And we're not just talking about the ponies at Saratoga Springs, New York, where the annual summer race meeting begins this Wednesday.
We're talking about the race for governor of Vermont.
This week the campaigns of incumbent Republican Jim Douglas and his Democratic challenger, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, unveiled their first 30-second TV ads. From the looks of them, folks, this one is going to get pretty nasty pretty quickly.
Mayor Moonie opened up with a rather witty spot featuring himself as the spokes-man. Clavelle makes the pitch Jim Douglas hasn't done diddly-squat about soaring health-care costs, particularly prescription drug imports from north of the border.
"Everybody knows there's a health-care crisis in Vermont," says Clavelle. "Every-body but Jim Douglas."
Clavelle invites viewers to his website -- http://www.clavelleforgovernor.com -- where they can make their Canadian cheap-drug connections.
Clavelle's ad was shot on a recent sunny day at Burlington's Oakledge Park. It uses automobiles as props. There's Pedro's new family car, a Honda hybrid, adorned with Clavelle stickers. And there's a Lincoln Town Car that plays the part of Gov. Douglas' official vehicle.
Naturally, the rear end of the Lincoln is plastered with both "Jim Douglas for Governor" and "Bush-Cheney '04" bumper stickers. That connection is key to Clavelle's success, and in 30 seconds there are four separate shots taken of the Republican bumper-sticker alliance.
"We don't need to wait for Jim and George," says Clavelle from the driver's seat as he pulls out to pass the Lincoln Town car.
Very cute. Very on message. In Clavelle's case it's a two-part message: leadership on health care and George W. Bush.
Having caught the Clavelle spot by accident early Monday morning, Douglas' campaign chairman Neale Lunderville was quickly on the phones to news organizations with a snappy rebuttal. Again and again, the Boy Wonder who ran Douglas' 2002 campaign expressed how "disappointed" he was that Peter Clavelle would run "a negative attack ad."
Not surprisingly, Lunderville never made mention of the Douglas campaign's negative attack ad that was supposed to have been released the same day.
Timing is everything, eh?
Seven Days has learned the Douglas campaign had planned to release their own 30-second attack ad on Monday via the Internet.
Rather than compete for media attention with Mayor Moonie's TV spot, Lunderville said the decision was made to hold off until Tuesday. And what a beauty of an attack ad it is!
The Douglas spot, which the Boy Wonder says may make it onto local TV screens later on, is reminiscent of the George W. Bush spots trashing John Kerry.
A car pulls up to order at a fast-food drive-thru lane.
"Welcome to Clavelle's. Can I help you?"
"What's on the menu?"
"Higher property taxes. Higher taxes on small business. Higher gas taxes," etc.
"How about a serving of Peter Clavelle's supersized income taxes?" asks the voice on the speaker.
"They call Peter's ad negative?" scoffed Clavelle campaign spokesman B. J. Rogers on Tuesday after viewing the Douglas ad. "Seems they wrote the book on that," said Mr. Rogers (and, no, we didn't ask him about his neighborhood).
Usually, tight political races devolve into negative, personal attacks much later in the game. In the case of the current race for governor of Vermont, however, both sides have, as they say, "gone negative" from the get-go.
It is but one indication that the Douglas vs. Clavelle race for governor is a lot closer than many people realize.
VPR Ears Aching -- We've been getting calls lately from longtime devoted listeners and contributors to Vermont Public Radio who share one universal complaint -- they can't stomach the ads for Wal-Mart they've been hearing broadcasted by their beloved VPR.
They're not alone.
National Public Radio listeners coast-to-coast have been complaining for months about burning ears resulting from hearing stuff like:
"Wal-Mart, providing jobs and opportunities for millions of Americans of all ages and all walks of life. 'Our People Make the Difference.' Information at Wal-Mart Stores dot com."
Or: "Wal-Mart, committed to providing its associates a variety of career paths, training resources and advancement opportunities. Information at Wal-Mart Stores dot com."
VPR Boss Mark Vogelzang told Seven Days the "commercials" are not really commercials, but rather "a standard underwriting credit just like any other business."
