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Post Mortem on Carolina Collision 

Inside Track

Joe Trippi is no LSD guru, but he sure was feeling pretty high this week about how his boss performed in the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Columbia, South Carolina.

Trippi's a fortysomething political junkie/consultant/spinmeister who started in the game while a teenager growing up in San Jose, California. Joe went to bat for a black woman running for city council against a powerful incumbent. No one thought she had a chance -- no one except Joe Trippi, that is.

Guess who won?

Trippi was hooked. In the 1980s he was one of the young turks in the fast lane of the Democratic Party political machine. Twenty years ago, he guided Walter "Fritz" Mondale to victory in the vaunted Iowa caucuses. Today he's one of the nation's hot political consultants, and his wagon is securely hitched to Howard Dean's star.

Trippi told Seven Days this week he prefers longshots, "the races that don't have a snowball's chance in hell."

That means he's perfectly positioned, eh?

Asked to name the winners he's had over the years, Mr. Trippi only came up with three -- two congressmen and a governor of Oregon -- plus Mondale, who won the nomination but lost the general election to Ronald Reagan.

Trippi went on in 1991 to form his own Washington, D.C., consulting firm, Trippi McMahon & Squier. Besides handling Dr. Dean's gubernatorial campaigns, the firm also worked on Democrat Doug Racine's recent gubernatorial campaign.

Hey, can't win 'em all. Trippi says Racine was Steve McMahon's baby, not his. Whew!

Mr. Trippi recently moved to Vermont from D.C. to oversee operations at Dean Headquarters -- a ridiculously cramped suite of offices at 95 St. Paul Street in downtown Burlington. (They'll be moving to a larger space in South Burlington in a few days.)

There on the fourth floor, with a view of the brick faCade across the street, Trippi spends mornings, afternoons and evenings chugging Diet Pepsi with a telephone stuck in his ear. He's currently filling the role of chief spokesman for the campaign, too. The phone never stops ringing, as reporters far and wide line up to cover the new kid on the block in the 2004 presidential race.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist," said Trippi, to recognize the benefit that Saturday's national exposure brought to Howard Dean. In fact, said the Trippster, every time Ho-Ho appears on national TV he gets a big bump in popularity. And the bump appears online as the curious sign up by the thousands for Dean "meetups" all around the country. Check out: http://dean2004.meetup.com.

No candidate has ever tapped the Internet the way Howard Dean has. It's one of the skills that Trippi, a Silicon Valley brat with a technology background, brings to the doctor's table.

The second skill Trippi offers is his wealth of knowledge about Iowa. He knows the Hawkeye State, site of the first Democratic showdown, like the back of his hand. And he fully intends to do for Dean what he did for Mondale. That explains why Ho-Ho's spent more time in Iowa in the last year than in Vermont.

Trippi was delighted with Dean's TV debate performance, but he was a little perturbed that most of the press continues to miss the big story. And that story, he said, is that U.S. Sen. John Kerry, the frontrunner, has adopted a clear strategy of taking down Howard Dean!

Moderator George Stephanopolous opened the debate by pouring salt in the wounds of the Kerry-Dean rivalry, which heated up last week. Kerry eagerly took the bait. The Massachusetts senator went so far as to claim more Vermonters had health insurance coverage under Dean's predecessor -- Republican Gov. Dick Snelling!

Unfortunately for Trippi, only one national reporter gets it so far. On Monday, Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote:

"Behind the war of words between Kerry and Dean is a battle for the support of liberal, well-educated Democrats. Particularly in New Hampshire, a must-win state for Kerry, Dean poses a potential threat, and the Kerry campaign has decided to stop Dean now by raising doubts about his credentials before he can build up even more substantial support."

Sometimes the obvious can be hard to grasp.

P.S. Performance-wise, we thought Dr. Dean showed a little too much of his snippy, New York "my way or the highway" side Saturday night. Clearly he was in a defensive posture. Unfortunately, when he gets heated up in combat, Ho-Ho has a way of cocking his eyebrows and pursing his lips that resembles a grimacing gerbil.

For a guy who's being getting noticed for his passionate off-the-cuff oratory, Dean closed by reading almost word for word from a prepared text. The other candidates just looked in the camera and made it up. Dean hardly made eye contact with viewers.

It wasn't the handlers, folks. Ho-Ho wrote the speech himself just 40 minutes before air, said Trippi. It was totally his. And totally wrong for the moment. It was time for one-on-one eye contact with the American voter. There'll be plenty of opportunities for the Abraham Lincoln quotes.

Back to the Future? -- Progressive City Councilor Phil Fiermonte has departed his post as executive director of United Professions of Vermont. Seven Days has learned the union-organizer extraordinaire is returning to his old job as outreach director for Congressman Bernie Sanders. The Derby native was with Bernie for seven years. Phil replaces Dean Corren, who stepped down a couple months back.

Oh, Little Town of... -- Burlington got a little taste of the Israeli occupation of Palestine this week. The city and its sister-city program had received a grant to bring two Palestinian high school students and their teacher to Burlap for a two-week visit.

According to Bill Mitchell, assistant to Mayor Peter Clavelle, the first hurdle was getting permission for the Bethlehem residents to go to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem to obtain visas. The teacher was twice denied permission. One student made it. The other already had a U.S. passport.

But at the very last minute, the Israeli military refused the students permission to leave the occupied West Bank to travel to the airport in Tel Aviv.

Fortunately, said Mitchell, they had purchased refundable tickets.

