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Strange Days, Indeed 

Poll numbers show many want Sanders to stay in Washington. Plus, the cash in his congressional campaign war chest might not be transferrable.

Bernie Sanders

Published October 17, 2001 at 1:00 a.m.

The news of anthrax arriving by U.S. mail in the office of the Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota), has heightened the freaky feeling among the Capitol Hill work force.

Back in 1982, a local kid and UVM grad named Luke Albee went to work for U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy answering the senator’s mail. Today, Mr. Albee is Leahy’s chief of staff and a formidable Capitol Hill insider.

“There’s no question,” Albee told Seven Days. “It’s unnerving for everyone, from folks in the mail room to the top of our office.”

Albee pointed out that in his almost 20 years on Capitol Hill, nobody’s ever had to handle a situation like this before.

“We all know it’s a brave new world,” he said.

Unlike the Washington veteran, former Vermont reporter Diane Derby of Montpelier has a much shorter history on the Hill.

“I don’t know what to compare this to,” she said. “My first day was September 11.”

That’s right. Believe it or not, Ms. Derby arrived for her first day on the job as U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords’ press secretary just as the hijacked planes were crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Jeezum Jim’s office is on the seventh floor of the Hart Building, just one floor above Sen. Daschle’s.

“We’re opening no more mail,” Ms. Derby told Seven Days. “We just don’t breathe the air,” she added with a nervous laugh.

In Derby’s brave new world, “security guards put mirrors under your car when you come into the parking lot.” That very morning, all Hart building staffers were handed letters from the Senate’s “attending physician” as they arrived for work. The letter informed them that the south side of the building had been closed, and the ventilation system was being checked.

“As a reasonable and prudent precaution,” the letter invited Senate staffers to take advantage of the medical service and get tested for anthrax and/or stop in for “free counseling.”

“Some nights,” said Diane, “I go home and say Montpelier looks pretty good right now.”

But one doesn’t have to be on Capitol Hill to be touched by the fear that is the heartbeat of terrorism.

Monday night, Vermont Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz arrived at Burlington International Airport around 10:40 on a Northwest flight. She was returning from a family vacation in California. They waited and waited for their luggage to come out on the carousel.

Finally, said Sec. Markowitz, a security officer informed the waiting passengers there was “an issue with the baggage.” A white powdery substance had been found in the plane’s baggage hold. “The area was taped off like a crime scene,” she told Seven Days. Fire and health department personnel were called in.

“It was very professional and reassuring,” said Markowitz. But she didn’t get home until 2:30 a.m. The health department is testing the powder. Results are expected in 72 hours.

DeanWatch 2004 — Our favorite presidential hopeful got a big boost in the latest edition of The Washington Monthly. In his “Tilting at Windmills” column, distinguished Washington veteran and TWM founder Charles Peters writes:

Howard Dean announced that he is retiring as governor of Vermont. Maybe he should join the ranks of Democratic presidential candidates. Here’s why: As a result of his programs, 92 percent of Vermont adults and 94 percent of the state’s children are covered by health insurance. No other state comes near this figure. He also has a great conservation record, having set aside hundreds of thousands of acres to keep Vermont green. And he signed Vermont’s ground-breaking law that permits gay marriage.

Nice plug, eh?

Closer to home, however, there appears to be a serious communication problem in Deanland, particularly when it comes to Gov. Howard B. Dean III’s whereabouts.

Last week you’ll recall we received less than a full and complete answer from Ho-Ho’s Press Secretary, Susan W. Allen, when we inquired about her boss’ latest political appearances. Sweet Sue neglected to tell us that afternoon about Dean’s evening appearance at a Boston pep rally for a Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts. It was reported in the Boston Globe and posted on candidate Steve Grossman’s campaign Web site.

Some readers have suggested a “verisimilitude gap” on the Fifth Floor. Truth, after all, is the mortar that holds a press secretary’s credibility together.

Asked this Tuesday why she didn’t mention the Boston event to us, Ms. Allen replied, “I didn’t know about it.”

Ms. Allen is approaching her fifth anniversary as Ho-Ho’s official spokesperson. Prior to that she had a distinguished career in Vermont journalism, writing news for the Associated Press wire service and editorials for The Burlington Free Press. She knows the importance of never lying to the press.

We’ll take her at her word this time, but recommend Sue and Howard get on the same page. We also recommend Ms. Allen read the Boston Globe regularly.

This week, Herr Ho-Ho is off to Germany.

Dean’s part of a group of 10 governors traveling to Berlin, said Allen, under the mantle of the National Governors Association. The govs “plan to address international and trade issues,” she said.

Got to get that international affairs experience on the resumé, eh Doc?

The press secretary also informed us Dean was leaving Vermont early on Wednesday to do a little “sightseeing.”

Asked where Dean was sightseeing, Allen abruptly refused to divulge any destinations. Here we go again!

Funny, because earlier that morning Dr. Dean appeared live on the “Charlie & Ernie Show” on WVMT radio, blabbing about his upcoming trip to Europe. He told the listening audience he’ll be hitting Lithuania and Russia, too. Even said he has an old friend over there who runs a cell phone company.


When you get to your buddy’s phone company, Guv, please call Sue Allen, will ya, and tell her what you’re up to? It’s strictly on a need-to-know basis.

