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Bernie Sanders

The Age of Kiss?

Inside Track


Published April 5, 2006 at 4:00 p.m.

True to form, the new mayor of Vermont's largest city wasted little time Monday evening letting everyone know that their new leader is a man of few words.

Shortly after 7:10 p.m., Bob Kiss, a former three-term Progressive Party state representative, raised his right hand and took the oath of office as administered by longtime Assistant City Clerk Jo Lamarche, and officially started his new job.

Before an upbeat, standing-room-only Contois Auditorium crowd, Bob Kiss did "solemnly swear or affirm" that he will "faithfully execute the office of mayor" to the best of his "judgment and ability according to the law, so help me God, or under the pains and penalties of perjury."

Mayor Kiss' Inaugural Address didn't take much longer than his swearing in. We timed it out at nine minutes and 28 seconds. A record! And there were 15 interruptions for applause!

"He's a great guy!" said Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, who was on hand for the inaugural and the reception that preceded it. Also on hand were Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scudder Parker, Progressive radio host and potential candidate for something Anthony Pollina and Independent U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, among others. One big, happy family for a night!

Yours truly has been on this "feeling old" kick lately, and seeing Bernie at the Kiss Inaugural didn't help matters. You see, this writer was in the same Contois Auditorium on the same first-Monday-in-April evening 25 years ago when Ol' Bernardo took his first oath of office as mayor of Burlington -- our hair was a different color then! Compared to the politically tense air that night, Kiss' inauguration was positively mellow.

"I've known Bob Kiss for over 30 years," said Sanders. "Way, way back, I appointed Bob to a position on the Housing Authority." The former mayor who wants to be a U.S. senator described Kiss as "a very decent guy. Anybody who knows him knows that he is as honest as the day is long. He ran a very good campaign, and I wish him the best of luck."

As for Mayor Brief, his "State of the City" inaugural address was just 1100 words long. Verbosity is not one of his talents. The new mayor reminded everyone that big problems remain and "none of the proposals currently under consideration in Montpelier solve Burlington's health-care crisis."

Mayor Kiss also delighted his antiwar supporters with a line about the city getting "no help from the Bush administration as long as it continues to wage ill-advised, preemptive war that has already cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives."

As for a forecast, the only thing Burlington's new mayor promised was change. "Some people will say that things are changing too quickly. Others will say that they are not changing quickly enough. But one thing is certain," said Kiss. "Things will change."

One change: Unlike Peter Clavelle in his inaugural address way back in 1989, Burlington's new mayor did not reach out to the downtown business sector by promising to complete the long-jinxed Southern Connector Highway, now known as the Champlain Parkway.

Times change, eh?

Impeachment Time? -- This Saturday the Democratic State Committee will meet in Randolph to address the issue of presidential impeachment. On the table will be the so-called "Rutland Resolution" that we've written about in recent weeks, which has been officially adopted by eight county committees. Also on the table will be the "Grande Isle Resolution," recently adopted by Grande Isle County Democrats.

While the Rutland Resolution calls for the impeachment of President Bush, the Grande Isle Resolution merely calls on Congress "to cause to be instituted in the Congress of the United States proper proceedings for the investigation of the activities of President George W. Bush, to see whether he should be impeached and removed from such office."

Supporters of the Rutland Resolution want to see the Vermont Legislature adopt it before they go home for the summer. The Rutland document finds "that the General Assembly of the State of Vermont has good cause for submitting charges to the U.S. House of Representatives under Section 603 as grounds for George W. Bush's impeachment."

That's a reference to Sec. 603 of Jefferson's Manual, which is used to guide House procedure. Sec. 603 allows for impeachment proceedings to begin with a resolution adopted by a single state legislature.

But despite the fact that the Vermont legislature is under the control of the Democratic Party, the Democratic leadership is not encouraging this impeachment debate.

"I totally empathize with the frustration over our federal government and President Bush," said House Speaker Gaye Symington. "I think he's a terrible president and I think he's done a real disservice to Vermonters and to the country. But I'm not going to jump into concluding he should be impeached without making sure there is some kind of investigation first."

Investigation first?

"There's a cost in terms of time," added the Speaker. "There's a cost in terms of the partisan edginess of the building, which I'm already trying to tone down. I think we want to be careful to the extent that we stand up and get into a debate that ends up being clearly partisan."

Clearly, if the Rutland Resolution makes it through Saturday's Democratic Party state committee meeting intact, getting attention in the Vermont House will obviously require changing the House Speaker's mind.

DeLay is History -- The news got out just prior to Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders' Tuesday morning presser on Bush administration cuts in college education funding: Disgraced former Republican House Speaker Tom DeLay of Texas will not seek reelection.

"As you know," said Ol' Bernardo, "Tom DeLay is under indictment. A top aide of Tom DeLay recently pleaded guilty to corruption charges. I have a feeling," he predicted, "that in the coming months there's going to a be a lot of dirty laundry coming out about the kind of corruption that the Republican leadership in Washington has been involved in."

Sanders said DeLay's announcement is obviously designed to deflect attention from the rest of the disgraced Bush team.

"When you look at these guys right now," said Sanders, "you're looking at a leadership which is not only incompetent, but is perhaps the most corrupt House leadership in the modern history of America, and I hope the people of this country recognize that."

Is the tide turning in Washington?

"I think it is," replied Vermont's congressman. "What you're seeing are Republican candidates from one end of this country to the other distancing themselves from the president on economic issues, on the war in Iraq, on the corruption issue. I think the American people understand in their guts that no matter what comes out of the administration, this country is not going in the right direction."

