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Style-Change at City Hall 

Inside Track

So you've already forgotten who eventually won Burlington's first instant-runoff mayoral election in March, eh?

You're not alone.

Former Progressive State Rep. Bob Kiss from Ward 1 has been on duty in the top-floor corner office for more than three weeks, but he's drawn little in the way of attention. Can anyone imagine his predecessors going this long without holding a press conference on something?

Certainly folks in and around city government have noticed a dramatic change. Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity described the new mayor of Vermont's largest city as a "man who speaks very, very softly and quietly. You have to listen carefully. Bob doesn't fill a room," said one city worker.

Another city government source described Mayor Kiss, a Wisconsin native, as "a very stoic Midwesterner. He's not Bernie and he's not Peter."

That's obvious.

But another veteran emphasized that Mayor Kiss' policy inclinations "are right on!" Kiss has "good sensibilities," we're told. But already, this source conceded, "There's a little confusion over interpretation."

When Mayor Kiss "finally opens his mouth at a meeting and makes a statement, is that policy? Or is it just a random thought in his head?" asked a City Hall veteran.

In fact, many of the random thoughts in Bob Kiss' head are expressed for the world to see on the tailgate of his white Isuzu pick-up truck, pictured here. You see, being the Queen City's mayor means being able to park free of charge in the mayor's designated, reserved parking space on Main Street. One of few perks, but a valuable one in traffic-jammed Burlap!

In an "Inside Track" interview, Mayor Kiss assured us that all is well and that he's "gradually getting familiar with coming to City Hall everyday." Kiss said he is "definitely reading more material. There's piles of things to read. The really positive thing is meeting people: city department directors, more and more people, the community. That's all progress," he said. "We've also had two city council meetings, several finance board meetings, sort of that process is underway, sort of learning local government, you know?"

Excellent! Everyone has to start somewhere. But the feedback we're getting from City Hall veterans is that the rookie mayor represents a sea change in style. Yes, he's been going to meetings, but the word is he says very, very little and does not assume a leadership role. Rather, he comes across like just one of the employees. A real regular guy.

We asked Mayor Kiss about that. About how some city employees describe him as an "introvert," in sharp contrast to the extroverts -- Peter Clavelle and Bernie Sanders -- in whose footsteps he follows. Some, we told Kiss, are already calling him "Silent Bob."

Da' mayor chuckled at that. "I've been Googling the meaning of introvert," he replied. "But I bet you can explain it. You'll have to get it to me when you find it."

Funny guy, eh?

The new mayor of Vermont's largest city described his personality as that of a "contemplative," rather than an "introvert." Yes, he's a listener more than a talker, but he insisted he was in the spotlight in the 1990s during his days running CVOEO on North Street.

"In Burlington, you're never anonymous," said Silent Bob, "and now I'm definitely not anonymous. I've always said like when I worked at CVOEO, I worked with people not on them, and that's what I think I'll be doing here in Burlington as mayor. My style of leadership," he continued, "really is, I think, kind of knowing the issue and trying to make your way through the best process to have something be effective at the other end. I think I was successful a lot of times in the past doing that. That's sort of the process I'm in now."

As for predicting if his "media style" will differ from that of his predecessors, Kiss told us, "It's too early to say that." His avoidance of the press in his first three weeks in office, he said, "wouldn't be a good predictor of the future."

But one thing that might be a good predictor of the future, we'd suggest, is the way the new mayor of Progressive Burlington handles power and privilege. Take the mayor's parking space.

"Peter [Clavelle] said that one of the benefits was that there was a parking place -- so when you had to leave during the day there was a parking place to come back to," said Silent Bob. "It does make life easier."

Has the mayor, we asked, had the experience of finding someone else's vehicle in the mayor's space?

"Yes," replied Kiss. "Someone else has parked in it. Of course. A couple times. That's always interesting, too."

So did you call the cops to have it towed?

"No" answered the elected leader of the People's Republic of Burlington, Vermont. "I just found another spot."

Guess we all now know of one free spot in downtown Burlington, eh?

********

Tarrant Gets Testy -- If conservative Republican software gazillionaire Ritchie "Rich" Tarrant doesn't defeat Independent left-wing Congressman Bernie Sanders in November, it might be for reasons other than George W. Bush's deceit, dishonesty and incompetence.

That was obvious Monday when Candidate Tarrant was the guest speaker at the Burlington Rotary luncheon at the Wyndham Hotel.

One would think that a U.S. Senate candidate would want press coverage of his public campaign speeches.

Not Mr. Tarrant.

His campaign is the most tightly controlled we can recall. Press releases are issued announcing "Free Spaghetti Dinners" with the candidate, but that's about it.

It may be because Tarrant hasn't adapted yet to his new role as an aspiring "servant of the people," rather than the Big-Boss, "Because I Say So!" role he played at IDX for more than three decades. And he played it very, very well, selling out to General Electric in December for a cool $1.2 billion.

Fortunately, a Rotarian tipped us off about Tarrant's appearance. Wouldn't miss it for the world.

Tarrant gave the Rotarians the same basic campaign rap he's been giving everywhere. We heard the same spiel at a recent spaghetti dinner. But Ritchie Rich made one tiny impromptu script change Monday.