Bernie’s Boat Ride — Still no word on which way U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders will go in 2002. Certainly, Ol’ Bernardo will get an earful Friday evening.

That’s because the Sanders campaign committee has chartered The Spirit of Ethan Allen II for a sunset cruise on Lake Champlain. The first 155 Sanderistas who replied to the postcard invitation get to make the trip, according to Bernie campaign staffer State Rep. Carina Driscoll (P-Burlington).

And get this — there is no requested donation. It’s not a fundraiser. The whole tab is being picked up by the Sanders congressional campaign.

“There’ll be music from Mango Jam,” said Carina, the great one’s step-daughter, “dancing and hanging out.” As for conversation, said Ms. Driscoll, “I’m sure we’ll be talking about nothing but politics.”

The debate among supporters over whether or not Bernie should run for Vermont’s open governor’s seat continues to divide his supporters.

Don’t be fooled, like some, who misread the recent Vermont Public Radio poll as an indication voters don’t want Bernie to run for governor. The poll showed 55 percent want Sanders to stay in Congress, while 39 percent want him to replace Howard Dean.

The 55 percent, no doubt, includes Republicans backing Jim Douglas and Democrats faithful to Doug Racine who dread Big Foot Bernie messing up their plans.

On the upside, the fact that Sanders got 39 percent support for governor without lifting a finger is an indicator of his strong base.

On the downside, it doesn’t look like Mr. Sanders will be able to use his fat congressional campaign war chest to finance a run for governor. According to Federal Election Committee filings, Sanders had $588,000 left over in the kitty as of June 30. Very nice cushion.

But Secretary of State Markowitz told Seven Days she agrees with the recent opinion from the attorney general’s office that Bernie can’t transfer the money under Vermont campaign finance law.

“Our reading is no,” said Markowitz. “That’s because his federal campaign is a separate entity,” she said. “To be a Vermont campaign, you have to follow the Vermont rules, and they’re radically different.”

Under Vermont law, Sanders could only transfer the maximum allowable contribution — $400 — from his congressional war chest to a gubernatorial campaign.

Sec. Markowitz said the attorney general’s office is doing “a little more research nationally” on the matter, but she doesn’t expect the opinion to change. The Vermont rules “make sense,” she said. “Otherwise there would be a huge loophole.”

Sorry, Bernie. Kiss of death?

Food for Thought — There are basically two kinds of people in Burlap: those who support the new locally owned downtown City Market, and those who hate it, wishing Shaw’s had gotten the contract. Lately, the haters have been winning the shouting matches. So last week’s in-store press conference was a much anticipated attempt by the Onion River Co-op to reverse the public-relations tide.

The building’s up and the roof’s on and it’s just the interior fit-up that’s left. The Onion River Co-op’s development consultant, David White, opened with a rousing sermon on the “unique character” the new South Winooski Avenue supermarket will have. He touted the principle of “Food for People, Not for Profit.”

He sang the glories of the history of the co-op movement going all the way back to the rural electric co-ops of the Depression and the co-ops Vermont dairy farmers formed long ago to market their milk.

Jolinda LaClair, formerly with Sen. Jeffords’ office, was on hand to present the big $3.6 million loan check from Uncle Sam. Ms. LaClair currently serves as state director for the USDA’s Rural Development branch.

That’s right, Vermont is so small compared to the rest of the country that its largest city is under the 50,000 population cap and thus qualifies for “rural” development funds.

Great country, eh?

Next Consultant White trotted out a Burlington legend — 84-year-old Antonio Pomerleau, a very successful supermarket developer and the city’s former, longtime police commission chairman.

Twenty years ago, Tony the Palm was the first big-wig businessman to play ball with the revolutionary Sanders administration that captured Burlington City Hall in 1981. The millionaire and the socialist actually got surprisingly cozy. Both are wheeler- dealers.

“Let’s give ‘em a chance,” said Tony the Palm, countering the critics of the needed downtown market. “Let’s support ‘em,” he said. “I will.”

It was like a endorsement from Don Corleone himself. The Godfather has spoken. If Tony the Palm says the Co-op’s kosher, then maybe it really is?

Mr. White acknowledged all the skeptics out there, saying, “To the extent that there are skeptics out there, I’m sorry. But so be it. It’s almost like a political campaign, where you’ve got a bitter primary campaign that gets fought and even the winning candidate comes out somewhat crippled in terms of public perception. Well, we were the winning candidate and inevitably that polarized some people.”

Mr. White promised City Market will open “by the end of January.”

But even though construction is proceeding, there is the little matter of the $400,000 financing gap. Are you confident the $400,000 will be raised from the membership? we asked.

“Absolutely,” replied White. “We’re in very good shape.”

Fingers crossed. Best wishes. Buy lottery tickets. Here’s my rabbit’s foot, just in case.

See ya Upstairs, Mary! — Former State Rep. Mary Evelti (D-Burlington) passed away Sunday. She was 81. Mary was certainly a proud Democrat and served in the Legislature with former Gov. Madeleine Kunin. In 1997, she became the University of Vermont’s oldest graduate. As her obit said, “Mary lived a full life.”

Mrs. Evelti’s wit was as sharp as they come. And yours truly will always remember her as the first person to call a certain young and energetic New York doctor “Ho-Ho.”

Thanks, Mary.

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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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