With boxes of fudge and ice cream serving as props, opponents of the F-35 fighter jet staged a press conference/protest outside the Burlington office of Sen. Patrick Leahy on Wednesday.
The event wasn’t just desserts, however. The activists also enlisted a local grandmother who warned that basing the planes at the Burlington International Airport (BTV) could force her to move from the home she has occupied for the past 40 years.
The two boxes of fudge resting on top of the Democracy sculpture on Main Street were a reference to a recent Boston Globe story reporting that the Pentagon had “fudged” an assessment identifying BTV as the top choice for the F-35 bed-down. The Globe said the results of an evaluation process had been manipulated in order to ensure the plane would be based in Leahy’s state. The senator had pressed the Air Force to bring the F-35 to Burlington, the Globe also reported, citing anonymous officials as its sources for the account.
Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream (pictured), said after the media event that Leahy had rejected the Globe’s allegation in a 15-minute telephone conversation the two men had yesterday. And while Cohen did not discuss the local basing issue in his comments to the media, he did denounce the F-35 as a “boondoggle” that reflects “corruption, careerism and cronyism” on the part of U.S. military officials and political leaders.
Though Leahy spoke with Cohen, the senator has refused to speak with other opponents of the F-35 basing plan. Local realtor Chris Hurd points out that Vermont's senior senator isn't the only one who won't talk with the activists. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch and Gov. Peter Shumlin — all supporters of the BTV bed-down — have likewise rejected repeated meeting requests from their anti-F-35 constituents, Hurd noted.
“Bernie,” he declared, “we have cried out for you to hold public hearings” on the plane’s impact on homeowners living near the airport. “You have built your career on the backs of common men and women of Vermont,” Hurd said.
“The silence from our elected officials is so deafening as to be louder than the F-35s themselves,” added Hurd, a leader of the anti-F-35 group.
Carmine Sargent, a 69-year-old grandmother who lives a short distance from BTV (pictured), spoke about a different kind of silence, saying many of her neighbors feel they “don’t have a voice” in the decision-making process for the basing. “Everyone in unison feels powerless,” she said, because they fear being branded as “anti-military and anti-development.” That isn’t so, Sargent said. It’s simply an issue of "blue-collar" homeowners wanting to avoid exposure to additional roars from supersonic planes taking off from BTV, she insisted.