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Kerry Buys Vermont 

Inside Track

Bernie Sanders

Published November 12, 2003 at 5:00 p.m.

Just as Howard Dean's campaign for the Democratic nomination appears a sure thing, the campaign of the once great Sen. John Kerry unravels.

The man with the longest, saddest face in American politics fired his campaign manager, Jim Jordan, this week. Long John quickly replaced him with a female political operative who few realize cut her political teeth right here in Vermont, the land of Dean!

The brooding Massachusetts senator has tapped the charming, upbeat, can-do Mary Beth Cahill, current chief of staff for Sen. Ted Kennedy. In Sen. Brood-ing's statement about the switch, he mentioned Cahill's experience working for Teddy Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Rep. Barney Frank and Emily's List. But Kerry left out the most important item on Cahill's political resume -- her role as victorious campaign manager for U.S. Patrick J. Leahy in 1986.

Mary Beth Cahill has personal experience defeating a former Vermont governor seeking federal office. His name was Richard Snelling. And Mary Beth didn't just defeat Dick Snelling, she crushed him. A race that was supposed to have been close turned into a laugher as St. Patrick cruised to victory with 63 percent of the vote.

In a Seven Days interview Tuesday, Ms. Cahill reminisced about the '86 race. She was in her early thirties then, her best still ahead of her. She remembered learning "what a 100 wt. of milk weighed" and understanding the argument for a "whole-herd buyout.

"I always had a thing for Vermont," said Ms. Cahill. "I loved my time there and I've maintained close ties with many Vermonters."

Cahill remembers the 1986 U.S. Senate race as a "hard, slow slog." "We were very disciplined," she said. "Leahy had a great message."

Snelling, a former Republican governor, she recalled, was a Pennsylvania native. That prompted St. Patrick to recall his family's five generations in the Green Mountains in every speech he delivered.

Mary Beth had superb political instincts. Once back then, we recall her take on a certain up-and-coming Democratic state senator who had his eyes on the governor's job. Ms. Cahill's read was that the gentleman had to ditch the wire-rim glasses and lose the high, squeaky voice. He didn't, and proceeded to lose the 1990 governor's race.

Also singing the praises of Mary Beth this week is Leahy's campaign press secretary from 1986 -- Deborah Graham Kimbell. Yours truly will never forget the one-line zinger Deb lobbed repeatedly at the Snelling camp: "Dick Snelling is running a cowardly, dishonest campaign."


Ms. Kimbell noted that Mary Beth also built the Vermont Democrat Party's first statewide voter list during that 1986 election. "We had a phone list that they use to this day," she said. "Mary Beth gave structure to the Vermont Democratic organization that they never had before."

Hey, Leahy still regularly reminds us of his five-generation Vermont heritage, too.

Of course, Cahill's job as Leahy's campaign manager gave her a firsthand look at the young Democratic doctor running for lieutenant governor that year. It was that little guy from Burlington -- Howard Dean. Asked if she learned anything about Dean back then that will help her new boss now, Cahill immediately put her foot down.

"I'm not going to go down that road," she said. "It's irresistible."

How ironic that Cahill's stellar work in building the Vermont Democrat Party ended up benefiting that young doctor's political career more than anyone else's. Now, 17 years later, she'll be working to take down the prime-time star created in part by her contribution to the Vermont Democratic Party.

Small world, eh?

Mary Beth has two months to pull off a miracle for John Kerry. Most insiders think it's already over, and Dean's two giant union endorsements this week seal the deal. In fact, Mary Beth had kind words for her opposite number at Dean HQ -- Joe Trippi.

"He's a really nice guy," said Cahill.

As we talked Tuesday, Mary Beth was moving out of her office in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. Briefly we noted some of her new boss' shortcomings, such as lack of pep, image and message.

"I don't agree," replied King Kong Cahill. "The voters still think John Kerry is the best opponent running against President Bush and he has a very good chance in the primaries. I think you'll see a difference in a very short time," said Cahill.

