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The More the Merrier 

Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published December 2, 2009 at 8:51 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Push comes to shove this week for Mayor Bob Kiss and State Auditor Tom Salmon — two pols near and dear to this columnist.

As far as news goes, they just keep on giving.

On Thursday, Mayor Kiss and his administration will provide the city council with more information regarding Burlington Telecom’s proposed refinancing. The mayor hopes this will assuage council concerns.

Good luck with that. Watching the administration explain BT’s finances to the council is a bit like watching a game of three-card monte. You’re never sure who’s bluffing whom.

The council has been frustrated by the administration’s lack of candor about BT’s finances and has stalled efforts to refinance BT’s debt until more details are supplied.

Councilor Ed Adrian (D-Ward 1) went so far as to demand Mayor Kiss set aside about $250,000 for the council to investigate BT.

Kiss has yet to respond to Adrian’s request. Shocker.

Kiss has met with several councilors over the past two weeks about the best way to handle BT’s financial information. He’s trying to set some ground rules.

The administration is concerned that some councilors may be sharing sensitive information to the media and political staffers. City Attorney Ken Schatz believes this violates city council rules regarding documents distributed in executive session. The Democrats’ attorney disagrees, and claims council rules extend to hired council staff.

That may be why a key document requested for review — BT’s financial pro forma and foundation of its current business model — can only be viewed in Leopold’s office. Councilors are forbidden from taking notes or taking it home to read.

Among current councilors, it’s believed that only Karen Paul (I-Ward 6) and Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1) have seen the financials.

“It’s not that we have refused access to information, it’s that we’ve tried to control the dissemination of information,” said CAO Jonathan Leopold.

In other words you can see the information, as long as you see it their way.

By Friday, the city is also obligated to respond to 124 questions from the Department of Public Service, which is investigating BT’s violation of its certificate of public good.

The city is likely to face more questions, depending on how it responds to this first round of inquiry, said DPS Commissioner David O’Brien.

Bottom line: The state wants to know how — and why — BT has been siphoning cash from city coffers, and if it’s relying on the city’s credit rating to secure outside financing. The state believes BT shouldn’t rely on any public funds to stand on its own and its questions are indicative of that stance.

Something tells me it may be a long, cold winter for Burlington Telecom.

Pay It Forward

State Auditor Tom Salmon will face Vermont District Court Judge Brian Grearson on Thursday, when he’s expected to plead guilty to a DUI charge.

Salmon issued an email memo to the media after last week’s “Fair Game” column, in which we reported how a $48,000 stock loss led him to default on nearly $29,000 in credit card and loan debt.

Salmon said it was all part of one big financial tsunami.

“A leveraged stock account combined with high housing costs, school loans and other debt made the event so powerful,” Salmon revealed in a written statement. “There was no prior nest egg or windfall. The investment was borrowed money.” Salmon has since repaid all the money he owed, the last of it just a month after he was sworn into his first term as auditor, in 2007.

It’s unclear whether his past financial troubles and DUI will have a political impact. No one has yet emerged to challenge him next fall.

“We’ve just begun to reach out to our folks and supporters to find someone, as it’s only been a couple of months since he switched parties, and we no longer had a Democratic auditor,” said Democratic Party Executive Director Robert Dempsey.

Given that the Dems found five candidates for governor with little effort, you think they’d be able to find one for auditor.

Primary Colors

Racecar driver and construction company owner Phil Scott (R-Washington) announced Tuesday he will seek the GOP nomination to succeed outgoing Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie.

Scott told “Fair Game” he believes he’s the right man for the job.

“I think I can be a voice for so many different people,” said Scott.

Scott’s announcement came one day after Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin) announced he would not seek the post. Like Brock, Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) is also seeking reelection instead of the lite-guv job.

Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans) said he would wait until after the legislative session to determine if he’ll run for lite guv. Also potentially in the running is former Rutland County Senator John Bloomer.

