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Douglas Conquers Fletcher Allen and Bernie?

Inside Track


Published February 19, 2003 at 1:00 a.m.

Just one week after yours truly questioned whether anyone expected Vermont’s new Republican governor to jump into the Fletcher Allen fray and hold the trustees’ feet to the fire, Jim Douglas did precisely that. To say the least, a whole lot of people were stunned. Jim Douglas plays Douglas MacArthur?


In a display of more backbone than he’s ever shown before, Gov. Rambo, er, Jimbo publicly called for the scalps of all of the well-heeled Mary Fanny trustees, who did nothing to prevent the biggest scandal in Vermont history. And three hours later, Board Chair Louise McCarren announced that all the Renaissance-tainted trustees, except her, had resigned.

But what put the lead in Jim Douglas’ pencil?

After all, everyone knows that until last Thursday he’d pretty much washed his hands of the FAHC Renaissance scandal. Wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. Why the sudden change?

It’s fundamentally a two-word answer: Bernie Sanders.

Since last fall, Congressman Sanders has made the Fletcher Allen scandal his pet Vermont issue. He called for the trustees to resign months ago. He formed his own Fletcher Allen Task Force and had plans to take Montpelier by storm.

Sources tell Seven Days that Mr. Douglas and his astute political advisors could read the writing on the wall. The possibility that Ol’ Bernardo was going to turn his Fletcher Allen Task Force into a “Sanders for Governor” campaign in 2004 got their undivided attention.

Two weekends ago, sources say, Gov. Douglas and FAHC interim-CEO Ed Colodny began talking regularly. That led to last Wednesday’s meeting in the Guv’s office, attended by representatives of the four entities that own and operate Vermont’s largest hospital. Douglas dropped the bomb — the trustees must go!

Clearly, sources say, if Ed Colodny had a problem with that, he never once mentioned it to the governor. In fact, we’re told, Gov. Douglas’ call for the trustees to take a powder was exactly what Colodny wanted but was unable to achieve on his own. After all, Mr. Ed works for the board of trustees. He can’t advise his bosses to resign. It’s just not kosher.

When Sanders was asked if he thinks Gov. Douglas’ sudden 180-degree reversal on FAHC was a reaction to his full-frontal assault, he just smiled.

Bernie will be at the Statehouse Thurs-day. He’s scheduled to testify in the House and Senate and meet with Gov. Douglas. He told Seven Days this week that replacing the current trustees isn’t enough.

“If all we do is replace old faces with new faces,” said Sanders, “nothing will really change.” Ol’ Bernardo will lead the charge for “fundamental changes in the way the institution is governed.”

Around the Statehouse, however, the conventional wisdom is that Jim Douglas has taken the wind out of Bernie Sanders’ sail. Checkmate?

Stay tuned.

Providence Exposure — The Renaissance scandal at Fletcher Allen Health Care has been big news in Vermont. Deservedly so. But outside of Vermont it’s received little notice. That is, until the recent editorial in the Providence Journal titled “Vermont’s hospital disaster.”

For some reason, the Providence Journal editorial page does not think the responsibility for the scandal rests with former CEO Bill Boettcher and his band of merry men. Nor does it think the board of trustees is to blame. Nope.

Instead, without presenting one shred of evidence, the largest paper in Rhode Island suggests it’s all former Gov. Howard Dean’s fault. No kidding. Dig the lead:

“Many people believe that the presidential aspirations of Howard Dean, Vermont’s former governor, will come a cropper owing to his support of that state’s gay marriage law. However, his administration’s handling of a hospital expansion in Burlington may be a greater issue.”

The Journal editorial lays out the sordid details about how Boettcher & Co. concealed over $200 million in Renaissance project costs from state regulators. It concludes Ho-Ho should be blamed because it happened on his watch. But it begs the bigger question: Why is a Rhode Island newspaper blaming Howard Dean for the Mary Fanny scandal?

Seven Days has learned that Journal Editorial Page Editor Bob Whitcomb has an interesting Vermont connection.

We learned from sources that Mr. Whitcomb has an old college buddy in Vermont named Josh Fitzhugh. Mr. Fitzhugh, an attorney, is currently legal counsel for Union Mutual Insurance on State Street in Montpelier. And Josh has close ties to the Douglas administration.

You see, Josh’s lovely wife, Wibs McClain, is Gov. Douglas’ new Secretary of Natural Resources. The pair met during the brief Richard Snelling administration in 1991. Josh was Gov. Snelling’s legal counsel and Wibs was chief of staff.

According to Mr. Whitcomb, he and Fitzhugh are old buddies. They graduated Dartmouth together in 1970. And Whitcomb confirmed that Fitzhugh “did feed me some of this.”

Whitcomb told Seven Days that he’s not suggesting Howard Dean “did anything wrong,” as far as the Mary Fanny scandal goes, but rather, Dean “didn’t do enough.”

Mr. Fitzhugh did not return our call Tuesday. Obviously, George W. Bush does have a few faithful friends in Vermont.

Mad Cowboy Disease? — Who does he think he is?

On Tuesday President George W. Bush declared last weekend’s huge ’round-the-world antiwar protests will not affect his thinking on invading Iraq one bit. If ever there was evidence the man suffers from Mad Cowboy Disease, this is it.

Millions and millions of people from all political persuasions and walks of life did something last Saturday that Planet Earth has never before witnessed.

From Johannesburg, South Africa, to Dublin, Ireland. From Auckland, New Zealand, to Barcelona, Spain. From Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Burlington, Vermont, people poured out of their homes to stand against the macho gunslinger from Texas who currently wears the title “Leader of the Free World.”

