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Bernie Sanders

It's Now or Never!

With Howard Dean out of the running, Sanders considers a bid for governor in the wake of the September 11 attacks.


Published October 3, 2001 at 1:00 a.m.

The new millennium’s Day of Infamy understandably put everything else on the back burner, but life and politics go on.

The days before September 11 were marked by extraordinary developments on Vermont’s political stage. Gov. Howard Dean announced he will step down when his current term expires and, within days, Lt. Gov. Doug Racine and State Sen. Peter Shumlin cut a deal, thus avoiding a bitter Democrat primary showdown.

The boys-in-waiting miraculously saw the light. Racine will top the ticket while Shumlin will run for Lite-Gov.

But the question on everyone’s lips is, what about Bernie?

Vermont’s charismatic congressman, Bernie Sanders, says he’ll make a decision shortly on launching a bid for governor. His supporters appear almost evenly divided on the matter.

Some say he’s a perfect fit in Washington and should stay there, fighting the multi-nationals and the big drug companies. That was the viewpoint expressed in a recent Barton Chronicle editorial urging Sanders to please forget about running for the open governor’s seat.

“Bernie should stay in Washington,” said the Chronicle, “not because Vermont needs him there, but because America needs him there.”

Others worry a three-way race is too risky. Ol’ Bernardo could lose everything, they caution, since state law dictates the winner must receive more than 50 percent of the popular vote or the outcome is decided by a secret ballot of the 180 members of the Legislature. Do you really think the Republicans and Democrats would hand Bernie the keys to the Fifth Floor?

Rep. Sanders was a surprising no-show Friday, as the other two members of the Vermont delegation, U.S. Sens. Pat Leahy and Jim Jeffords, took questions at a packed town meeting at St. Michael’s College, and later appeared on “Vermont This Week” on Vermont Public Television. Where was he?

Taping a Fox TV show in New York, that’s where.

According to VPT producer Joe Merone, Mr. Sanders “really wanted” to be on the program. His press secretary, Helen Langan, called constantly, we’re told. VPT tried to get Bernie on via satellite, but Fox didn’t have the facilities, said Mr. Merone. Joltin’ Joe went for a telephone hook-up, even delayed the taping 10 minutes, but Sanders never called.

We ran into The Bern Saturday morning at UVM’s Ira Allen Chapel. Ol’ Bernardo introduced Howard Dean who introduced James Carville to an audience of 450 attending an all-day “Money in Politics” symposium. Sanders told Seven Days he had honored a long-standing prior commitment to do the Fox program. He said he outlined the House Progressive Caucus’ proposed economic stimulus plan on “Cavuto on Business.”

Can we read into that Ol’ Bernardo’s focus is more on the national scene than the Vermont scene, and therefore is unlikely to run for governor?

Probably not.

That’s because being governor of Vermont would be the actualization of Bernie’s lifetime revolutionary dream! To run an entire state! A Sanders administration, say longtime loyal supporters, would initiate fundamental change on key issues of health care, wages and taxation and show the nation by example that we can go another way.

Some of his oldest backers insist Sanders would easily clear the 50 percent threshold. His support across Vermont, they say, is both wide and deep. They point out that Bernie would pick up his usual share of conservative, anti-establishment Ruth Dwyer-type voters, too.

Besides, Bernie’s 60 years of age. He ain’t getting any younger even if he’s still getting better. And, some say, his potential major party opponents may indeed be nice guys, but they’re political lightweights compared to Ol’ Bernardo.

Let’s face it, winning the governor’s seat won’t ever get any easier than this for Vermont’s Indepen-dent political legend.

In Washington, the Bernmiester’s done a heck of a job. But the fact is, Bernie doesn’t like Washington life. Detests it, we’re told. The swarms of big-business lobbyists, the greed, the sleaze and the forked tongues. Every weekend, Mr. Sanders is back home in Vermont, like a scuba diver gulping for air. And in Washington, he’s always going to be one voice among 435 no matter how loudly he shouts.

On September 10, the day before the world blew up, Roll Call reported the only thing that would make Rep. Sanders think twice about not running for governor is the possibility of snagging a seat on the House Appropria-tions Committee. But according to the Roll Call article, that doesn’t look likely anytime soon.

Right now, it appears to us that as far as a “Bernie for Governor” campaign goes, it’s a matter of talking him out of it. And someone very close to Sanders just might succeed in doing that.

The word from insiders is that, unlike Mr. Sanders, Mrs. Sanders does like Washington, thank you very much. And Jane Sanders, we’re told, would like to see Bernie stay there. Being governor of Vermont would certainly be the perfect icing on the cake of a historic political career, but Jane doesn’t think the end is near just yet.

Republicans, however, aren’t counting on Sweet Lady Jane prevailing on this one. According to reliable sources, the GOP has already been in the field polling the 2002 Vermont governor’s race. We’re told the results show Sanders winning a three-way race against Republican front-runner Jim Douglas and Doug Racine, but with less than 50 percent. The results also show Sanders on top in a one-on-one against Douglas.

Our sources were unable to be more specific, so we rang up Republican National Committeeman Skip Vallee Monday. Mr. Vallee was suspiciously non-talkative. Asked if the GOP had done the poll, he replied rather curtly, “Even if we did, I wouldn’t tell you.”

Somehow we suspect if Gasoline Vallee’s horse had come out on top, his answer would have been a little different.

Hey, Bernie, we hate to say “now or never,” but, you know, it sure looks like now or never!