"We'll try again in the fall," he said. The grant is good until December 1.

Fletcher Allen Backs Down -- In a 180-degree reversal, Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC) rehired Marley Skiff, RN, last week.

Nurse Skiff, a union activist who'd been nominated to the Mary Fanny's board of trustees by the union and Congressman Bernie Sanders, was sacked on Good Friday. Hospital management claimed she had violated confidentiality rules by passing on the names and phone numbers of nonunion workers.

"I'm amazed," said Ol' Bernardo, "that in the midst of contract negotiations they fired one of the nurses who was active in the union." He personally called CEO Ed Colodny about the firing.

Two weeks ago, 200 nurses attended a candlelight vigil outside Mister Ed's College Street condo complex to protest the outrageous treatment of Nurse Skiff.

In the wake of the $356 million Renaissance Scandal, firing Skiff provided hard evidence the powers that be on Hospital Hill still don't get it. The firing emboldened the nurses' union, which has been trying to negotiate a contract with the hospital since December. Time, folks, is running out.

Meanwhile, while FAHC is firing good nurses during a nursing shortage, State Auditor Elizabeth Ready has raised the alarm over all the traveling nurses the hospital hires to plug the holes in the patient-care dike.

According to figures she obtained from the Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration (BISHCA), the Mary Fanny's been shelling out $6.7 million annually to fill 60 traveling-nurse positions. The "travelers" are lured to Burlington by hospital ads promising "high pay rates, luxury housing, great benefits, free insurance, relocation reimbursement."

In a letter Chainsaw Liz sent Mister Ed this week, she suggested, "It may be worth examining whether it would be less expensive to hire full-time, permanent nurses rather than hiring traveling nurses."

Good point, eh?

P.S. In a reversal of its ridiculous editorial decision to ignore Marley Skiff's firing, The Burlington Free Press reported last Friday on her rehiring!

The Freeps, as everyone knows, is owned by the giant Gannett chain, one of the most antiunion outfits around. So it came as no big surprise the paper declined to cover the story. Can you say "censorship?" the blackout also extended to the Freeps editorial page. Editorial page editor David Awbrey refused to publish letters in support of Skiff.

In an email response to one letter writer obtained by Seven Days, Mr. Awbrey defended the ban.

"Sorry, but this doesn't work as a letter to the editor," he wrote. "It involves a work/ employment dispute at a private organization. Letters space is reserved for issues of public policy or wide community interest, not personnel matters."

Strange newspaper, eh?

Corrections -- We're getting old. In last week's item about the Republican leadership stonewalling the Burlington charter changes, we incorrectly identified the chair of the House Committee on Local Government as Judy Bloomer.

Sorry. The Widow Bloomer has indeed remarried. The lucky gentleman is State Sen. John Crowley. Gov. Jim Douglas recently appointed him BISHCA commissioner. And Judy is today Judy Bloomer Crowley.

Thanks for reminding us, Rep. Connie Houston.

Also, Connie says Democrat John Tracy of Burlington is wrong about her being a landlord. Connie, a Vergennes realtor, told Seven Days she got out of the landlord business a decade ago.

Sen. Landlord? -- Did you catch Republican State Sen. Kevin Mullin of Rutland on Ch. 3 News the other night, throwing a hissy fit in Senate Government Ops?

Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle and City Attorney Joe McNeil were testifying in support of the two charter changes voters backed on March 5. Usually the legislature rubberstamps what the locals have decided. Local control, after all, is sacred in Vermont, right?

But Sen. Mullin was confrontational. Mullin came out of the closet as the owner of a couple apartment houses in Rutland. He said he's personally experienced tenant trouble. Mullin said he had a problem with the City of Burlington changing its landlord-tenant law. The freshman senator's low regard for the renter class shone brightly!

The charter change would require Burlington landlords to give tenants 90 days notice for no-cause evictions. The change was supported by a landlord-tenant task force, the city council, the mayor and the voters.

But a few members of the delegation from Rutland, a once-proud Democratic city that's been in Republican hands since civil unions, see Burlington as some sort of communist threat.

Rep. Judy Bloomer Crowley told Ch. 3's Andy Potter she just doesn't "believe in rental control." She said she "doesn't like the city getting involved in landlord-tenant laws."

Wow. So much for the democratic system, eh?

Legalized at Last! -- Gov. Jim Douglas is about to sign into law a bill that will for the first time legalize sparklers in Vermont. His predecessor, Dr. Howard Dean, considered sparklers unsafe. Kids get burned. Ho-Ho has firsthand experience.

Congratulations to the sparkling cosponsors of H. 44: Reps. John Tracy (D-Burlington) and Rep. Dick Marron (R-Stowe). And kudos to lobbyist Lisa Nolen Birmingham of Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew!

Lisa the Lobbyist effectively represented the fireworks industry, shepherding the sparkler legalization-bill through the legislature. (Ms. Birmingham is also the chair of the District 5 Environmental Commission.)

But why would a mild-mannered, safety-conscious dude like Jim Douglas sign on to the sparkler train?

"First of all," said Gov. Jimbo, "they are widely used. Perhaps you've noticed, perhaps you haven't. But it seems impractical to ban something common to the traditions of our state and others."

"Secondly,' added Douglas, "it's a question of the level of danger. Should we ban matches?"

So, Governor, the Douglas policy is to legalize an illegal product if it's widely popular and relatively harmless?

Sounds like a great argument for legalizing marijuana, eh?

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

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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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