Today is "a case in point," said Bernie. He was highlighting proposed Bush education cuts in programs designed for kids whose parents never went to college. The Bush 2007 budget zeroes out the program, he said.

As for the current grassroots impeachment effort, Sanders certainly agrees with the sentiment, but questions its practicality.

"If tomorrow you impeach George Bush," said Mr. Sanders, "which is clearly not going to happen in a Republican House and Senate, you end up with Dick Cheney as president of the United States. I don't see that as a major step forward, to be frank with you."

Good point.

What Ol' Bernardo would like to see is a Democratic majority elected to the House or Senate, or both, in November. Under one-party Republican control, he said, the Congress has failed to do its duty to investigate. Sanders, in fact, has a seat on the House Government Reform Committee. Back when Democrat Bill Clinton was in the White House, he noted, "Almost every other week there was another investigation. They watched the guy day and night."

But all that changed on Inauguration Day 2001.

"Bush has been president now for over five years," noted Sanders. "There have been no serious investigations -- none, zero -- of any major issues involving the Bush administration."

The way to change things, said Bernie, is not to focus on getting a GOP-controlled Congress to move on impeachment, but rather to focus on changing the current congressional makeup in November.

"I think we have a good chance to defeat the Republicans in either the House or the Senate, or maybe both," said Sanders. "The trend is clearly with us."

Salmon Rising? -- Our sources say Tom Salmon Jr., son of the former Democratic governor, is all primed and poised to enter the state auditor's race. The current state auditor, Randy Brock, is a Republican.

Junior is a Rockingham selectman and a CPA, and currently works with troubled youth. Nice resume.

Mr. Salmon could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.


State's Attorney's Race -- It didn't get any press attention, but the biggest political campaign kickoff Burlington has seen in quite some time happened at ECHO on the Waterfront Friday evening. That's where hometown boy T.J. Donovan kicked off his campaign to succeed Bob Simpson as Chittenden County's next state's attorney. Simpson, a highly respected veteran, is retiring. Remember, Chittenden County State's Attorney was the last job a young prosecutor named Patrick Leahy had before winning the 1974 U.S. Senate race. What ever became of him, anyway?

T.J. has been a prosecutor both here and in Philadelphia, and is currently in private practice. His mom is Burlington Democratic State Rep. Johanna Leddy Donovan. Needless to say, Mr. Donovan's political roots run deep, and most of old Irish Burlington was on hand for his campaign kickoff.

Several other local attorneys are considering the race, among them a certain Toyota owner with a British accent.

Some may have noticed Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell popping up lately in TV spots for a certain Burlington-area Toyota dealership. Kind of reminds us of Democratic congressional candidate Peter Welch's old TV ads for his law practice.

Despite the London accent, Treadwell was born in New York City and moved to England at 18 months. He told "Inside Track" he currently motors about in his third consecutive Toyota, a Highlander Hybrid. He said he asked his superiors at the attorney general's office about doing the Toyota ads and was told they had "no problem."

He told us he was merely "a private citizen asked to help a local business."


Graff Update -- It's been two weeks since his firing, but former Vermont Associated Press Bureau Chief Christopher Graff is still making news. On Monday, Washington Post media-watcher Howard Kurtz' "Mystery Dismissal" had jaws flapping in Foggy Bottom.

It still leaves an Orwellian taste in one's mouth to read once more that the Associated Press axed its Montpelier, Vermont, fixture because he moved an "open government" Sunshine Week column by Vermont's senior U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy on the AP wire without an appropriate rebuttal. Wrote Kurtz:

The irony of the AP marking Sunshine Week by refusing to discuss his firing has been rather obvious. "I understand our inability to talk about it has made some people angry, but that doesn't change the facts," says AP spokeswoman Kathleen Carroll.

Graff, who cannot discuss the case because of a nondisclosure agreement, says he was "absolutely shocked" by the firing but "overwhelmed" by the show of support. "If I can bring together a Republican, Democrat, independent and socialist, it's for the good," he says.

Closer to home, two former Montpelier "institutions" have let their feelings be known. Norris Hoyt, a former tax commissioner and legislator, let loose with a letter in the Rutland Herald that zeroed in on Herald publisher R. John Mitchell, who currently holds a seat on the Associated Press board of directors. Wrote Norrie:

Mr. Mitchell's refusal to get involved also does not promote AP's best interests, because it seems that Chris Graff's firing was done in the service of a right-wing political agenda and is designed to censor what moves on AP's wires.

Who in Vermont will ever again have any confidence in any AP story?

Mr. Mitchell's inaction seems baffling and, to this reader, carries at least a faint whiff of cowardice. Is something else going on here?

Mr. Mitchell, if you won't help Chris Graff, will you at least do something to end AP's refusal to report this story on its wires? AP's censorship of this, Vermont's leading news story, would be right at home in Putin's Russia. Perhaps the AP board members should move to Moscow.


We've also heard from former Democratic House Speaker Ralph Wright, now retired in Florida.

"My memories of Chris," writes the legendary Vermont speaker (1985-1995) in an email, "are ones that had no fear in them. I always felt that he never wrote anything with the aim to gain stature by standing atop some other poor soul's body."

That, noted Ralph, is "the highest compliment a politician can pay to one of you guys. There wasn't a gotcha bone in his body. He was most close with (former Gov.) Dick Snelling, perhaps, but I think the attraction was character driven. They both had it."


Media Notes -- The word from WCAX-TV News is that longtime assignment editor George Wilson has retired. George produced and anchored the noon news for 18 years and had been at Ch. 3 almost three decades. Mr. Wilson left quietly, not even returning our phone call for an exit interview. Bonne chance, Mr. Wilson!

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