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Stand By Your Man? 

Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published June 9, 2010 at 10:14 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Are endorsements from the state’s two largest unions an advantage in the five-way Democratic primary for governor?

That’s the question on the minds of many politicos after Democrat Doug Racine got backing this week from the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO. They have a combined total of 21,500 local members.

“This is exciting news for me and a good recognition from them that I’ve been working on issues they care about. In Vermont, unions are not focused on just labor issues, but working people’s issues,” Racine told “Fair Game.”

“Labor has always been interested in issues that include worker’s compensation, minimum wage and health care,” he added.

The endorsements also supply three things necessary to win a contested primary: money, get-out-the-vote efforts and a strong volunteer base.

Racine could win the labor Triple Crown this month when the Vermont State Employees Association meets to decide who it will endorse, if anyone. The VSEA is the state’s third largest union with more than 7500 current and former state employees.

A VSEA win for Racine would almost certainly confirm his front-runner status in the primary. If another Democrat gets the nod, it would keep the full field of candidates in play.

The latter scenario is possible. Word is, Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham) is a contender for the VSEA’s backing.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — a member of the AFL-CIO — will meet later this month to decide if it will endorse a candidate.

Meanwhile, all the other gubernatorial wannabes are downplaying Racine’s big endorsements. Sen. Susan Bartlett (D-Lamoille) said Monday she never expected to get union support. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz contends that, while Racine has the support of union leadership, rank-and-file teachers support her.

Dunne thanked the VT-NEA for considering him second best.

What if Racine loses the primary?

Both unions were quick to say they’d support whichever Dem wins, even though they hope it’s Racine.

“We have had eight years of Republicans in charge and they have not been friendly to labor,” said Dennis Labounty, Vermont AFL-CIO’s political director. “We want to see that change.”

Association by Guilt

You can’t pick up the Burlington Free Press without reading about one Queen City scandal or another — dog-park fiascos, after-school program debacles, Burlington Telecom.

But should the actions — or inactions — of one administration cause the state’s largest daily to give short shrift to everything else going on in the city?

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance recently touted the Queen City as one of the 10 best U.S. cities for the next decade, lauding collaborations between government, colleges and private businesses and support for green and hi-tech businesses, renewable energy and local food.

City and business leaders hailed the ranking at a press event on Monday. Channel 17, WCAX, WPTZ and Seven Days were there, but the city’s paper of record didn’t show.


“It’s a little discouraging,” said Mayor Bob Kiss. “There seems to be some real selective reporting from the Free Press when it comes to Burlington.”

Neither outgoing Publisher Brad Robertson nor Executive Editor Mike Townsend responded to a request for comment on the Kiss dis.

What else has the Freeps missed?

Burlington was named one of 15 cities from around the world chosen to participate in Sir Richard Branson’s “Carbon War Room,” which could lure private capital to the Queen City for renewable-energy development.

Forbes rated Burlington among the prettiest cities in the United States. But looks aren’t everything. The magazine also declared B-town to be the second most likely location in the U.S. to find a job this spring.

Finally, the website The Daily Beast crowned Burlington as one of the Most Stoned Cities in the United States. And, no, they weren’t referring to Vermont granite.

Check and Imbalance

Dwindling public trust and support for Mayor Bob Kiss can largely be traced to the actions of his top aide: Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold. On Monday night, the Burlington City Council officially expressed its lack of confidence in Leopold. The council voted 10-4 against his reappointment.

The vote is merely symbolic, though. The council doesn’t have the authority to push Leopold out of a job.

Only councilors David Berezniak (D-Ward 2), Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1), Marrisa Caldwell (P-Ward 3) and Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P-Ward 3) supported the mayor’s right-hand man.

Leopold is a target because he OK’d spending $17 million in city funds to prop up Burlington Telecom — a sum the utility can’t repay. Nor can BT make quarterly payments on its $33.5 million CitiCapital lease.

Leopold did have some “good” news on the BT front this week. Moody’s, the credit rating agency, reinstated the city’s bond rating to a stellar Aa3, which means it won’t cost taxpayers extra to borrow money. Still, Burlington remains on a credit watch.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Service expects to wrap up its financial probe of BT by the end of the month.

