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Split Decision 

Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published December 7, 2011 at 12:17 p.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

All eyes will be on Burlington this Sunday, December 11, as the city’s two major political parties — Democrats and Progressives — hold their mayoral caucuses.

The question is, will they nominate the same guy? The Democrats should have a candidate before 5 p.m., just as the Progs meet for a potluck dinner ahead of their 6 p.m. caucus.

After a four-way race led to a cliffhanger 540-540 vote last month, Democrats are down to two candidates in the final runoff: nonprofit housing developer and state Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) and nonprofit housing developer and airport commissioner Miro Weinberger.

With Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss not seeking reelection, the Progs are left with the choice of endorsing “No Candidate,” one of the Dems or some yet-to-be-named individual.

This uncertainty recalls the political landscape of 2006, when Progressives helped nominate state Sen. Hinda Miller (D-Chittenden) over then-city councilor Andy Montroll as the Democratic Party’s mayoral candidate because Progs didn’t have a candidate of their own. When the Progressives met several weeks later in the H.O. Wheeler school gymnasium, a soft-spoken legislator by the name of Bob Kiss stepped forward and won the Progressive nod.

The rest, as they say, is history.

This time, the Progressives may end up cross-endorsing a Democrat. Ashe, a former Progressive city councilor, is a shoo-in to get the Prog nomination if he prevails at the Democratic caucus. Ashe has won two terms in the state senate as a “fusion” candidate endorsed by both parties.

If he’s cross-endorsed for mayor, Ashe may lose Democratic support as a result. Dem purists who can’t seem to get past the party’s loss to Bernie Sanders in the 1981 mayor’s race say they’d vote for a — gasp! — Republican before casting a ballot for Ashe.

A similar scenario holds true for Weinberger.

If he wins, Progressives seem poised to run their own candidate — even if that candidate isn’t well known or even has a chance of actually winning.

So, why run a Progressive and possibly split the left — and risk handing the election to GOP candidate Kurt Wright? Some Progs think Weinberger isn’t class conscious.

“In talking to Progressives, there is still a strong desire to have a mayor who understands and represents the needs of working people,” said Elijah Bergman, vice chairman of the city Progressives. “We know Tim Ashe would be such a mayor. However, I haven’t heard anything from Miro Weinberger to suggest the same would be true of him.”

Funny, given that Weinberger builds low-income housing for a living.

City Councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P-Ward 3) is oft named by city Progs as an up-and-coming politician who would make a strong mayoral candidate. Not this year.

“While I appreciate the underground effort to support my mayoral candidacy, this is not the year I would run,” Mulvaney-Stanak told Fair Game. “I am definitely interested in higher office in the near future, so stay tuned.”

The council’s other Progressive — Councilor Vince Brennan (P-Ward 3) — is giving a 2012 mayoral run some thought, sources tell Fair Game.

With the intra-liberal warfare raging behind them, both candidates pledged during a Channel 17 debate Monday night to work together postcaucus in uniting the Left going into the general election.

With party purists working at cross purposes to keep old grudges alive and settle old scores — scores nearly as old as the candidates themselves — the only person in the Queen City who may be left smiling is Kurt Wright.

Readers may recall Wright only garnered 32 percent of the vote in the first round of the 2009 election; Kiss had 28 percent and Democrat Andy Montroll had 23 percent. Independent Dan Smith had 14 percent.

A split Left with no strong independent in the race would appear to be Wright’s path to victory, making his third run for mayor the potential charm.

(Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. See disclosure in Letters to the Editor.)

Independent Power

There’s a growing rift among opponents of the proposed merger between Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service.

Last month, state Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans) and 45 other electric ratepayers petitioned the Vermont Public Service Board to appoint an independent counsel to represent ratepayer interests when regulators hear the merger proposal in February.

Their chief concern is a conflict of interest — or a perceived one — between Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration and GMP. Department of Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller’s husband, Eric Miller, is a managing partner in the law firm that represents GMP and, as such, derives indirect income from GMP’s payments to his firm.

After meeting with Shumlin two weeks ago, Illuzzi voluntarily put the brakes on his request until he could sit down with Commissioner Miller and review her department’s official position on the merger.

As of press deadline, that meeting had not been scheduled.

“They need to show their hand a little,” Illuzzi told Fair Game this week. “But, my request for a delay wasn’t indefinite.”

Perhaps Team Shumlin is trying to run out the clock for their pals at GMP, hmm?

The PSB dismissed the request for an independent counsel but left Illuzzi and the other petitioners an opportunity to resubmit their petition after the DPS files its official comments on the merger.

Thirty of the original 46 petitioners — upset by Illuzzi’s call for a delay — aren’t waiting. Last week they asked the PSB to reconsider its decision and appoint a special counsel now, because the merger is complex and touches nearly every aspect of the state’s economy.

If the merger is approved, nearly two-thirds of the state’s power market will be controlled by GMP’s parent company, GazMétro of Québec. GazMétro also owns Vermont Gas. GazMétro would, in turn, wield significant sway over VELCO, the utility that manages the state’s power-transmission network.

Given Commissioner Miller’s appearance of a conflict of interest, the 30 petitioners wrote that it’s necessary to have an independent set of eyes on the proposed merger.

“This proposed merger, if approved, would have enormous ramifications for Vermonters for generations to come,” the petitioners wrote. “The public deserves to have a clear, uncompromised voice representing them, without any undercurrents of mistrust or cynicism due to the real or perceived conflict of interest of the commissioner.”

Media Notes

Well, you’ve probably heard by now: I’m leaving Seven Days at the end of the year and turning over Fair Game to political editor Andy Bromage.

Here’s the story: More than a month ago — out of the blue — I was offered a chance to return to the White River Junction-based book publisher Chelsea Green Publishing as its communications director. I was working at Chelsea Green in March 2008 when Paula Routly and Pamela Polston approached me about writing the paper’s political column in the wake of Peter Freyne’s retirement.

I’ve had a great run with Fair Game and leave Seven Days with nothing but the utmost respect and gratitude for Paula and Pamela, my fellow staffers, and you, dear readers.

I firmly believe opportunities present themselves for a reason — as the chance to write this column did more than three and a half years ago.

My final column will be December 28.

But, fret not: Until then, everything remains fair game.

Mad Lib(erals)

To while away the time at this Sunday’s Democratic mayoral caucus, Fair Game offers readers this mayoral Mad Lib. Doors at Memorial Auditorium open at 1 p.m. for voting, and ballot counting begins shortly after 4.

Click here to see a full-size, printable version in PDF format.

Send your completed Mad Lib to Fair Game and we’ll publish the best ones on our staff blog, Blurt. (Email [email protected], or send it by snail mail to Fair Game c/o Seven Days, P.O. Box 1164, Burlington, VT 05402.)

Enjoy! And don’t forget to share your story with your fellow Libs, be they Miro Maniacs or Tim Troopers.

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

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

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


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