Despite public protests by wannabe U.S. Senator Ritchie Tarrant, comedian Al Franken came to Vermont last weekend to stump for the indie candidate, U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders. A sold-out house of Dems and Progs -- including former governors Phil Hoff and Madeleine Kunin, Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss and candidates Peter Welch, Scudder Parker, Matt Dunne and John Tracy -- packed Burlington's Flynn Center to hear the author, actor and talk-show host deliver a fundraising "Night of Laughs."
But the evening's first snickers were directed at Tarrant, who had erected an anti-Franken sign outside the theater that read, "Keep Partisan Hate Out of Vermont." Franken's initial 10 minutes of material came from last week's Seven Days -- specifically, Peter Freyne's "Inside Track." Crediting the paper, Franken read aloud a section of "Track," titled "Tarrant Gets Testy," in which Freyne reported Tarrant had told a group of 50 Rotarians, "Al Franken should not be coming to this state." Likening him to Rush Limbaugh, Tarrant fumed, "This state is about moderate voices, common sense and getting things done. This partisan hatred, I hate!"
Great line, especially delivered in Franken's signature deadpan style.
Franken read on as Freyne pressed Tarrant for a specific example of Franken's "partisan hatred," and the columnist and the candidate got into a heated exchange. As Freyne doggedly pursued him, Tarrant shot back, "Next question!" "Another question!" and finally, "I'm not about giving examples!"
Too bad Freyne edited out a portion of the verbal volley in which Tarrant mistakenly referred to Franken as Al Franklin; the comedian would have had a lot of fun with that. For his part, Al skipped over Freyne's "Inside Track" confession that he's "not a big Franken fan." He's no liar . . .
Plenty of left-leaning Americans tune in to Franken's daily show on "Air America." Because of its popularity, the local station that carries the program moved it from the afternoon to a 7-10 p.m. timeslot.
Whenever you tune in, there's plenty of begging on the station that bills itself as "Champlain Valley's progressive talk-radio." For the past two weeks, WVAA 1390 has been soliciting contributions. No matter that it's a commercial entity; along with six other broadcasting entities in the Burlington market, WVAA is part of the New Hampshire-based radio group that owns MP103, The Point and Boston's The River. At least twice an hour, a deejay urgently intones, "It's listeners like you that keep WVAA on the air, to fight the right-wing media that has taken over the mainstream airwaves. Your support is proof that you're truly progressive in your views, and we greatly appreciate it. If you would like to contribute, log on to WVAA1390.com and check out how you can help Talk 1390 WVAA continue in its fight against the right-wing media."
The station is careful to explain that donations are not tax-deductible. "If we want to stay around, we've gotta prove to the owners that we're a viable format," says Program Director J.J. Prieve. Generating a "secondary revenue stream" -- advertising is the primary one -- is a way to do that. "They're getting membership into a preferred customer club," Prieve explains. "We give them insider information on shows, first crack at the newsletter." He says he's received more than $1000 from 300 "members" in the past two weeks. "It's not going to be anything that's going to overtake the commercial inventory," Prieve adds. "It's a supplement that . . . lets us grow and get the progressive message out."
Check this out: Montpelier's Kellogg-Hubbard Library is shutting down next week -- and again in October -- in order to balance its budget. Borrowing at the historic library has increased dramatically; it now has the second-highest circulation in the state. The manner in which Kellogg-Hubbard raises funds is also noteworthy: Six towns contribute tax dollars to the library in exchange for access, which makes it a "private library, not a municipal library," says Director Martin Hahn.
Of 17,000 potential borrowers in the service area, 13,000 have library cards. By contrast, Burlington's Fletcher Free Library issues 12,084 cards in a city of 39,000. K-H's problem is not participation, but planning.
"We ended 2005 with a deficit of $135,000," Hahn explains. "When we looked at 2006 and saw a possible deficit of $180,000, we had to take immediate action."
The library petitioned Montpelier residents for an additional $96,000, which voters approved overwhelmingly on Town Meeting Day. It also expanded fundraising through grants and donations and promised to reduce expenses. Kahn estimates the library will save $7000 each week it's shuttered, for a total of $14,000 in savings. Even the VanGo Bookmobile will park it for a week in order to help the library make ends meet. One plus: The drop-off box will be open for returns, but technically, books that come due during the week of May 8 aren't expected back until the following Monday, May 15.