Seven Days has been writing about Vermont politics — with color, verve and insight — since columnist Peter Freyne joined our team in the fall of 1995, seven issues into our publishing life. His first "Inside Track" for the paper combined a takedown of side judge and "political spin doctor" Althea Kroger with an update on South Burlington's ongoing efforts to shut down a strip club on Williston Road.
"In the interest of protecting their city from moral decay, the council has required the Club's female talent to stay at least four feet away from the patrons while performing," Freyne wrote of the erstwhile Club Fantasy, noting how the "city will have to equip each member of the South Burlington Police Department with a tape measure." The kicker: "Duty calls."
Freyne wrote about politics in a way that made it understandable and entertaining. Though it wasn't always fun for the people he skewered, lawmakers in particular converged on the Statehouse lounge every Wednesday, when the weekly paper was delivered, to see if they'd made it into his column. In interviews and press conferences, he asked the questions no other reporter would. Even U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, with whom Freyne had a complicated relationship, found kind words for him when he died on January 7, 2009.
Truth is: Many of Freyne's columns would not have passed muster with our current team of news editors. Over the years Seven Days' political coverage has become increasingly rigorous and thorough, in the hands of Shay Totten and then Andy Bromage. Paul Heintz's first cover story was a smart, even-handed analysis of Burlington's 2012 mayoral race among Kurt Wright, Miro Weinberger and Wanda Hines; more recently, he delivered an in-depth, remarkably suspenseful look at how Gov. Phil Scott handled the first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. In the years between, he traveled all over the country covering Sanders' historic, back-to-back presidential runs.
When the Burlington Free Press reassigned its two veteran Statehouse reporters at the end of 2014, Seven Days hired both Nancy Remsen and Terri Hallenbeck. We've maintained two to three reporters in Montpelier since. Their coverage — tracking trends, calling out characters, watchdogging government — keeps readers informed about what's happening with their tax dollars under the golden dome.
For the last three years, I've been just another one of those readers. When my domestic partner, Tim Ashe, became Senate president pro tempore in 2017, our leadership team consulted media ethicists and journalism professors about how to handle the potential conflict of interest. They recommended that I abstain from involvement in our Statehouse and political coverage — no brainstorming, no assigning stories or artwork, no editing, no proofreading — a maddening challenge for a hands-on editor, publisher and business owner, but a necessary one. They also advised that we be transparent, hence the disclosure in our masthead and at the end of stories involving Tim.
Editors Matthew Roy and Candace Page and writer Heintz have bravely and capably steered us through this very tricky terrain. I'm immensely grateful for their guidance.
The Québec firm that prints Seven Days also deserves a shout-out. On election nights — like the one this week — the press crew patiently holds off as long as possible so our news team can report Tuesday night results. They've burned plenty of midnight oil accommodating our late-breaking news.
This election edition was a little different. Like every issue of Seven Days for the past four-plus months, it was assembled remotely. That means no pizza, post-deadline beers or piles of cold crusts in cardboard boxes to clean up the morning after.
Democracy is messy. As long as it works...