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Bernie Sanders

Resigned to Fate

Fair Game


Published March 10, 2010 at 10:02 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Just when you thought Mayor Bob Kiss might snooze right through his second mayoral term, along comes a wake-up call from two long-time rivals: Democrat Ed Adrian and Republican Kurt Wright.

On election night, Adrian recommended that Kiss resign — live on Channel 17. He told me in an interview that the voters’ rejection of instant-runoff voting, and the loss of four Progressives in contested council races, along with a Democratic ally of Kiss, should send a message to the mayor: “It’s time for him to show some leadership and step aside.”

Wright, whose victory was fueled in part by an anti-Kiss, anti-IRV contingent in Ward 4, isn’t calling for anyone’s head — yet.

“Certainly it’s a rebuke, but it’s not time to call for him to resign,” said Wright, who will rejoin the council after defeating Democrat Russ Ellis by more than 300 votes. “I think there has been a war of words between the mayor and the city council, and it has to stop.”

No other newly elected councilors called for Kiss to quit, but Independent Karen Paul and Democrat Bill Keogh did say they expect the new council to fill a leadership “void” on a number of key issues, including Burlington Telecom. That’s a polite mayoral dis.

Adrian hasn’t backed off on his call for the mayor to resign and, not surprisingly, Kiss said he had no intention of stepping down.

“I think Ed’s suggestion is patently ridiculous,” said Kiss. “I don’t think Ed is a constructive force on the council, and he brings a tension to the process.”

Adrian and Wright have their own history when it comes to warring with words.

When he was council president, in 2009, Wright called the cops on Adrian because he was disrupting a council discussion by making repeated “points of order” and “points of information.”

No one was Tased or cuffed, and the duo has reportedly moved beyond the incident.

In fact, they’re having lunch together in Montpelier this week. Is this what they call a voter “man date”?

The Tide of History

Two Progressive candidates who narrowly lost their bids for seats on the 14-member Burlington City Council have requested official recounts.

In Ward 2, a long-time Progressive stronghold, former Progressive Councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak’s spot went to Democratic newcomer Bram Kranichfeld, chairman of the Burlington Electric Commission and a deputy state’s attorney. He defeated Progressive Max Tracy by just 13 votes, 307-294.

Democratic incumbent David Berezniak (Ward 2) was reelected, defeating Progressive Jonathan Leavitt by a slim 10-vote margin, 302-292.

“The residents of Ward 2 deserve to know with certainty the outcome of what was essentially a coin-toss election,” said Leavitt. “Many voted for us in hopes of affordable, quality housing and high-paying jobs and they deserve a clear outcome, since the results of these races have a great impact on the balance of the council.”

The recount will take place at 7 p.m. Monday night in Burlington City Hall Auditorium.

The new council will have seven Democrats, three Republicans, two independents and two Progressives — one less Progressive and one more Republican than the current council.

The Progs have held at least two seats on the council since 1982. At their peak, they held five of 12 council positions. When the council was expanded by two seats, with the creation of Ward 7, they had six of 14 from 1992 to 1996. They briefly wielded a six-seat bloc in 2001-2002 as well.

If Kranichfeld and Berezniak prevail, it would mark the first time a Progressive hasn’t held a Ward 2 seat since 1981, when Terry Bouricius won one. In 1982, Zoe Breiner joined him on the council. The Progressives occupied both seats until 2008, when Berezniak first won election.

That year — 1981 — was a big one. Bernie Sanders won the mayor’s office because many saw the Democrats in city hall as out of touch, insular and arrogant. Hmmm.

Insider Trading

Vermont Public Interest Group Executive Director Paul Burns admitted it was a “significant breach of protocol” when Sen. Peter Shumlin jumped aboard the VPIRG float during Burlington’s Mardi Gras parade. It featured a “retired” nuclear cooling tower. And there’s more evidence that VPIRG might be too chummy with Shummy.

In late January, VPIRG conducted an extensive VY poll to test various anti-VY “messages” on Vermonters, as well as gauging whom they trusted as a messenger. VPIRG asked about one key pol: Shumlin.

