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When Sports and Politics Collide 

Inside Track

The Martin St. Louis of Democratic presidential hopefuls got into a nasty little brawl this week with the Big Bad Boston Bruiser. Both players, Vermont's Howard Dean and the Bay State's John Kerry were sent to the penalty box to serve double minors for roughing.

As everybody knows, St. Louis (LOU-EEE) is the former UVM hockey star (Class of 1997) who's shining brightly these days for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He's also the smallest player in the National Hockey League. So small, in fact, the hockey experts said he'd never make it in the NHL.

But 33 goals during the regular season, and three game-winning goals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs have hockey fans across North America singing Marty's praises. The former Catamount is the new poster child for the struggling NHL, where linebacker-size skaters have slowed the game to a crawl, producing empty seats in several rinks.

Vermont fans are hardly surprised. St. Louis is Vermont's all-time scoring leader. He demonstrated time and time again on the Gutterson ice that size is never a substitute for talent, character and hard work.

If St. Louis' "Bolts" knock off the New Jersey Devils and John LeClair's Philadelphia Flyers beat the Ottawa Senators in Round 2, both former UVM stars will collide in the Stanley Cup semifinals.

Yes!

Like Martin St. Louis, Howard Dean is an undersized player from little Vermont. They're both officially listed at 5' 9", though St. Louis would need high heels to see eye-to-eye with Dr. Dean. Most political experts once thought Dean could never play in the big leagues.

Like ice hockey, politics is a rough sport. This week, Ho-Ho got sucker-punched by Sen. Kerry, who is seven inches taller and outweighs him by 30 pounds.

For months, Ho-Ho has been pecking away at Kerry for voting for the "blank check" Iraq Resolution last October, then turning on the antiwar rhetoric on the campaign trail. Meanwhile, Dean's antiwar stance won him plenty of attention and he quickly shot up in the polls to tie Kerry for the lead in New Hampshire.

On Monday, Big John's communications director Chris Lehane threw the first punch. He jumped on comments Dean made about foreign policy and military might that were picked up by Time magazine. Under the headline "The Dems get ready for Prime Time," reporter Karen Tumulty wrote:

"Dean has continued to beat the antiwar drums. 'We've gotten rid of him,' Dean said of Saddam Hussein's ouster. 'I suppose that's a good thing.' Pressed again last week on CNN, Dean refused to concede that Iraq is better off without Saddam. And two weeks ago, while campaigning at a Stonyfield yogurt factory in New Hampshire, the would-be-commander-in-chief suggested that America should be planning for a time when it is not the world's greatest superpower: 'We have to take a different approach [to diplomacy]. We won't always have the strongest military.'"

Won't always have the strongest military? Ho-Ho, what are you smoking?

Kerry's eyes must have bulged out of their sockets. The decorated Vietnam vet seized upon the opening. The timing was perfect!

Lehane fired off a press release: ''Howard Dean's stated belief that the United States won't always have the strongest military raises serious questions about his capacity to serve as commander-in-chief. No serious candidate for the presidency has ever before suggested that he would compromise or tolerate an erosion of America's military supremacy.''

According to the Boston Globe's Glen Johnson, Kerry was reunited Sunday with a member of the crew from his riverboat patrol days in Vietnam. On February 28, 1969 they were ambushed by the Viet Cong. Kerry, who was wounded, led the counterattack. He picked up a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for bravery.

Howard Dean was a student at Yale that winter. Ho-Ho could have gotten a 2-S student deferment but, instead, he'd been classified 1-Y for medical reasons.

Dean sustained a stress fracture in high school that left an unfused vertebrae in his spine. He was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis -- the most common cause of low-back pain in young athletes. Ho-Ho was a wrestler (and has the neck to prove it.) The Viet Cong would have had to land in Malibu for Ho-Ho to get drafted.

The Boston Globe (the unofficial paper of the Kerry for President Campaign) took note of this:

"Several articles in the last year have noted that after his deferment, Dean spent 80 days skiing in Aspen, Colo. 'It was a great time to be a kid and do something relatively fun,' the Aspen Times quoted Dean as saying last August."

Ouch.

At least the Boston Globe didn't mention his athletic exploits as governor of Vermont: hiking the entire Long Trail and paddling the entire length of the Connecticut River. Can't wait 'till the Globe runs a picture of Dean's official "L.L. Dean" Statehouse portrait that pictures Ho-Ho as a rugged outdoorsman, but apparently not rugged enough to be drafted.

Rather than the candidate himself responding to Lehane's missile, Dean's campaign manager Joe Trippi issued a blistering rebuttal:

"The statement by Senator John Kerry's campaign is absurd. As Commander-in-Chief, Howard Dean will never tolerate an erosion of American military power, nor has he ever said such a thing. The war on terrorism will not be won by relying solely on military supremacy...

"Governor Dean believes that even the most sophisticated military in the world acting alone cannot eliminate all sleeper terrorist cells, nor should it be called upon to take on every dictator for the purpose of regime change."

Trippi went on to blast Kerry for voting for the Iraq resolution and "pursuing the short-sighted strategy of the Bush Doctrine." He suggested Sen. Kerry was running for the presidential nomination of the wrong party!

When The New York Times checked in, Dean himself responded. After all, it's his hometown paper.

Dr. Dean, as the Times calls him, told reporter Adam Nagourney that "in arguing against what he regarded as Mr. Bush's emphasis on military action rather than diplomacy, he had been discussing historic trends in which powers that resorted to unilateral military action rather than diplomacy -- including the British and Roman empires -- had inevitably been overtaken by other nations.