And, not to worry. If Jane likes Washington so much, maybe she could run for the seat?

Dean’s “Private Dinner” — After Ho-Ho introduced James Carville at Ira Allen Saturday morning, he slipped out the back door for a quick getaway, but yours truly was waiting. See, there was a noticeable three-day gap on the skimpy “public appearance schedule” his office puts out every Friday, and we were curious. Besides, with the weight of reelection off his back, Ho-Ho can go all-out in pursuit of his next target — 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Turns out Dr. Dean’s next stop was the Burlington airport and a flight to California.

“What’s the occasion?” we asked.

“Private dinner,” replied Gov. Dean.

We gave Ho-Ho the opportunity to expand on his answer, but he politely declined. He did tell us, however, that after his “private dinner” he’d be hopping a red-eye to Detroit, where he was scheduled to interview a couple of the Democratic candidates for governor of Michigan on Sunday.

Dean is, after all, the chief recruiter for the Democratic Governors Association. With 36 gubernatorial races in 2002, he’ll be doing a whole lot of traveling, meeting a ton of Democrat Party activists up close and personal.

For a guy who bumbled his first stealth bid for President the last time around, Dr. Dean does appear a lot more organized this time. In the wake of his announced retirement as governor, the Boston Globe touted Ho-Ho’s Presidential qualifications.

Sure he’s a long shot, but everything is up in the air, and don’t ever underestimate Howard B. Dean III M.D.

During Carville’s speech at UVM, the Ragin’ Cajun asked for a show of hands on how many in the audience wanted to see a Democrat take the White House back in 2004. A few hundred hands quickly shot upward.

Then Carville asked, how many wanted that Democrat to be Al Gore?

Fewer than a dozen remained upright.

The public is thirsting for new political leaders. Enough of the same-old same-old. Howard Dean is in play.

Hope you had a good dinner in California, Howard. Hope you’ll have many more.

Correction — Last week, in our item on fear and what to do about it, we incorrectly identified the speech in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt uttered the famous line, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Sorry.

It actually was first said by FDR on July 2, 1932, and repeated in his first inaugural address the following March.

According to the Columbia World of Quotations, the expression has numerous precedents, including the Duke of Wellington, Montaigne and the Bible, and was used by Winston Churchill during World War II. It was also used by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy on Vermont Public Television Friday evening.

Radio Ratings War— The September 11 horror and its aftermath bumped any reporting of the latest Arbitron radio ratings from this space. Unfortunately, that roused the ire of veteran morning jock Steve Cormier at Champ 101.3. Last week Corm sent us a pleasant e-mail accusing yours truly of being a “sell-out” for not reporting that “Corn on the Crotch,” er, sorry, “Corm and the Coach” had, according to Mr. Cormier, “kicked Howard Stern’s ass.”

Howard Stern is the morning fixture on Corn and the Jock Strap’s old station, WIZN, where yours truly pays a weekly visit each Wednesday morning for an Inside Track preview. The envelope, please!

According to Arbitron’s latest numbers for morning drive time, WOKO was #1 in the spring sweeps with a 13.4 share (percentage of all radio listeners). WXXX and Corm’s WCPV tied for second with 10.9 shares, and WIZN’s Howard Stern Show was fourth with a 10 share.

Sure doesn’t sound like an ass-kicking, eh?

The Arbitron ratings are further broken down by age and gender, so every radio sales rep can get an angle. Corm’s fans, like the master, have aged. “Corm and the Coach” was indeed #1 among the 25-54 set with a 14.2 share. But Mr. Stern was a close second with a 13.2 share.

Once again, not exactly an ass-kicking.

But as far as the younger generation goes, the 18-34 set, Howard Stern rules with a 23.4 share. Triple X is second with an 18 share. And the aging Mr. Cormier is a distant third with a 15.3 share.

At this rate, Ol’ Corm the ass-kicker will be King of the Nursing Homes before too long. And when it comes to having an ass fetish, Corm will always be #1!

Hey, Corm, who gets the “Freyne in the Ass Award” this week?

The Spirit of Giving — In its September 3 issue, the Addison Independent ran a moving story by reporter John Flowers about a 27-year-old Vergennes man “whose lungs are close to surrendering to the ravages of scarring and congestion brought on by the genetic disease, cystic fibrosis.” Flowers reported that Daniel Rheaume “needs a double lung transplant to continue his fight.”

Last week, the paper received a letter from a concerned reader offering to donate lobes from his own lungs if a satisfactory match could be made.

“I am a very healthy person,” it read. “I have never smoked in my life. I am 53 years young and I am in great shape. I run 10 miles a day.”

The reader also indicated he is a Buddhist, married and “the father of two wonderful children.” And, he noted, he “is for the time being in a federal prison across the lake, serving a sentence for involvement with drugs.”

Yep. You guessed it. The letter was written by Vermont’s legendary hashish smuggler, Billy Greer of South Burlington. Mr. Greer is currently serving a 27-year sentence in the Ray Brook, New York, facility that was originally used as the Olympic Village at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid.

“I would not receive anything at all for this offer of help,” wrote Billy the Kid. “It would not reduce my sentence, nor would I want anything from you or your family for this offer. It strictly comes from the heart and a genuine concern for your life.”

Flowers told Seven Days Tuesday he’d forwarded the Greer letter to the Rheaumes.

You just never know.

Speaking of Congressman, Bernie Sanders



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