’ll have to learn how to be on time — his announcement media event started almost a half-hour late. And he’ll also have to find a campaign staff that lasts more than a couple months.

Mr. Flanagan’s second campaign manager quit last week. Fast Eddie told Seven Days that Jeff Stein just wasn’t working out. He said he “preferred someone who knew Vermont.”

Mr. Stein, reached back home in New Jersey, told Seven Days Tuesday, “Ed and I had personal differences about the way the campaign should be run and decided to go our separate ways.” Stein has landed on his feet, working on the reelection campaign of Rep. Mike Forbes in New York’s 1st Congressional District.

Sources close to the campaign say Flanagan’s campaign work ethic leaves something to be desired, and there have been other departures besides Stein. The new campaign manager is Liam Goldrick, who until Monday worked for Flanagan in the auditor’s office.

Besides Welch, Flanagan picked up the endorsement of Judy Murphy, the state coordinator for the National Organization for Women. Six years ago, Murphy caused a stir when she endorsed Jeffords over Backus. This time it’s Flanagan over Backus. Maybe she just likes boys.

“I don’t know why she doesn’t want to support a woman candidate,” said Backus. Jan of Arc was “The Little Engine That Could” six years ago. What she lacks in money she makes up for with message and soft-spoken tenacity.

Meanwhile, according to his federal financial disclosure forms, Flanagan owns several fashionable real estate properties in Washington, D.C., and the Big Apple. The most impressive is a multi-million dollar Greenwich Village townhouse that generates rent between $100,000 and $1 million annually.

Not bad, Fast Eddie! Mr. Flanagan also said he will continue to draw his full $85,000 state auditor salary while campaigning for the U.S. Senate. Cool.

Civil Union Epilogue — Gov. Howard Dean’s decision to sign the new civil-unions bill into law “in the closet,” as Republican gubernatorial challenger Ruth Dwyer put it, did not get favorable reviews from either side of the debate. Ho-Ho signed it as quickly as legally possible, surrounded only by members of his personal staff. No cameras. Not even the folks who wrote the law, and took all the heat, were invited into the Dean bunker last Wednesday afternoon around 1:30 p.m.

And the subsequent “last-minute” press conference at 2 p.m. appeared calculated to “just do it and get it over with fast” like a doctor administering an injection into the soft tissue of a child’s burn. It’ll only hurt for a second.

But what was the big rush, pray tell? The Guy already had his weekly press conference on the schedule for Thursday. And the press that was informed got less than an hour’s notice.

You’ll never get to see Dean’s post-civil-unions-signing press conference in its entirety because Press Secretary Sue Allen chose not to notify either Ch. 17 or Vermont Public Television. Both regularly cover and broadcast Dean’s weekly press confabs in their entirety. Hey, open government and all. ‘Tis a wonderful thing.

And Ms. Allen also neglected to alert Barbara Dozetos, the editor of Vermont’s distinguished gay publication, Out In The Mountains. You’d think she might have qualified for a seat at the table on this momentous occasion.

The fact is, both Dozetos and Jess Wilson of Ch. 17, the government access channel in the Burlington area, had told Allen the day before when the House concurred with the Senate that they wished to cover the bill signings.

Ms. Allen told Seven Days Tuesday that the press conference “was called at the very last minute.” Sweet Sue said she was aware of Ms. Dozetos’ interest in the bill signing. “I’m sorry she wasn’t notified,” said Allen. “I personally apologized on her voice mail.”

So touching — a personal voice-mail apology from the Guy’s royal spokesperson. As for VPT and Ch. 17, Ms. Allen said she didn’t think they could pack up and be in Montpeculiar on such short notice. She did notify the three TV network affiliates, the Associated Press, The Burlington Free Press, the Rutland Herald and Statehouse radio veteran Bob Kinzel.

“We went out of our way to get everybody we could possibly get there. If we left people off, too bad,” said Snippy Susie, dropping her customary sweetness. “It’s ludicrous,” she said, “to suggest we tried to limit” media coverage.

As for Ms. Dwyer’s characterization that the landmark legislation was signed “in a closet,” Ms. Allen spat, “That is offensive! The phrasing is offensive. Does she not know,” Allen asked, “what that phrasing represents?”

All “in the closet” represents is its face value meaning of concealment. Not even one pool photojournalist was allowed into the Guy’s closet, sorry, office that afternoon to record the historic moment. Even little Elian had one photographer in his closet. Folks from across the entire bandwidth of the Vermont political spectrum remarked Ho-Ho had signed the civil-unions bill “in the closet.” Hey, the shoe fits.

Allen said her boss “made the speech of his life” at the post-closet-signing press conference. Ho-Ho argued he had been absolutely, positively “consistent” in his position from his first public statement, made just one hour after the Vermont Supreme Court decision was released in December, up until the present.

Yeah, right. Consistently “uncomfortable.”