The DPS is no longer calling the BT probe a “forensic audit,” which implies embezzlement or fraud. Instead, it’s an “investigation” that will look closely at the source of BT’s borrowed funds and what it spent them on.

I’ve preordered a copy for summer beach reading.

You Can Quote Me?

The intrepid trio who pen “Capitol Beat,” the political column for the Rutland Herald and Times Argus, wanted to know if I had endorsed of Sen. Susan Bartlett. They found a “Fair Game” snippet on Bartlett’s website, talking up her positives. It’s titled “What People Say About Susan.”

Sure, I said it. Or, at least I wrote it, along with lots of nice things about other candidates. To be clear, though, it wasn’t an endorsement.

Several other people were equally surprised to find their glowing comments — and head shots — on Bartlett’s website. Comments from affordable-housing advocates Liz Curry and Chris Donnelly, as well as Ellen Kahler of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, were snagged from Bartlett’s Facebook page.

Comments from Donnelly and Kahler have since been scrubbed from the website.

Easier to ask forgiveness than permission, I guess.

Swimming Against Salmon

Democrat-turned-Republican Auditor Tom Salmon won’t have a challenge from within the GOP. Despite the urgings of many, former auditor Randy Brock, who is a current Republican state senator, decided not to run against Salmon in a primary. Brock lost his post to Salmon in 2006 when the latter was a Democrat.

“Given all of the changes taking place in the Senate, I think I can be most effective there,” said Brock, adding he won’t rule out a future run for auditor.

On the Democratic side, a primary is shaping up between State Sen. Ed Flanagan (D-Chittenden) and policy analyst Doug Hoffer. Flanagan was auditor from 1993 to 2001.

Hoffer worked for Flanagan when he was auditor, and has worked for other left-leaning pols, including Mayors Bernie Sanders and Peter Clavelle.

Hoffer is perhaps best known as author of the Job Gap Study series published by the Peace & Justice Center, which introduced the concept of a “livable wage” to Vermont policymakers.

FYI, the auditor’s job pays roughly $90,000 a year — a livable wage by anyone’s standard.

Got the Blues

As “Fair Game” hit the streets last week, Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration Commissioner Paulette Thabault ordered the state’s largest health care insurer — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont — to repay consumers nearly half of the $6.3 million retirement package it doled out to its former chief executive officer.

In 2009, “Fair Game” broke the news that BCBS gave $6.3 million to retiring CEO William Milnes Jr. That was on top of more than $1 million in compensation and bonuses.

BISHCA estimates BCBS overpaid Milnes at least $1.4 million during his last eight years of employment. As a result, his retirement package was inflated by $1.6 million. Milnes retired at the end of 2008 and now lives in Florida.

BCBS has agreed to return $3 million to subscribers in the form of lower, or lower-than-expected, premiums.

Don’t expect Milnes to pitch in a penny, though. BCBS asked him several times to repay some of the millions and he refused.

I guess you can take it with you.

Campaign Updates

It’s official: Anthony Pollina will run for state senate in Washington County … as a Democrat. He’s also hoping to pick up support from the Progressives and the nascent Working Families Party.

Pollina, a perennial Progressive candidate, actually ran for U.S. Congress in 1984 as a Democrat against Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Jeffords.

“Folks in Washington County have a good idea of who I am and where I stand and were very supportive in 2008,” said Pollina. “They gave me more votes than Jim Douglas in several communities, and I finished first or second in every town but one.”

The Washington County Democratic primary will be a lively one, with incumbent Democrat Ann Cummings in the race along with former State Rep. Donny Osman and lawyer Kim Cheney.

Also, former Rep. Sally Fox, an Essex Democrat, announced this week she’s running in the crowded Chittenden County Democratic primary for state senate. Fox served 14 years in the House, where she alternately chaired the House Appropriations, Judiciary and Joint Fiscal committees. She left in 2000.

“But I never really left politics, and I think I still have a lot to offer,” said Fox.

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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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