Well, only the entire country is watching, eh?

Prog Party Jitters -- The Vermont Progressive Party took over the Statehouse Saturday, but only for a day. With just four seats in the 180-member Vermont Legislature, the Progressive Party is little more than an asterisk. Its icon, Congressman Bernie Sanders, clings to his "Independent" label. Ol' Bernardo refuses to join the Prog Party and run under its label. He knows his success is based on working with, not against, Democrats.

Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, who has run and won while wearing the Progressive Party label, skipped Saturday's Prog conclave in Montpeculiar. Instead, he went to the Democratic Party's state committee meeting in Barre. He had his coming-out at last December's Burlington Democratic Caucus.

As everyone knows, Mr. Clavelle is a declared candidate for governor in 2004 and he's seeking the Democratic, not the Progressive, nomination. Clavelle is a realist. Many of the Proggies are not.

In fact, though we missed the Prog meeting in Montpeculiar, a friend passed along some literature distributed there. Apparently yours truly is not a Prog favorite. One sheet titled "A Few Thoughts to Consider" asked the party faithful if yours truly "really runs the Vermont Progressive Party?"

God forbid!

That's an apparent reference to the Vermont political reality pointed out here in the past. It's the reality demonstrated as recently as November 2002 when conservative, pro-life Republican Brian Dubie won the Gov-Lite race with just 41 percent of the votes cast. Democrat Peter Shumlin was second with 35 percent. And Progressive rock star Anthony Pollina finished third with 28 percent. How quickly we forget the round of applause Republicans gave Tony the Prog when he showed up at Dubie's victory celebration on Election Night!

This time 'round, pro-choice Democrats Cheryl Rivers and Jan Backus are lining up to knock off Dubie. Meanwhile, the Proggies appear ready to back another suicidal mission by Mr. Pollina.

With Bernie refusing to join the party and Mayor Moonie refusing to stay in it, the Party of Pollina is clearly on the ropes. Bitterness is becoming the Prog flavor of the month.

In the unsigned handout at the prog conclave, the writer also vented on Howard Dean's success on the presidential campaign trail: "Should Vermont Progressives simply sit nice and polite and quiet while Dean scams well-meaning activists nationwide into believing he is one of us?"

Of course not, comrades! True, pure Vermont Progressives will do everything possible to inform "well-meaning activists" that Ho-Ho was not, is not, and never will be a holier-than-thou Vermont Progressive!

The Prog missive ends with the question: "Should Progressives follow Freyne's directions and support the Democrats against the Republicans? Is Democrat vs. Republican really what it is all about now in Vermont? Have we lost all hope for actual CHANGE to the SYSTEM?

"If the answer to your question is yes, then quite a few of us are off to the Greens!"

Good for the Greens. But will they have to change their colors to accommodate an influx of disgruntled Reds?

Let's see, if you mix green with red you get...?


Speaking of Clavelle -- The only declared challenger to Republican Gov. Jim Douglas put out his first campaign press release Friday: "Clavelle Denounces Douglas Administration Rate Deal."

Needless to say, Mayor Moonie has a problem with Jimmy D's proposal to lower IBM's electric bill by raising the electric bills of 80,000 Green Mountain Power customers.

"This is another example of a flawed energy policy coming from the Douglas administration," says Clavelle. "This deal violates the fundamental objective of utility rate design," adds Mayor Moonie. "Rates should be based on costs."

In an interview in the mayor's office Monday, Clavelle expanded on the energy issue, one he thinks will be a hot topic when campaign season kicks in.

"A lot of Vermonters have questions about the Vermont Yankee deal," Clavelle told Seven Days. The Vernon nuclear reactor, owned by Entergy Nuclear, has won Jimmy D's blessing to increase the reactor's juice from 540 megawatts to 650 mega-watts. In return, Entergy pays the state $20 million, much of it to fund the Gov's Lake Champlain cleanup initiative.

"At first blush it seems that this is all about money," said Clavelle. "Before we argue over who gets the money, we all ought to understand what the consequences are in terms of public health and safety of expanding the output of that plant."