“His name was in the mix, as he was an obvious, known spokesperson on this issue,” said Burns, who said the poll was not designed to compare Shumlin to any other potential spokesman, and it didn’t share answers about Shumlin with Shumlin.

VPIRG did share the rest of the poll results with Shumlin, several other legislators and key allies, said Burns. “We make no bones about the poll and sharing it with leadership to move the issue forward,” said Burns.

The poll sharing, however, has irked some of Shumlin’s challengers.

“These are politically charged times, and we all need to be careful in the way we work with organizations on important issues,” said former Sen. Matt Dunne.

Fellow Sen. Doug Racine said VPIRG should have been more generous with the results.

“I was on record very early on, and they came to me looking for help on this issue,” said Racine. “I would have to pay quite a bit of money to get that information, and they shared it for free with Peter.”

Depending on how the primary ends up, the poll could end up costing VPIRG in more ways than one.

Waste Not

Gov. Jim Douglas may not be running for reelection, but one of his donors is giving Vermont a parting gift: 33,000 tons of hazardous soil from a Massachusetts Superfund.

The Burlington Free Press explained that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t classify the soil as “waste” but a “substance.” That means the feds think it’s OK to dump the soil in the Moretown landfill owned by Interstate Waste Services.

To date, the Agency of Natural Resources hasn’t given IWS a green light to dump the waste, which may contain dioxins.

Who is IWS? Interestingly, the company donated a total of $8000 to Douglas early last year: $2000 each from the “Moretown Landfill” and the “Burlington Transfer Station,” as well as two transfer stations from Massachusetts — one in Oxford and the other in South Hadley.

Douglas contributors who run afoul of the state regulations — Entergy and OMYA, for example — often get the kid-glove treatment, while dangerous socialist experiments such as Intervale Compost and Burlington Telecom get pummeled.

Let’s hope dioxin trumps dollars in ANR’s decision related to IWS.

The Other Half

The rest of the legislative session will be consumed largely by how to close a $150 million hole in the FY 2011 budget, and continued revenue shortfalls in 2010.

Some of the impending action is likely to help candidates running for election.

One bill relates to moving the primary from September 14 to August 24. Gov. Douglas opposes the measure, saying the Democratic-led legislature only wants to benefit its gubernatorial hopefuls.

An earlier primary date would give the Democratic candidate more time to run against Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie in the general election.

The House approved moving the primary date 139-6. The Senate is expected to approve the House measure this week and send it to the governor’s desk.

On Tuesday Racine, who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, announced that his committee will vote on a proposal to create a commission to examine several universal health care options.

“What we’re saying is that we want a universal health care system that is affordable,” said Racine, “and we want some options on exactly what that could look like — not just abstract discussions.”

Sounds like Racine is looking for an issue — like Shumlin’s VY — to distinguish him in this fall’s gubernatorial race.

Got the Blues?

It was roughly one year ago that “Fair Game” discovered Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont had sent off its retiring CEO William Milnes Jr. with a $6.8 million golden parachute.

Last fall, Paulette Thabault, commissioner of the Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration, rejected a proposed BCBS rate hike and claimed that the payout may have been illegal. BCBS rejected that claim but has not settled the issue with BISHCA.

In the meantime, BCBS has filed its 2009 compensation report to BISHCA. No big one-time payouts last year, but still plenty of money flowing to its execs.

New CEO Don George earned a total of $423,270, when you add up his salary and bonuses from being head honcho at BCBS and the Vermont Health Plan.

In all, the top 10 execs at BCBS racked up $468,204 in bonuses and nearly $1.5 million in salaries. Five of those employees earned additional income working for TVHP: $287,279 in total salaries and $76,857 in bonuses.

BCBS board members continued to benefit, too. The board chairman earned $44,500, while the 14 board members earned an average of $23,014 each.

In all, BCBS paid out about $30,000 less to its board members in 2009, and George’s salary is less than half the $883,000 Milnes earned as the head of both groups.

So, the savings got passed along, right?


Last fall, BCBS asked BISHCA for permission to jack up its health care premiums as much as 50 percent for its small business and health savings account customers.

Talk about a bitter pill.

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