“I think you’re selling him short,” said the press secretary formerly known as Sweet Sue. “On December 21, he supported domestic partners,” said Allen. And he’s “stayed the course” since, she said, from senior centers to Rotary Clubs. “He was uncomfortable with gay marriage,” said Ms. Allen, “but he was never uncomfortable with civil rights.”

Editorial Pages — Laudatory newspaper editorials backing the new civil-unions bill continue to appear. Both the Chicago Tribune and The Detroit Free Press have weighed in a second time in support of the Vermont Legislature’s tact on handling same-sex marriage. But you can give up waiting any longer to hear from The Burlington Free Press on the civil-unions law.

Freeps Executive Editor Mickey Hirten (who just won his second President’s Ring from Gannett — congratulations!) told Seven Days the paper’s position was laid out way back on December 21 when it editorially supported the Vermont Supreme Court decision.

He said the paper opposed gay “marriage,” but “absolutely endorsed” the awarding of equal rights to same-sex couples. The paper never took a clear published stand on civil unions, he explained, because the issue “unfolded in the way we called for.” He said if it looked like the legislature was going the marriage route, “We would have weighed in.”

You got that?

However, other papers have been much clearer in their editorials. Take The Stowe Reporter’s “Vermont votes for fairness,” and The Barton Chronicle’s “A proud moment.”

“It was the right thing to do,” declared the Stowe weekly, following adoption of the civil-unions bill. The paper noted the arguments of the opposition were “so weak that it’s hard not to think they’re motivated by bigotry.” It even accused some opponents of “Medieval fanaticism.”

And up in the Northeast Kingdom, the distinguished Barton Chronicle disproved any notion that Kingdom folk are intolerant bigots.

“We are proud to support the bill and the few legislators in our area who had the guts to vote for it wrote the Chronicle. “The four senators from the Northeast Kingdom who all voted against it did a disservice to the Constituents by listening only to the loudest and most insistent voters.

Still, you’d think the Freeps might have a little more to say, wouldn’t you? Just a little more?

“Sylvia” Unveiled! — If you listen to local Burlington talk radio, you’ve heard “Sylvia.” You can’t miss “Sylvia,” the passionate and dedicated voice of right-wing intolerance. She’s been a daily communicant on 1390 WKDR for as long as we remember. When “Sylvia” calls, it’s time to sit back and hear the wrath of the extreme right. She detests Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Progressives, moderate Republicans, Act 60, communists, socialists, feminists, environmentalists, Democrats, homosexuals, adulterers, fornicators and Howard Dean — not necessarily in that order. She loves Ruth Dwyer, Alan Keyes, the Bingo Bishop, all anti-abortion politicians and just about all the right-wing nuts out there who don’t wear sheets over their heads. “Sylvia” adores native Vermonters, but only when they agree with her sniveling, sanctimonious self-righteousness.

“Sylvia” is obsessed with talking on talk radio and she gives great tongue, even when she’s just basically sticking it out. She’s wily and sometimes witty and often downright nasty. Anything remotely sexual gets her twittering in high gear, looking down her smug nose at us sinners. “Sylvia” gets her licks in every single time she calls, and she calls every single blessed day. “The Mark Johnson Show” just wouldn’t be the same without “Sylvia from Winooski.”

How she survived the Clinton presidency intact is beyond me. The highlights and lowlights of her talk-radio career are voluminous, but yours truly will never forget the day “Sylvia” dropped the bombshell news that the First Lady had been fooling around with a lesbian lover upstairs in the private quarters at the White House.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t true. That’s certainly never stopped “Sylvia.” Radio’s supposed to be entertaining, right?

However, “Sylvia” isn’t really her name. You see, all these years she’s taken her below-the-belt shots under the cowardly cover of a nom de guerre. The powers that be at the station, we’re told, granted her request years ago to use a phony name. They say she expressed fear of harassment from all the commie, pinko, homosexual, progressive, anti-American Sanders supporters in the local listening audience who might take exception to her bile. At the time, the station owners were new and they needed all the callers they could get.

So Joyce Schmaldienst of Winooski became “Sylvia,” and the rest is history.

Oh, yeah, we called Mrs. Schmaldienst Tuesday.

“I don’t want an article about me in the paper,” said “Sylvia,” er, sorry, Joyce. She then tore into a list of pressing maladies and calamities, portraying herself as a pitiful victim of fate and circumstance. “And I’m under doctor’s care for stress,” said “Sylvia,” er, Joyce.

“Does that mean you’ll stop calling the talk shows?” we inquired.

“Oh, no,” Joyce answered hurriedly. “That relieves me once and a while.” Then she hung up.

See, all that nasty venting about the Presidential pecker, Act 60 and equal rights for homosexuals really is just therapy for our beloved right-wing extremists. It’s probably doctor-recommended in this case.

Get well soon, “Sylvia,” er, sorry, Mrs. Schmaldienst. And keep that bile coming!

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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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