Clavelle also said he was "heartened" by the WCAX-TV poll released last week. In a head-to-head against the incumbent, Clavelle got 33 percent. Surpris-ingly, only 44 percent backed the guy who currently has the office on the Fifth Floor of the Pavilion Building in Montpelier.

More disturbing for Douglas fans was WCAX's report that only 40 percent of those polled had a "favorable" impression of Jimmy D. This for a governor who's been to more ribbon cuttings in 10 months than Howard Dean attended in 10 years?

The Ch. 3 poll showed 39 percent had an "unfavorable" impression of Gov. Douglas, and 21 percent were "neutral." Folks, let's be frank. Those are not good numbers for an incumbent.

Meanwhile, 32 percent of those polled said they didn't even recognize Clavelle's name. Hey, it really is a big state.

Of those who did know Mayor Moonie, 21 percent had a "favorable impression." Just 5 percent did not, and the remaining 42 percent were neutral.

Any political analyst worth his salt will tell you that Clavelle's 5 percent unfavorability bodes well for his future.

Pundits, Republicans and history buffs keep pointing out how rare it is for Vermonters to throw a one-term governor out of office. It hasn't happened since 1962, when Democrat Phil Hoff squeaked past Republican boy-wonder F. Ray Keyser, they note. Therefore it can't possibly happen in 2004, right?

Dream on.

Late on that historic 1962 Election Night, Winooski delivered a Democratic landslide that put Hoff in front statewide by a slim 1315 votes. It was an election a 12-year-old Winooski kid named Peter Clavelle will never forget. It's also one he'd like to duplicate by putting Douglas' name alongside Keyser's in the Vermont history book as one-term wonders.

"I was heartened by the results of the poll," said Clavelle. "It shows that my negatives are low, and also tells me what I know -- that I've got to get around the state. There are a lot of Vermonters who don't know me. They do know Jim Douglas, but I think that poll suggests that he's vulnerable."

Not everyone, however, agrees with Clavelle. GOP state chairman Jim Barnett thinks the WGOP, sorry, WCAX poll is a joke. He cites past Ch. 3 polls that consistently showed Democrat Doug Racine beating Jim Douglas.

A recent Republican Party poll by Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Virginia, showed Jimmy D's favorability rating at 71 percent, said Barnett. "I know which one I trust," he added.

Incidentally, the Vermont GOP has finally lined up a speaker for its big fall fundraising dinner. Originally, said Barnett, they'd been hoping to snare former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani. It just didn't work out.

The back-up is Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee. The event will take place December 2 at the Essex fairgrounds. As of Tuesday, Barnett hadn't come up with a ticket price.

Incidentally, the energetic new leader of the Vermont GOP has become quite the Dean watcher himself. Battlin' Barnett regularly emails updates to party members highlighting the latest stumbles of, and attacks on, Vermont's former Democrat governor. To read Jim's missives, you'd swear he's working for the Kerry Campaign. He laughed when we told him so.

Barnett says he's actually not surprised Ho-Ho is doing so well on the national stage. He says he predicted Dean would be a "top-tier" candidate.

"But I am surprised," said James, "at how far ahead he is."

Chases Win One! -- Suspended Burlington eye surgeon David Chase and his clinic-manager wife Brianne Chase won one this week. On Monday Judge Howard Vanbenthuysen denied a request for a "writ of attachment" on their Spear Street home.

The notion was brought by Deborah Brundage, a former patient. The Chases hacienda is jointly held. The judge ruled Brundage's lawyer hadn't made enough of a case to show there was a "reasonable likelihood" of success at trial against Mrs. Chase.

Incidentally, four former patients have now filed lawsuits against the Chases. And Dr. Voodoo Eyes has added some muscle to his legal team. Ritchie Berger, a.k.a. The Terminator, of Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew P.C. is now leading the legal blocking and tackling for Doc Voodoo Eyes.

Wise move.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

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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