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Crime Watch on the Campaign Trail


Published February 23, 2000 at 1:00 a.m.

Tuesday, down behind the brick-and-glass College Street facade of the state's largest newspaper, a very important meeting was on the schedule, according to Mickey Hirten, executive editor of The Burlington Free Press. The purpose? To deal with the conundrum the paper's facing in determining a "policy" for handling political candidates with criminal records. Hirten told Seven Days the question is one of “fairness.”

Hello? Fairness to criminals or fairness to candidates or fairness to readers who've been kept in the dark?

The bacon hit the frying pan last week when the Freeps ran a preview of the Ward 2 city council race between the Progressive incumbent, Bill Stahl, and his Democrat chalIenger, Bradi Baker. Many notted the glaring omission in city hall reporter Leslie Wright's story — no mention Ms. Baker's December 28 arrest on charges of domestic assault and unlawful mischief, reported here two weeks ago. Too newsy?

Word on the street in Progressive circles last week was that the local daily had a policy against reporting crimes by candidates. That meant, said the Progs, Ms. Wright would not be mentioning the 1998 domestic assault conviction of Ward 3 independent Eric Brenner, either.

But, Mr. Hirten told us Monday, that's not case. There is no policy — yet. Mickey the Maestro expressed the view that it would be unfair to report just one candidate’s criminal record and omit others. And the problem in Vermont is, he explained, criminal records are maintained in the various county district courts around the state and tracking that down isn't easy.

We suggested that life experience indicates that one who seeks public office while harboring a criminal past inevitably gets ratted out by one’s enemies — and in politics, everyone has enemies. One solution would be to just ask the candidates directly — “Have you got a record?”

Adoption of that approach led to our learning that both the Ward 3 candidates have records. Brenner’s got the 1998 domestic assault and Progressive candidate, Phil Fiermonte, has a 1985 misdemeanor conviction in San Francisco from a protest against U.S. policy in Central America. `Course, Fiermonte also has the endorsement of the Burlington police union.


Rather than “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Seven Days has adopted the “ask and they will tell” approach.

However, Mickey the Maestro suggested a more specific policy was required. So stay tuned as the great minds of Vermont journalism wrestle with this one down at the Gannett-chain outpost.

Meanwhile, we'll proceed with our policy of just reporting the facts as we learn them, and Tuesday we learned of another sad chapter folding in the saga of the Shaw's Supermarket Queen, Bradi Baker. Seven Days obtained a copy the arrest warrant issued for Ms. Baker last Thursday by Judge Brian Burgess.

You'll recall we reported on Mr. Baker's arrest for domestic assault and unlawful mischief stemming from a December 28 incident at an Appletree Point residence. As we reported, Baker pled not guilty to both charges.

But we've now learned Baker had also been arrested three days earlier at 6:30 p.m. on Christmas Day. According to the police affidavit, Ms. Baker had tossed a log through the glass windows of the front door. So much for the old Christmas spirit.

Burlington Police Officer Bonnie Beck wrote in her affidavit that when she asked Ms. Baker why she broke the window, "she stated that she felt betrayed that her boyfriend was at the home of his ex-wife."

Ms. Baker was due to report for arraignment last Thursday but failed to appear, thus the bench warrant was issued. According to court records, if Ms. Baker gets picked up by police somewhere out there on the Queen City campaign trail, she'll be required to post $300 bail to get released.

So if you run into Bradi later today, you might want to do her a little favor and tell her to get her butt over the the Palace of Justice on Cherry Street and sign in please!

Because if she waits until she reads about it in The Burlington Free Press, it might be too late.

Men in Black — Last Thursday afternoon on the Statehouse steps, yours truly was surrounded by 100 men in black — and not one of them looked like Johnny Cash. Most were priests of the Roman Catholic diocese of Vermont. Apparently it was a men-only protest, since we didn't see any nuns present. Holy Mother Church has always had a problem with treating women as equals.

It was quite a remarkable event in the frosy, frigid air. We haven't seen that many collars since our former days in a Catholic seminary outside Chicago. Yes, yours truly was once en route to becoming an official man in black, too. And yours truly remembers many a civil rights march or an anti-war march of those turbulent `60s where the men and women of the cloth were a common sight.