"Of course we're going to have the strongest military as long as I'm alive, and probably as long as my children are alive," he said today. "But at some point, if we continue to push only military options, we're not going to have the strongest military because other countries will overtake us."

He suggested that Mr. Kerry was moving against him because of recent polls in New Hampshire that show the two men in a close race for the lead there.

"I think the Kerry campaign is desperate at this point," Dean said.

Nobody is enjoying this more than White House political director Karl Rove and his boss, George W. Bush.

No doubt both will be tuning in Saturday night when ABC televises a live Democratic candidates debate from South Carolina. Let's hope Dean and Kerry stand next to one another.

Coach's Corner -- As for our comparison between the politician and the puckster, veteran UVM Hockey Coach Mike Gilligan told Seven Days, "I'm surprised Howard's running for president, but I wouldn't be surprised if Marty won the Conn Smythe Award as most valuable player."

In an ABC-TV profile last Sunday, St. Louis described his career at UVM "the best four years of my life."

"Let me tell you," said Gilligan, "they were the best four years of my life, too!"

News Hole? -- Last Thursday evening, 200 registered nurses from Fletcher Allen Health Care held a candlelight vigil outside Megabricks -- the ritzy condo castle on lower College Street. That's where FAHC's interim CEO Ed Colodny lives.

They were there to protest the dismissal of fellow nurse and union member Marley Skiff. We reported last week Skiff had been fired for "union activities." We've since learned the "activities" involved providing the union with the names and addresses of non-unionized workers at the Mary Fanny.

Last month, Skiff had been nominated to serve on the hospital's new board of trustees by Rep. Bernie Sanders. Now she's been fired.

Asked about it Monday, Sanders replied, "One of the first things that Fletcher Allen has got to do if they want to recapture the support and the confidence of the people of our state is they've got to sit down with the nurses and negotiate and sign a contract."

Sanders said that firing Skiff, his nominee for the board and a member of the union negotiating team, "is moving in exactly the wrong direction."

By the way, readers of the state's largest newspaper, The Burlington Free Press, have yet to read about Skiff's dismissal or the Thursday protest. The Freeps blew it off, telling union reps the paper considered the protest by 200 nurses a "stunt." (Meanwhile, 25 people protesting pro wrestling at Memorial Auditorium Monday became front page news?)

Nor has the largest paper in Vermont reported why Paul Perrault, the president of the largest bank in Vermont, withdrew his nomination to the board of the largest hospital in Vermont.

Strange newspaper, eh?

And There's More -- It's been two weeks since Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle held a press conference to announce the city is facing a $750,000 gap in the 2004 budget!

Mayor Moonie believes in open government and he wanted the taxpayers of Burlap to know what's going on.

But the Freeps ignored Clavelle's announcement and as a result most Burlingtonians remain in the dark about city fiscal matters.

The cost of health insurance for city workers has shot up almost 12 percent, said Clavelle. And a cost-of-living boost for employees will cost $550,000. There are also fiscal problems at the Burlington Electric Depart-ment, which we reported earlier.

Mayor Moonie has asked department heads to prepare 2004 budgets that reflect both a 3 percent and 5 percent reduction in spending.

Despite the belt-tightening, Clavelle vowed he will not seek to increase the property tax rate. But he is leaning toward backing a one-half percent increase in the city's tax on meals and alcoholic beverages, from 1.5 to 2 percent. Da' mayor will also be asking the city's largest tax-exempt institutions, UVM and the Mary Fanny, to voluntarily pony up a little more cash for the city services they enjoy.

Mayor Clavelle's 2004 budget will be presented to the Burlington City Council Monday night. There's only a 50-50 chance the story makes the local daily next week.

Bloomer Stuffs Burlap? -- On March Town Meeting Day, Queen City voters approved two charter changes affecting landlords and tenants in Vermont's largest city. But the word from Montpeculiar is, Burlingtonians will have to wait until next year before the changes take effect as law.

That's because the Repub-lican chairman of the House Local Government Committee has decided there simply isn't enough time left in the session to take action.

Burlington voters backed two ballot items on March 5. One would require landlords to give tenants without leases 90 days notice before kicking them out. Such tenants would have to give 60 days notice if they intended to move.

The second ballot item would require landlords to give 90 days notice before raising rents. (And you may have noticed, rents are skyrocketing in Burlap.)

Rep. Judy Bloomer of Rutland told Seven Days, "My guess is we won't get to it until next January."

Sweet Judy Blue Eyes told us Friday that she intended to close down her committee this week.

But Madame Chair, there are still a few weeks left in the session. There's plenty of time. And even though they live in Burlington rather than Rutland, those renters are still Vermonters.

A couple of Queen City reps explained the inaction by pointing out that the House Republican leader, Rep. Connie Houston, is an Addison County realtor and landlord.

"I find it intriguing," said Burlington Rep. John Tracy, "that the Republicans ran on the theme 'listen to the people.'" Now, he said, they're "not willing to take the time to listen."

Media Notes -- The new reporter at Ch. 22 certainly has an impressive resume. Instead of attending a high-brow journalism school, Mike Valentine ran his own bagel business. The Brown University business-economics grad told Seven Days he spent his first eight years out of college as owner-operator of the Bagel Port in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Perfect training for his next two years as a reporter-anchor for "3 Cape News."

Welcome to Vermont, Mike!

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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