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If You Can't Join 'Em, Beat 'Em 

Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published August 4, 2010 at 9:53 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

After dominating Burlington’s government for nearly three decades, Progressives are slowly losing their electoral hold on the burg.

With the resignation of Ward 3 Progressive City Councilor Marrisa Caldwell, Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P-Ward 3) is the lone Progressive on the council — a post she’s held only since 2009.

The last time the council had a solo Progressive was in 1981 — the year Bernie Sanders was elected. The likeminded councilor was Terry Bouricius.

Until Caldwell’s replacement is elected, the council will consist of seven Democrats, three Republicans and two independents. Though the Dems have a numerical majority, they need eight votes to pass new laws, according to state law.

Burlington Progs have lost electoral clout in Montpelier, too. A two-seat House district now represented by Democrat Reps. Jason Lorber and Rachel Weston often had at least one Progressive until 2004. In 2008, Ward 1 Democrat Kesha Ram snagged one of those seats, bouncing Progressive Chris Pearson.

Pearson hopes to reclaim his spot in the Statehouse by replacing “retiring” Progressive David Zuckerman. But Pearson faces a tough battle against Ram and popular school board member Keith Pillsbury, who is running as a Democrat.

Progressive Party Chairman Morgan Daybell chalks up recent electoral losses to cyclical politics and, yes, the city’s handling of financially strapped Burlington Telecom. He also points out that Progressives have focused more attention on running candidates in other parts of the state — albeit with limited success.

Some Progs, such as former Burlington City Councilor and current State Senator Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), have taken a different approach: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em — sorta. He won the Democratic primary in 2008, then carried both party labels to victory. He’s looking to do the same this fall. Anthony Pollina is following Ashe’s lead in Washington County, hoping to win the backing of Democrats in a state senate primary — a tactic Pollina rejected in the 2008 gubernatorial race. In fact, he even eschewed the Prog label and ran as an independent.

That kind of fusion candidacy has yet to take hold in the Queen City — it’s still mostly bare-knuckle ward politics with plenty of posturing in advance of the 2012 mayoral race.

If the Democrats manage to win Caldwell’s seat, they would have an outright majority on the council for the first time in 30 years. They came close in 2009: David Cain lost to Caldwell by 37 votes; and Democrat Eli Lesser-Goldsmith narrowly lost to Republican Vince Dober in a special runoff election.

In March, Dems won both Ward 2 seats, but Ward 4 Democrat Russ Ellis lost his reelection to Republican Kurt Wright.

To gain, or keep, a majority, Democrats will need to do more than create “blue ribbon” committees to keep tabs on Progressive-in-Chief Mayor Bob Kiss. They’ll have to convince voters they’re ready to lead after so long out of power.

Politics Shouldn’t Be a Drag

When Progressive Marrisa Caldwell resigned her council seat last week, she said it was for “personal reasons.”

“Fair Game” probed. “Personal reasons are personal reasons,” Caldwell said via email.

The real explanation is that Caldwell is buying a house outside Burlington.

Progressives were unable to convince her to stay in Burlington through the fall, or help her find a new place in our livable city.

A special election to fill out the remainder of her term will be held in November. The winner will have to run again in March, as Caldwell’s term officially expires in 2011.

The other Ward 3 councilor, Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, was first elected to the council in 2009 from Ward 2. She later resigned after buying a house in Ward 3. Her new neighbors returned her to the council in 2010.

Democrat Bob Bolyard is interested in Caldwell’s seat. He’s chairman of the Ward 3 Democrats, an inspector of elections and a justice of the peace. He’s also an integral member of the League of Drag Queen Voters and the House of LeMay.

How did the Burlington Free Press announce the news? With this headline: “Drag Queen Amber LeMay (Bob Bolyard) May Run in Burlington’s Third Ward.” No mention in the article of Bolyard’s political pedigree. Sheesh.

I’ll be the first to admit Amber LeMay can light up a room, and I use a League of Drag Queen Voters coffee mug. But Bolyard’s no political wallflower.

On the Progressive side, Ward 3 School Board member Vince Brennan is interested in running for the council. A University of Vermont employee, Brennan was first elected to the school board in 2006 and has been active at the Sustainability Academy at Barnes Elementary.

Wow: two qualified candidates with strong ties to the ward. What’ll they think of next?

Ready, Fire, Aim!

