As we entered the darkened hall, a thick, spicy, invisible cloud of spaghetti sauce hit us like a smoke bomb. The guest of honor had already begun speaking as we slid into a chair by the wall.
We'd finally made it to one of Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Rich Tarrant's free spaghetti dinners. In fact, we'd gotten five calls from Burlingtonians annoyed by the automated calls they'd received from Tarrant headquarters inviting them to the free spaghetti dinner at the Eagles Club on St. Paul Street.
The candidate was wrapping up his life story and soon took questions from the audience of 31 about the hot issues of the day. But the story that requires reporting is not what the candidate, but rather his campaign manager, said. Campaign Manager Tim Lennon made it perfectly clear that the campaign's opening phase of smiles and sweet talk is over.
Mr. Lennon noted that Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders had just made his first TV advertising buy. Or rather, Ol' Bernardo's wife, Jane Sanders, had made the buy. With Richie Rich saturating the airwaves since January, Sanders was getting a little concerned some might not realize he's running for the Senate this time, not the House.
"Obviously, there's questions of personal enrichment," Lennon said in reference to the Sanders TV ad buy. The campaign manager for the richest man in Vermont charged that the longtime Green Mountain champion of the working class was "using one's office to benefit one's personal good." Congressman Sanders, said Lennon, "was making money off of his wife's actions. He was personally enriching himself. He used his wife as his agent to do it, but that's what he was doing."
Lennon had done his research. He knew exactly when Jane Sanders had placed the ads at WCAX-TV. And Lennon charged it was at a time when she was supposed to be "on the clock" elsewhere: "She's making it at four o'clock when she's working for Burlington College."
Yes, indeed, Jane Sanders is the president of Burlington College. Obviously, she keeps presidential hours, despite the fact her husband is only running to gain senatorial ones.
Lennon suggested that either President Jane is on the Sanders for Senate campaign payroll or her company "Leadership Strategies" is. He called it "purely a front for her, her daughter and her son-in-law."
Add in the spaghetti sauce smell, folks, and the evening was getting more Godfather-like by the minute.
Lennon argued that Mrs. Sanders had to be getting some corporate benefit from her campaign ad-placement role in her old man's campaign.
"It goes to personal enrichment," said Lennon. "It is one of the things that Tom DeLay did. Tom DeLay is just as guilty of this as anyone else."
Bernie Sanders and Tom DeLay. Birds of a feather. How bipartisan of Mr. Lennon to say so, eh?
Not surprisingly, Sanders' campaign manager Jeff Weaver had a very different take on the matter.
"They do a lot of polling, and they see the same results that I've seen," said Weaver, a Franklin County native and former Marine who started with Bernie as his "chauffeur" during Sanders' unsuccessful run for governor in 1986.
"After spending millions of his own money, Tarrant is 40 points behind," noted Weaver. "Now they've done what every Republican campaign does in its desperation -- they decided that their only hope is to go extremely negative after swearing up and down that they wouldn't go negative."
Weaver told "Inside Track" Lady Jane made the media buy as a "volunteer." The ad commission, he said, went to their Alexan-dria, Virginia media firm Abar Hutton Media -- http://www.abarhuttonmedia.com.
Weaver, on leave from his chief-of-staff duties, said Mrs. Sanders "is no longer doing this professionally, but the truth of the matter is that Jane Sanders is widely acknowledged to be the most skilled and knowledgable media buyer for Democrats and Progressives in Vermont. That's why she's worked for Peter Clavelle, Anthony Pollina, Elizabeth Ready and Cheryl Rivers. Jane is very skilled at this."
Actually, the truth of the matter is that Mr. Weaver failed to note that the four candidates he named all lost their last races. Bernie's the only Triple-Crown-quality political horse Jane's worked for.
As for charges of "personal enrichment," Weaver called it "a lie from top to bottom."
"We're surprised," he said, "by how early they've gone negative and the fact that they're targeting Bernie's family. Mr. Lennon may have used these smear campaign tactics in New Hampshire, but it won't work in Vermont."
Can't wait for the Sanders-Tarrant debates, can you?
Martha's Standards -- The quote popped off the page last week: "I will not judge campaign contributions on the contributor."
The speaker was Republican congressional hopeful Martha Rainville, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. Democrat Peter Welch has the Democrat nomination all locked up.
Marvelous Martha made the comment at a Statehouse presser with Gov. Jim Douglas, her biggest champion, standing at her side. Unfortunately, yours truly had not attended due to a schedule conflict.
On first blush, it sounded like an incredibly stupid thing to say, especially in public. After all, in recent months Republican members of Congress have been lining up to return campaign contributions they had once gleefully pocketed from sources with ties to convicted super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Gen. Rainville began her campaign on a high note. Martha said in her kickoff speech: "I am a Republican, but candor compels me to say that some of the Republicans in control of the House seem to have lost their way. They have lost the respect of many Americans."
Despite her ethically pure statement, however, Martha got into a little mess over her indecision in taking a $2000 donation from former Tom DeLay aide Roy Blunt of Missouri. She eventually accepted $10,000 from Blunt. This week she's in another mess, but let's not jump ahead.
Rainville had a second Statehouse press conference on her schedule last week. The purpose was to accept the endorsement of all but one House Republican. We simply couldn't bite our tongue. Did the former adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard really mean to say the previous day that she'll take money from anyone and anywhere as long as it's green?
"That is not what I meant, and I'm glad you brought that up," replied Rainville. "I'm not going to get into the game of guilt by association. I accepted a contribution from Rep. Blunt. That's been called many other things. It's been made to appear as coming from many other places than that and I'm not going to get into the finger-pointing bickering part of it and I'm also not going to allow somebody else to wrap me around the axle."