But this bunch gathered in protest last week was cut from a different cloth. They’re the ones who stayed with the sinking ship. They were there, in uniform, to stand united against the law of our land. To stand against civil rights for gay and lesbian Catholics, Protestants. Jews and Vermonters. Against the democratic principles that our democratic republic was founded on. And rock-solid against the fundamental message of Jesus Christ: Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Instead, Roman Catholic Bishop Ken Angell told the crowd it’s “the law of God” that must be adhered to here. Like an Iranian mullah proclaiming women cannot show their faces or attend school, Vermont's Bingo Bishop would impose the law of his God upon all Vermont, believers and non-believers alike.

"As important as the commandment to love is," said Angell, "[Jesus] also taught us that love includes obedience to the laws of God."

Yeah, right, like where in the laws of God does it say to run bingo games? Where does it tell the pope to cozy up to Adolph Hitler? Where does it say altar boys exist for the pleasure of the pastor?

The Catholic Church today is a fruit withering on the vine. It's aging clergy shrinking daily. Yours truly recalls the church when it was vibrant and the pews were full, when it focused on social justice and peace. Sadness swept over me at the memory of priests like Fr. Daniel Berrigan S.J., whose non-violent protests against the Vietnam War landed him in many a jail cell. And my freshman prefect, Fr. Thomas Peyton M.M., who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through the rocks and bricks of Cicero, Illinois, in the summer of 1966.

How different were these men in black gathered outside the Statehouse last Thursday — a few of whom we recognized from the racetrack at Saratoga and the OTB betting parlor in Plattsburgh. God's law, my arse!

These men in black claim gay marriage, and even domestic partnership, constitute a "mockery of marriage." They wail like bootleggers who feared the repeal of Prohibition. And, don’t forget, the marriage business is one of their key revenue producers.

But the greatest mockery of all last week came from the lips of the Bingo Bishop himself. Rev. Angell closed his remarks 6y shamelessly declaring, "With Martin Luther King Jr. we proclaim, we shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome!"

Oh, Great, and Sanctified Angel!, give me a frickin' break — you couldn't carry Martin Luther King's jockstrap! And Dr. King was not known for attending anti-civil rights marches. Your citation of Dr. King in your cause is the equivalent of the grand Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan invoking Malcolm X. It doesn't pass the straight-face test.

We realize that with church attendance dropping, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is currently sucking up big-time to Dr. King, in stark contrast to the low esteem they held him in when he was alive. Still, Big Bish, you should show a little respect for what the man actually stood for.

Martin Luther King Jr. stood for equality, for civil rights and human rights. For judging people by the content of their character and not the size of their investment portfolio, the color of their skin or their choice of whom to love.

Please, dear Bishop, don't take his name in vain again! It's in such bad taste.

Political Web Site Watch — State Sen. Elizabeth Ready, candidate for state auditor, is up and running on the Internet. Just punch up and catch the Addison County brunette biking in the west of Ireland. Chainsaw Liz had posted three newspaper stories: a puff-piece from Vermont Times that told her life story, and two environmental stories from the Freeps. But Chainsaw, chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, made the mistake of calling the Freeps to ask for permission. She said the powers that be told her “no.”

Editor Hirten noted their stuff is copyrighted. “It’s a question of ownership of the material,” he told Seven Days.

We pointed out that we’ve noticed Free Press stories posted on other Web sites.

“God, they shouldn’t,” said Hirten. “If I find out, I’ll call them.”

Uh, Mickey, the number to call is (202) 225-4115. That’s the Capitol Hill office of Congressman Bernie Sanders. The congressman’s PR machine loves posting articles and news scripts that include Ol’ Bernado’s name. You’ll recognize a few from the Freeps.

Bernie’s press secretary, David Sirota, assured Seven Days this week that everything’s kosher. “There’s a House ethics rule permitting the use of material,” said Sirota, “That is considered educational and germane to the activities a member of congress is working on.”

Stay tuned on that one.

Also, Hirten tells Seven Days the Freeps will be on-line with news content “by midyear.”

Imagine being able to read Sam Hemingway, Stephan Kiernan and Debbie Salomon, Sally Pollack and Chris Bohjalian on-line in the privacy on one’s home. We’ll all be able to cancel our subscriptions, right?


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