When Tarrant got to the part where he expresses his personal loathing for the "partisan hatred" that's hurting America, he added a few timely lines. He told the crowd about this Saturday's scheduled Flynn Center appearance by comedian and Air America talk show host Al Franken. It's a fundraiser for the Bernie Sanders Senate Campaign, and you can bet it'll be packed.

"One of the things I talk about," Tarrant told the 50 Rotarians, "is partisan hatred. I mean loyal opposition that Thomas Jefferson talked about is great. Partisan hatred stinks."

Amen, brother!

But suddenly the candidate got personal.

"You know what?" said Tarrant, "I'll tell you flat out. Al Franken should not be coming to this state!"

What? Close the borders, Ritchie?

"This state is about moderate voices, common sense and getting things done. This partisan hatred, I hate!" shouted Mr. Megamillions. He swore that the king of right-wing talk radio Rush Limbaugh "will never come to this state for me." (Bet the Sanders Campaign would volunteer to pay Limbaugh's expenses, eh?)

"When all is said and done," said Tarrant, "Vermonters will vote in a way that will help the country and not perpetuate partisan hatred. That's what I believe."

Look, yours truly will confess up front: We're not a big fan of Al Franken. A little too dry for our tastes. But hey, humor is in the eye of the beholder.

After the Rotary meeting broke up, we asked the Republican Senate candidate to provide some evidence that Franken is truly a purveyor of "partisan hatred." Here's a transcript of that pleasant interview:

Track: Why shouldn't Al Franken come to Vermont?

Tarrant: Because he stands for partisan hatred, and I think he and the other talking heads in both parties are just throwing flame on the fire and we need to pull together.

Track: But this is a guy known as a comedian, a performer; he has a right to express his views, doesn't he?

Tarrant: Everybody has a right to express their views, but I think politicians, it says something about themselves based on who they ask to help them. That's just the way it is. I would never ask some of the right-wing extremists. I don't think it helps Vermont. I don't think it helps the country. Partisan hatred is gone too far. We got to pull together.

Track: Have you listened to Franken lately?

Tarrant: Yes. I heard him with Russert about a week or two ago.

Track: Well, if Russert will talk to him, why do you want to ban him from Vermont?

Tarrant: I'm not trying to ban anybody from Vermont. It's partisan hatred that's a bad thing. What is hard to understand about that?

Track: Give me an example of Franken connected to hatred?

Tarrant: Franken and others like that who are at the extremes hurt the country more than they help 'em.

Track. One example...

Tarrant: Next question!

Track. ...of being extreme by Franken?

Tarrant: Another question!

Track: Will you answer my question? You didn't give me an example.

Tarrant: I just answered your question.

Track: Give me an example?

Tarrant: I'm not about giving examples. I don't have everything he said at hand.

Track: Not a word?

Tarrant. And don't twist that into something I didn't say!

Track. Give me an example of Franken expressing "partisan hatred?"

Tarrant: I don't have an example at hand. Do you want me to look it up?

End of interview. Needless to say, Mr. Tarrant was not speaking in hushed tones. We told him that if he found evidence to support his attack on comedian Al Franken, we'd certainly appreciate seeing it.

Guess what, folks? Still waiting.

********

Peeper of the House -- Kudos to WCAX-TV crime reporter Brian Joyce for his exclusive catch of a Burlington political fish in the Vermont District Court's sex-crime net!

Mr. Joyce was the only press in the courtroom last week when former Democratic State Rep. Alan Bjerke (Ba-jerky), an attorney with a prestigious residence overlooking Lake Champlain on Lakeview Terrace, became the first person convicted under Vermont's new Peeping Tom law.

Congratulations!

You can view Bjerke's current self-congratulatory bio at the Burlington law firm of Bauer & Gravel at http://www.vtlawoffices.com/bjerke.htm.

Bjerke first ran for the Vermont House in 1992 and served three terms. In 1994, his friend and political protege John Tracy won the other seat in the Old North End district. In fact, until a week before his court appearance, Bjerke was listed on the Tracy for Lieutenant Governor website -- http://www.johnpatricktracy.com -- as John-John's campaign treasurer.

"Alan and I have worked a lot together politically, and I've considered him a friend," Rep. Tracy told "Inside Track." In fact, according to city records, Bjerke and Tracy jointly own the house on Park Street next to Tracy's home.

Tracy, who faces a stiff battle against State Sen. Matt Dunne in the Democratic primary, said his change in treasurers happened "a couple weeks ago," and was not related to Bjerke's sex charge.

"We felt we wanted a statewide presence," explained John-John, "and Diane Carmolli (Bjerke's replacement) is from Central Vermont."

Tracy said Bjerke notified him about a week before his April 18 arraignment that he had "a personal problem." Bjerke "let me know he had some tight legal spot," said Rep. Tracy. "He didn't get into details."

Perfectly understandable. After all, the details are that Attorney Bjerke, a client at the Body Le Bronze tanning salon on Pearl Street, got caught poking his cellphone/camera over the top of the partition to photograph the partially clothed woman in the next booth.

Bjerke pled no contest in court and, as part of the plea deal, got an 18-month suspended sentence. Sources say he had been planning a fall bid for the House seat Tracy's giving up to run for Lite-Gov.

Those plans might have changed, 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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