The only other confirmed GOP candidate is Mark Snelling, son of former Gov. Richard Snelling.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Steve Howard (D-Rutland) is considering a run, as are State Sens. Virginia “Ginny” Lyons and Ed Flanagan, both of Chittenden County.

Rep. Dave Zuckerman (P-Burlington) is beginning to meet with Democratic county committees as he mulls a bid for lieutenant governor as a Democrat.

But Zuckerman could face a primary. Peace activist, horse logger and longtime Liberty Union candidate Boots Wardinski announced he will run for lite guv as a Progressive.

Who will run for Scott’s senate seat?

For years, Washington County Progressives, and some Democrats, have encouraged Anthony Pollina to run for senate. Think of it: After several high-profile, losing bids for statewide office, Pollina could actually run and win?

Stuck in the Middle

Good thing U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) has more than $2.5 million in his campaign war chest and keeps raising more dough: He’s got not just one but two challengers.

On Monday, Woodstock business owner and ninth-generation Vermonter Len Britton announced he is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Leahy. In October, doctor and Navy captain Daniel Freilich launched his challenge to Leahy — as a Democrat.

Leahy, first elected in 1974, brings home millions of dollars in federal “pork” and is the third longest-serving Democrat in the U.S. Senate. He chairs the judiciary committee and is the second-most-senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

It’s hard to be a politician in Vermont without feeling like you’re in Leahy’s shadow.

When I sat down with Britton at Burlington Bay Market & Café, the two of us couldn’t help but admire the panoramic view of Lake Champlain and the, um, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain.

Britton describes himself as an “Aiken Republican” — fiscally conservative but socially moderate. Yes, that means he’s pro-choice.

“Vermont has a history of sending common-sense, moderate Republicans to Washington,” said Britton. He believes Congress is out of touch with the average Vermonter when it comes to balancing its checkbook and spending within its limits.

“Congress is printing money, selling our debt to China and saddling our children with the debt,” said Britton, who said D.C. Republicans are to blame as well. “There’s a point when you’re in a hole that you’re supposed to stop digging.”

Unless, of course, you’re breaking ground on a new building named after a senator, right?

Single-Payer Slayer?

Vermont’s Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a major supporter of single-payer health care, is being derided by single-payer advocates.

Their beef is that Sanders is all shout and no show. Advocates want Sanders to vote against the current Senate version of health care reform unless it creates a single-payer system.

Sanders won’t say if he’ll vote against a final bill if it lacks a public option. In part, that’s because the bill quadruples the number of Federally Qualified Health Centers, something Sanders has fought for as a legislator.

He does plan to introduce a strike-all single-payer amendment that’s expected to garner only a handful of votes.

“He is much more optimistic about a provision in the Senate version of the bill that would provide the necessary waivers to allow states to set a single-payer system,” said Michael Briggs, a Sanders spokesman.

Gee, I wonder what state Sanders has in mind?

Seat at the Table

While high-society gatecrashers nabbed the headlines from last week’s state dinner at the White House, longtime Democratic fundraisers and activists Jane and Bill Stetson of Norwich were among the event’s 400 legitimate guests.

The dinner — hosted by Pres. Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama under a tent on the South Lawn — was in honor of visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“It was a very interesting dinner,” said Bill Stetson. “It was a total cross-section of the country — a lot of regular folks, even community organizers. These were not all multi-millionaires or cabinet members.”

Bill served on the Obama campaign as an environmental advisor — a position he’s held for every Democratic nominee since Gary Hart. Jane also has a high-ranking position as the Finance Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

The couple raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Obama, including a fundraiser they hosted at their Vermont home that netted more than $250,000.


A couple of corrections to recent columns: Tim Pawlenty is the governor of Minnesota, not Wisconsin; and Jon Hausrath, the stand-in speaker for Mayor Kiss on Vet’s Day, has not yet been granted conscientious objector status.

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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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