And they're running on NPR programs, not on locally produced programs.
Mr. Vogelzang said VPR has received "a small number of complaints" from listeners. He estimated "20 to 30 people" have called the Colchester-based radio station.
As for the Wal-Mart underwriting credits, Mark said they must conform to NPR guidelines.
"Fundamentally, this is a journalistic organization," said the VPR chief. "We're not going to fall into the trap of deciding who's good and who's bad."
Vogelzang expressed confidence that VPR listeners are "intelligent" and will make their own decisions about patronizing Wal-Mart or advocating its expansion in Vermont.
As for Wal-Mart "underwriting credits," a.k.a. commercials, affecting VPR's news coverage, Vogelzang emphasized, "There is a firewall between underwriting and what we report."
Sues Rule -- Usually, filling a vacancy at The Burlington Free Press takes forever. But this time Free Press Publisher Jim Carey has moved swiftly to fill the gaping hole left by the sudden departure of Editorial Page Editor David Awbrey.
Awbrey left a couple weeks ago following a series of foul-ups both on and off the Gannett-chain paper's editorial page. Also gone, we hope, will be the Kansan's editorial obsession with school choice and the avoidance of issues of substance such as the current war.
Today the opinion page of Vermont's largest daily newspaper is being run by two 46-year-old women named Sue!
Carey filled the vacancy at the top by promoting Awbrey's assistant, Editorial Writer Susan Reid. Unfortunately, like Awbrey before her, Reid lacks much in the way of Vermont history and experience. More on that in a minute.
The good news for readers is that Carey has had the wisdom to slide an old familiar face into the editorial writer position. And man, oh, man, this cat has nine lives!
Back in play is Susan Allen, known to regular Seven Days readers over the years as the Sweet Sue who once served as Gov. Howard Dean's press secretary.
Not bad. Only six months ago, Sweet Sue was chaperoning our favorite presidential candidate's spouse, Dr. Judy Dean, into a packed Iowa high school gymnasium.
It's at least Ms. Allen's third tour of duty at the Freeps. A Virginia lass, Allen started at USA Today in 1982, then headed north. She covered the Statehouse for the Freeps and then for Chris Graff's A.P. Bureau in Montpelier. She then returned to the Freeps as editorial writer in 1996 before answering Ho-Ho's call in 1998.
Even though we've had our battles with Sweet Sue the Press Secretary (and my eardrums still tingle recalling a particular one), she's a pretty smart, stand-up, straight-shooting kind of gal. The Freeps editorials, we expect, will noticeably improve both in quality and content.
Now, about our favorite Canadian who has replaced the Kansan in the top spot on the editorial page. Sue Reid's local claim to fame was her own editorial obsession last summer with Burlington's proposed new multimodal transportation center on Battery Street next to the train station.
While George W. Bush invaded Iraq, Reid wrote six editorials trashing the bus depot project. Reid's version of homeland security was protecting the view along Burlington's downtown waterfront. Her edits were quickly heralded by Republican State Rep. Kurt Wright and all the Prog-bashers in Burlap.
Clavelle described Reid's editorials at the time as "misinformation."
But misinformation is what makes the world go 'round, folks. Just look at Iraq, eh?
Eventually the city caved in and scrapped the project at the last minute, even though it had been through five years of planning and review. The federal bucks were all lined up.
Among her arguments, Ms. Reid suggested the Clavelle administration was pulling a fast one, skirting public review and putting up an unsightly building on our precious waterfront that would block the view of paradise.
Reid said she had learned her own waterfront lesson back in her native Toronto, where too much development had blighted Toronto's Lake Ontario shoreline.
As we've pointed out, the city did everything out in the open, dotted its "i's" and crossed its "t's." Unfortunately, the Gannett paper's City Hall coverage had been so skimpy for so long that nothing about the $15 million project had been reported in years.
Editorial Writer Reid apparently woke up one morning after a restless night and decided she wouldn't allow another Toronto-like waterfront.
