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Are They In . . . or Out?

Fair Game


Published June 4, 2008 at 12:37 p.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Anthony Pollina might have more in common with Sen. Hillary Clinton than his supporters care to admit.

Both Pollina, the Progressive candidate for governor, and Clinton have defied calls from pundits to throw in the towel and let their opponents get an early shot at the Republicans in the race.

In response, Clinton took the fight through this week's primaries (as "Fair Game" goes to press, she says she'll concede the delegate count to Sen. Barack Obama, but will not yet suspend her campaign). Meanwhile, Pollina held a Shock and Yawn event in Burlington: shock because he had the chutzpah to tease the media into attending; yawn because he merely announced that he's staying in the race.

Did anyone really think he'd drop out of the race for governor and run for lieutenant governor? The hyperventilation among some in the blogosphere and traditional media made one think it was inevitable. Another Democratic dream deferred.

Thursday's Queen City spectacle was held in front of City Hall, the Progressive Party's Mecca, with a bank of video cameras and microphones representing the political parties and media catching every word. A sparse group of onlookers cheered Pollina on as he rattled off key campaign themes - improving education and the environment, providing universal health care to Vermonters, helping farmers, and using his skills as an organizer to bring people together.

Pollina invoked the names of former Gov. Phil Hoff, the first Democratic governor in Vermont; U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders; and Obama, promising to emulate their ability to build multi-party coalitions. He called Democrat Gaye Symington and incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Douglas the "insiders," and referred to himself as the "outsider" in the race.

Neither the media nor the pundits were impressed. The stories that followed had a similar storyline: Pollina missed an opportunity by not letting Symington have a solo shot at unseating Douglas and by not taking up the mantle to unseat incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie. As this fairy-tale scenario goes, Pollina would have the backing of the Democrats against Dubie.

Don't bet on it. The guy's lost three statewide races (one as a Democrat), and whether he has a one-on-one shot against Douglas or Dubie, there's no guarantee the fourth time is the charm.

Moreover, Seven Days has learned that a group of Burlington Democrats last month urged its party's executive committee to change party bylaws that would prohibit "anyone supporting a non-Democrat in a race in which a Democrat is running from contemporaneously serving on the [party] executive committee," according to an email from party chairman Ian Carleton.

The executive committee briefly debated the request, Carleton said, and handed it off to a special subcommittee, which promptly rejected the proposal. Instead, a "less formal protocol" was approved, which would encourage the party chair to simply ask any member of the executive committee actively supporting a non-Democrat to: take a temporary leave of absence from the committee for the duration of the campaign; recuse him/herself from meetings during that time; or, convey to the non-Democratic candidate that the person's status in the party should not be used in any promotional material.

Carleton wouldn't say if any current committee members fit the profile. But, my guess is they'll find one in order to teach a lesson. And, you have to wonder if the rule will be in place come 2012, when Sanders is up for reelection. Wagers?


Onion City Showdown - About 100 people gathered in Winooski Monday night to watch the unfolding tragicomedy pitting entrenched veteran Police Chief Steve McQueen against the young, new city manager, Joshua Handverger. McQueen has key city elders and officials on his side, while Handverger has the backing of some longtime critics of said elders and McQueen.

This is classic small-town Vermont politics, and we'd have to stock up on clothesline to air out all the dirty laundry in this case. Handverger is charging McQueen with mismanaging his department, botching a bidding process to replace a police radio system, and violating other city personnel rules.

McQueen's attorney, Pietro Lynn, said Handverger's claims were brought to the attention of previous city managers and the chief was cleared. Handverger contends that some of these issues were never brought to the attention of other managers, one of them Mary Bushey - Mayor Michael O'Brien's cousin, and the twin sister of city attorney William O'Brien.

Bushey was deputy city manager when a contract was awarded to Bly Communications, owned by Bill Bly, a longtime friend of McQueen's, according to several sources close to the case. According to documents obtained by Seven Days, Bly's original bid was around $65,000 - the highest bid by at least $6000. However, Bly won the contract with a revised $40,000 bid that came in three days after the bid closing.

It's not clear who gave Bly the OK to resubmit his bid, but it is clear his work has been roundly criticized by one consultant, and by Winooski cops. Despite his bid, and the poor reviews, McQueen later gave Bly a no-bid contract worth about $65,000 to clean up the mess from the first job - work not yet done, even though Bly was paid a year ago, according to Deputy Chief Richard Benoit. Bly's not talking, and his attorney Karen Shingler said her client doesn't want to step into this morass. She's pretty sure no one has the legal authority to compel him to do so, either.

"Fair Game" was front and center at Monday night's main event, and I don't mean in good seats. Lynn presented comments made to Seven Days by councilor Jodi Harrington as evidence she couldn't offer McQueen a fair hearing. In the end, she stayed on - and Mayor O'Brien made it known his relation to Bushey would not taint his judgment.