More than one million people turned out in London, making it the largest gathering of humanity ever in the land of Queen Victoria. Meanwhile, to the north, more than a half-million Scots filled the streets of Glasgow. Clearly Bush’s buddy in conquest, Prime Minister Tony Blair, is now in a wee bit of trouble.

It would be easy to fill this column with a listing of locations where citizens of the world united to stand against the current American regime.

Despite months of steady propaganda funneled through America’s super-slick, pro-Bush corporate media, Saturday proved that more people than anyone imagined see through the Bush B.S. Despite the administration’s best efforts to keep the American people in a constant state of fear, courage won the day. Duct tape became little more than a weapon of mass distraction.

God bless America! There are more patriots for peace out there than anyone, including King George, realized. It’s not the first time the people have been ahead of the politicians.

On Monday, our favorite presidential hopeful Howard Dean laid it all out to an audience at Drake University in Iowa:

“Yes, Saddam Hussein is evil. But Osama bin Laden is also evil, and he has attacked the United States, and he is preparing now to attack us again.

“What happened to the war against al Qaeda?

“Why has this Administration taken us so far off track?

“I believe it is my patriotic duty to urge a different path to protecting America’s security: To focus on al Qaeda, which is an imminent threat, and to use our resources to improve and strengthen the security and safety of our home front and our people while working with the other nations of the world to contain Saddam Hussein.

“That the President was given open-ended authority to go to war in Iraq resulted from a failure of too many in my party in Washington who were worried about political positioning for the presidential election.

“To this day, the President has not made a case that war against Iraq, now, is necessary to defend American territory, our citizens, our allies, or our essential interests.”

Good point, eh?

Judy’s Coming Out Party! — Plenty of chatter over Sunday’s Associated Press interview with Dr. Judith Steinberg, a.k.a. Howard Dean’s wife. Some have sarcastically suggested that the writer, Christopher Graff of the A.P., is gunning for the job of White House press secretary starting in January 2005.

The fact is, there’s no dirt to dig up on Judy Dean. She has a “scholarly air” and loves people. What she doesn’t care for is politics. But she’s ready to sleep with the president if the situation presents itself.

If Ho-Ho makes it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Dean told Mr. Graff that Dr. Judy “will practice medicine in Washington,” as well as attend state dinners.

Attention, Secret Service! Can you imagine the security checks her patients would have to go through before they reached the examining room?

But the really bad news is that there is indeed some “dirt” on Judy Dean that Mr. Graff missed.

Obviously Christopher doesn’t ride on the Burlington Bikepath much. That’s the glorious eight-mile stretch of lakefront serenity that owes its very existence, at least in part, to the efforts of a younger Howard Dean. Yours truly, however, does pedal the path. And so does Dr. Judy.

You’d better sit down for this one, folks. It’s quite shocking, indeed, and will probably go national.

You see, Judy Dean, wife, mother and physician, is really quite the daredevil. All New Yorkers, after all, have that “wild and crazy” streak. In Judy Dean’s case, it shows itself by pedaling without a helmet!

Yep, she’s a wild one!

Speaking of the Bike Path — This week the House Transpor-tation Committee is expected to kill the proposal to construct a bridge over the mouth of the Winooski River between Colches-ter and Burlington. Republican Chairman Frank Mazur and Rep. George Schiavone (R-Shelburne) are leading the charge, with an assist from their old sweetheart, politician-turned-journalist Ruth Dwyer.

The bridge and causeway would allow cyclists, Rollerbladers, hikers and even folks in wheelchairs to experience the beauty of the Winooski River delta.

It would also close a critical gap in a spectacular, world-class recreation path that would link Burlington and points south to the Lake Champlain Islands and Canada.

Last week Ruthless Ruth took a “Hard Look” at the project in a two-part series on Ch. 22 News. Dwyer equated the $3 million bridge project to the tarnished $356 million Renaissance project on Hospital Hill.

And not surprisingly, Ms. Dwyer was unable to find anyone with a good word to say about it. None of the officials in Colchester and Burlington who enthusiastically support the project were interviewed. Neither was Chapin Spencer, the former city councilor who is executive director of Local Motion. That’s the Burlington nonprofit that promotes “cycling, ’blading and walking and the trails, bikeways, and sidewalks that make such travel safe, easy and fun.”

Way too radical for Ruthie’s tastes.

If Ruth the Journalist had only called, Mr. Spencer would have informed her that the project “is part of a comprehensive effort to unite the Burlington Bike Path and the Colchester/ South Hero Causeway into one of the nation’s most scenic rail trails.”

Chapin would have been happy to tell Reporter Dwyer that, “Connecting downtown Burlington to the orchards and vineyards of the Champlain Islands on a trail through Lake Champlain is an achievable vision that will be a tourism attraction as well as a transportation corridor connecting communities.”

But Ruth never contacted him, or anyone else who doesn’t see things her way. Telling one side of the story is apparently Ruth’s style. The two-time gubernatorial loser hasn’t changed a bit. But what does keeping her on the air say about the Ch. 22 news operation?

Dwyer and her old political cronies in the House Republican caucus may think they’ve won this one, that they somehow defeated Howard Dean. Finally.

But their spiteful little political victory is actually a big loss for the region. Eventually, that bridge will be built. It’s a no-brainer. But the longer it’s delayed by “visionaries” like Reps. Mazur and Schiavone, the more it will cost taxpayers.

Media Notes — Move over, Rush Limbaugh! Seven Days has learned that Progressive politico Anthony Pollina is working on a deal that could make him a regular afternoon talk-show host on WDEV radio in Waterbury.

Stay tuned.

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