Gov. Jim Douglas and his former spokesman Jason Gibbs implied Secretary of State Deb Markowitz was derelict in her duties to inform military voters overseas about the earlier primary date, August 24. But it may have been a misfire.

A Vermont soldier in Afghanistan who requested anonymity contacted “Fair Game” to say enlisted voters rely on Voting Assistance Officers in their units. The VAOs use something called the Internet to get accurate info, not bulletin boards.

Go figure.

Speaking of getting accurate info, Gibbs is the only major-party candidate running to succeed Markowitz who has not visited with her to better understand how the office works.

“They’ll be plenty of time for me to sit down with Secretary Markowitz and her staff to learn more about the office,” said Gibbs.

After the grenades he’s lobbed there, he might want to wear a bulletproof vest.

Trippi Down Memory Lane

Famed political media strategist Joe Trippi stumped at the Burlington Country Club Monday night to raise money for Democrat Doug Racine.

Only about 35 people — including campaign staffers and two members of the media — listened as Trippi offered a downbeat, sobering message that Democrats have to be the “economic realists” this fall and get away from promising new programs in exchange for votes.

Bwahahaha! What a comedian.

Racine hired Trippi earlier this year to offer campaign advice and has paid him $5000 as of July 15.

Trippi told “Fair Game” he’ll be spending two weeks in Vermont before the August 24 primary to help Racine. Good thing; he’ll need it.

Hope Trippi can keep his gig with Racine, because billionaire Jeff Greene, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Florida, fired Trippi over the weekend as part of a major staff overhaul.

Greene is running against Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL), who has the backing of former Gov. Howard Dean. Dean and Trippi had a major falling out in the wake of Dean’s presidential bid.

That’s why it was intriguing to see Kate O’Connor at the Trippi event. O’Connor worked as both a political and staff aide to Gov. Dean and ran his presidential campaign. Now she’s campaign treasurer for Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin after a short stint as his campaign manager.

O’Connor and Trippi worked together on Dean’s presidential campaign. Well, “worked together” might be a bit of a stretch. The two worked more apart, as they didn’t see eye to eye on campaign strategy — or on much of anything else.

There was a palpable tension between them Monday night, while campaign staff and the media watched them exchange some awkward laughs. They chatted for a few minutes about old campaign staffers, former Seven Days columnist Peter Freyne and Dean’s hip surgery in June.

They even hugged. Awww.

O’Connor ducked out before Trippi dispensed any advice.

Wrangling with Rangel

Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) will play a key role in an unfolding ethics scandal involving former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY).

Welch, who serves on the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (aka the Ethics Committee), was picked by Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) to serve on a special adjudicatory subcommittee to determine Rangel’s fate.

The Ethics Committee alleges Rangel violated a wide range of House rules, including failure to report rental income on a Dominican Republic villa, using congressional stationery to solicit money, and using three rent-controlled New York apartments for his campaign offices without reporting it as an in-kind contribution.

Last year, Welch returned $19,000 in campaign donations from Rangel to avoid any potential conflicts. Two other Dems on the panel have yet to return smaller amounts.

Guess Rangel isn’t the only one with questionable ethics.

Media Notes

Two of the state’s largest news organizations — the Burlington Free Press and WCAX-TV — are sending news staff to Afghanistan to embed with Vermont National Guard units.

WCAX-TV news anchor Darren Perron and photographer Lance McKenzie landed in Afghanistan Saturday. Perron is blogging daily and filing reports for the nightly news. They’re embedded with Guard troops who are training Afghan police. No Daysies in Kabul for perennial WCAX winners.

The Freeps announced Sunday it is sending longtime reporter Sam Hemingway and photo/multimedia editor Ryan Mercer to Afghanistan. The pair will be embedded with the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team under the command of Col. Will Roy of Jericho.

It’ll be interesting to see if their reports are critical of the war effort — given the recent release of secret, ground-level intelligence that challenges official assessments that we’re “winning.”

Meanwhile, a familiar face to nightly news viewers is leaving. Gabrielle Komorowski, the 5:30 p.m. news anchor at WPTZ NewsChannel 5, will join sister station WYFF in Greenville, S.C. She will report and anchor WYFF’s newscasts at 5 and 5:30 p.m. Komorowski graduated from Elon University, just a few hours north of Greenville.

Her last newscast in Vermont is September 3.

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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