In his opening statement, Handverger's attorney Joe McNeil said McQueen placed police officers in harm's way by allowing the department's radio system to deteriorate. Lynn countered that Handverger was a "miserable manager" who had "trumped up" charges and had a penchant for litigation. Lynn also noted that Handverger is accused of sexual harassment in Sutton, Mass., where he last worked.

The council will meet twice more this week in hopes of resolving the issue quickly, but I think it's going be a long, hot summer in Winooski.


Howard & Al's Pillow Talk - Did anyone catch the crucial Rules & Bylaws Committee meeting of the Democratic National Committee this weekend? A rainy Saturday left me, at times, in front of the TV watching C-SPAN for live coverage.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, opened the event with a party pep talk, outlining how his 50-state strategy is paying off. He noted that both Clinton and Obama are campaigning everywhere, and that Democrats won two formerly GOP House seats in Mississippi and Louisiana recently.

He also recalled a phone conversation with former vice president Al Gore, who endorsed Dean in the 2004 presidential race. The call took place in the middle of the night as Dean paced his hotel room in Wisconsin, the state where his presidential dreams ended.

"I was very, very angry at my party for some of the things that had been done to me," Dean told the crowd. "What do I owe the Democratic Party? Tell me what I owe after how I've been treated?" As Dean recalled, Gore replied: "Howard, you know, this is not about you. It's about your country." Dean paused before adding, "Nobody could have said that to me at that time - not even my wife - except for Al Gore," and noting that Gore had the presidency stolen from him by five "intellectually bankrupt" members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Funny thing, Clinton echoed similar claims of "stolen elections" as a result of Saturday's committee vote, which seated half of Michigan and Florida's delegates. That gave Clinton a slight boost in delegates overall, but four short of what she had hoped for out of Michigan.

The next stop in this nomination death march, unless Clinton concedes, could be the usually sleepy convention credentials committee. Lo and behold, thanks to Dean, several Vermonters are on this panel - Bob Rogan, Rep. Peter Welch's chief of staff and Dean's deputy campaign manager on his presidential bid; Kathy Hoyt and Kate O'Connor, former top Dean aides (the latter ran Rich Tarrant's failed bid against Sanders for the U.S. Senate); Jane Stetson, an Obama supporter who helped the candidate raise $250,000 last year during a fundraiser at her Norwich home; and Billi Gosh, a Clinton superdelegate and the party's national committeewoman.

Clinton has until June 29 to file an appeal, and the credentials committee is not expected to meet until early July.

"When I talked to Howard after the Iowa caucus, he said there was a 5 percent scenario in which both candidates would be close enough in delegates to make it so this committee would be in the hot seat," said Rogan. "I thought to myself at the time, 'That's ridiculous.'"

Rogan believes Clinton had the right to stay in the race, recalling Dean's tough decision to end his campaign. Rogan said Dean felt "an incredible burden of responsibility to all the new people in the process who would feel let down. He really felt that weight, and it's hard to determine when to exit the stage."


Out and About - Has anyone noticed the new conservative think tank on the block, Defenders Council of Vermont, which has taken up arms against Burlington Telecom in the debate over carrying Al Jazeera English? Some familiar faces on its board: Right-wing funder extraordinaire Lenore Broughton, Ethan Allen Institute president John McClaughry, and Jon Wilson. Of the three, only Broughton lives in Burlington and can even subscribe to BT . . . Speaking of defending the faith, a correspondent for Le Monde, Corine Lesnes, was in Vermont last week researching a story on Vermont as the wellspring for the Bush resistance. She interviewed folks from Democracy for America, the organization founded by former Gov. Dean and run by his brother Jim Dean, David Sirota (a former Sanders press secretary), yours truly and others. She sat in on Sirota's talk and caught Pollina's rally. I'll keep you posted when the story runs . . . The Sirota and Pollina events brought Peter Freyne out of blogging hibernation . . . Speaking of coming out, there were few Bush, or Douglas, backers at R.U.1.2?'s 10th annual Queer Community Dinner (unless the Vermont chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans had a table I somehow missed). Symington and her supporters had two tables, while Pollina had one. The Stranger editor and sex columnist Dan Savage, from Seattle, was the keynoter. One of the best lines: When he recounted an interview with a guy who married his horse, Savage asked the animal lover if it was "a boy horse or a girl horse." To which the man snorted, "I am not a homosexual!" Priceless.


Mea Culpas -Rep. Rachel Weston earned top spot among women seeking a delegate slot among Obama supporters, not Carolyn Dwyer. And, émile Zola uttered "J'accuse!" at French President Félix Faure in 1898 in defense of Col. Alfred Dreyfuss, in part, because he was Jewish. Merde! Oy vey!

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