Great line about not getting "wrapped around the axle," eh? Gen. Rainville's expertise, remember, was in aircraft maintenance.
But, despite her expressed desire to clarify the matter, the situation only got murkier. What are Martha's standards on taking money, if any?
"I accept contributions from members in good standing in Congress," she replied crisply. "Members who have not been indicted. They don't have allegations against them... I'm grateful for their support."
And according to her first quarter campaign finance report filed with the Federal Election Commission, GOP congressmen and GOP PACS have supported her handsomely. It's a clear indication of how highly Vermont's open seat is valued. If the GOP loses its majority in either House or Senate, the investigations, indictments and downfall of the Bush regime will follow.
Perhaps the best example of Rainville's policy of ignoring the source on campaign contributions is demonstrated by the $1000 she reported from "Don's PAC."
Thank you, Don!
But who the hell is Don?
Don's PAC, officially registered as "Doing Our Nation's Service" PAC, has been around since 2001. According to the FEC, it's affiliated with Republican Rep. Don Sherwood of Pennsylvania.
Rep. Sherwood, 65 and married, reached an out-of-court settlement last year with his former mistress, a young woman in her twenties. She had claimed in a 911 call to police from the Washington, D.C., apartment they shared that the congressman had beaten and choked her in a violent outburst while giving her a back rub. No criminal charges were lodged, and Sherwood's folks did a good job of keeping it under wraps press-wise.
But a $5.5 million federal lawsuit was subsequently filed, and last summer Sherwood, the alleged choker, admitted to the five-year affair with the young lady but denied he was physically violent. An out-of-court settlement was reached, the terms of which have not been disclosed.
With guys like Don Sherwood in her corner, how can Martha lose? But stop the presses!
When we first called Rainville HQ Tuesday morning, Commun- ications Director Bill Noyes said he was unaware of Rep. Sher-wood's young-mistress problem.
However, three hours later, Big Bill called back to inform us he would shortly be issuing a press release announcing Martha was returning the $1000 contribution from Don's PAC. Noyes said a little Googling had enlightened him about Rep. Sherwood's family values.
So, there! Martha Rainville does have ethical standards on campaign contributions, after all.
Glad we called, eh, Martha?
Just trying to help.
Military Experience -- Actually, the real surprise at Rainville's presser involved her reading habits. At this historic moment, eight of America's best and bravest retired generals are revolting against what they have accurately described as a deceitful president and inept secretary of defense.
There's no way to dodge it any longer -- these are very dark days in the USA. We're locked into another "no light at the end of the tunnel" war, folks, that, like the tunnel before it called Vietnam, is based on presidential lies and disastrous mistakes in judgment. As of Tuesday, 2377 of our countrymen and women have died in what history will remember as the Big Bush Folly.
In 1997 Major H.R. McMaster, then a West Point instructor, published a book that laid bare from a military perspective what went wrong back in the 1960s. It's called Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam.
When it was published, Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the joint chiefs, made it required reading for all 17 of his four-star generals. The book makes the point that the military kept its mouth shut about the flaws in the Johnson administration's Vietnam policy. The generals at the top made pleasing the president their top priority. Never again!
Gen. Eric Shinseki, army chief-of-staff before and during the Iraq invasion, read Dereliction of Duty. In February 2003, Shinseki told Congress "several hundred thousand" troops would be needed in Iraq to secure the country. As everyone knows today, Shinseki was absolutely correct. His honesty cost him his job. Rumsfeld fired him, kept troop levels too low, and the rest is history.
Obviously, the eight generals who have gone public in the last 10 days have studied McMaster's book. Unlike the generals of the 1960s, they are speaking truth to power.
We wanted to get ex-Gen. Martha Rainville's impression of Dereliction of Duty. Given her military background and continued support for war in Iraq, we assumed she'd have significant points of disagreement with McMaster's central thesis.
Unfortunately, we were stopped cold in our tracks. Martha, you see, told "Inside Track" she hasn't read Dereliction of Duty.
Damn! That explains it, eh?
Internet Updates -- Last July, "Inside Track" reported on the sorry condition of the Burlington Police Department's website at http://www.police.ci.burlington.vt.us. What information was available was years out of date. Look, we're well into the Internet Age, folks, and the largest municipal police department in the state, located in one of America's award-winning "most livable cities" was way, way behind the times.
We reported last summer that Police Chief Tom Tremblay acknowledged the BPD website's shortcomings. "That will change by New Year's," promised Chief Tom Terrific. He told us the site was being redesigned.
Well, the bad news is that New Year's has come and gone, and none of the promised changes have arrived. Tremblay informed this week that the delay was caused by the fact his network administrator had been reassigned to help Burlington Telecom. Today the BPD web page returns the message "the site is under construction."
No rush, eh?
Out-of-Towners -- Burlington's current police chief is not a Burlington resident. Tremblay has long lived in Essex. He was appointed in 2003 by Mayor Peter Clavelle. Mayor Moonie also got the city council to grant Tom Terrific a residency dispensation until 2007 so he would not have to abide by the requirement of the city charter that city department heads live in Burlap. (Neither does the fire chief.)
We now know that it is not only a requirement of the city charter, but one that the citizens of Burlington overwhelmingly support. The news got lost on Town Meeting Day with the spotlight on the mayor's race, but Burlingtonians were asked in Ballot Question # 3 if they wanted to eliminate the residency requirement on the books. After all, argued the champions of change, the Queen City needs to attract the best talent regardless of what town they call home.
Voters weren't buying it, and 66.5 percent voted "no." They clearly want the people who run the departments to live among the citizens who depend on and interact with them.
Now the question is what will the new mayor, whatshisname, do?
Unfortunately, Mayor Bob Kiss did not return our call.