By the way, Toronto has a population of 2,385,400. That's 2,345,400 more people than Burlington, Vermont.
Yours truly pedals past the site daily. Blocking the view? What view?
The crumbling, mostly abandoned two-story structure that currently occupies the spot is the last blight left standing on the new Burlington Waterfront.
A new bus station would have risen all of two stories high on the west side of Battery Street. The east side is already occupied by a seven-story office building. Nobody would lose a view of the lake.
Plus, the CCTA bus depot would have provided a year-round supply of the most precious commodity needed to make the Burlington waterfront work as intended -- people.
How do you get to the waterfront?
Take any bus!
A little history might help. You see, 20 years before the Freeps new editorial page editor arrived, there was a rallying cry that echoed through the Queen City.
It started when Burlington was not winning any "livable city" awards. The waterfront was an embarrassment. An unsightly, abandoned no-man's land that was livable only for rats, raccoons and homeless alcoholics.
Barbed-wire fences and giant oil tanks kept the citizenry from the lake's edge. It had such a funereal feel to it that one cold night in 1984 I buried my deceased King Street cat, "State of Maine," there. And then tore my jacket and ribcage on the barbed wire when I climbed back over the "livable" fence.
But change was in the Burlington air following the political revolution that hit the Queen City in 1981. The cry for a "Waterfront for the People" became a growing citywide mantra.
A forward-looking mayor named Bernie Sanders, a brilliant assistant city attorney named John Franco, an up-and-comer state rep named Howard Dean and, eventually, a governor named Madeleine Kunin teamed up to reclaim that waterfront wasteland and turn it into the splendiferous public people's park it is today.
Don't tell the Freeps' Canadian editorial boss, but a giant new structure is under construction just north of the bus station site. "Lake and College" looks to be the largest new waterfront structure built to date. Melinda Moulton of Main Street Landing is the "redeveloper."
On what's been a vacant lot for a century, Melinda's building a 107,000-square-foot waterfront palace that will have a restaurant, promenades, balconies, performance space, a black-box theater and a two-screen cinema.
The YMCA is currently looking at the Moran Plant land just up the road.
Imagine if all CCTA buses led to the Burlington Waterfront?
You think some folks would start getting out of their gas guzzlers and hop on the bus?
As it stands, Plan B doesn't sound good. Better sit down for this one.
The bus station site now looks like it'll be corporate headquarters for a company that sells upscale frou-frou. Cornell Trading is an international chain that markets designer clothing, fabric and furnishings for the discriminating shopper. Very nice stuff.
In fact, April and Chris Cornell live here. They are also very generous financial contributors, according to Federal Election Commission records, to Bush-Cheney 2004 and the Republican National Committee. And, they're reputed to be quite philanthropic.
The Cornells' politics is their business. In fact, like Ms. Reid at the Freeps, they hail from Canada.
But a corporate headquarters building on the People's Waterfront in Burlington, Vermont?
It's completely and utterly out of sync with the Waterfront vision of the 1980s and 1990s.
The Cornell Corporate HQ Project, we're told, is on the agenda for an upcoming Planning and Zoning meeting.
Check with City Hall for further details.
Bottom line: The Burlington Free Press was editorially wrong on the multimodal bus depot last year. Dead wrong. We've learned since that editorials have been glaringly wrong on other topics as well.
The sooner Ms. Reid, the powerful, new editorial page editor, realizes it, the sooner the paper's discredited editorial page can hope to regain a smidgen of credibility.
Battery and Main just might be a good place to start, eh?
Local Bush Support -- Despite a blitz of George W. Bush TV ads in Vermont, we're told that recent polling shows the current president to be an extremely unpopular guy in the Green Mountain State.
That's born out by Meetup.com, the Internet phenom that helped launched Howard Dean's presidential bid. Back in the good old days, more than 200 Deaniacs crammed into Nectar's for a Dean Meetup.
Yours truly, you see, in the interests of fairness, also signed up for George W. Bush Meetups. Unfortunately, there's still never been one in Vermont. The message from Meetup we received the other day says it all:
"Attention: Your chapter has only 1 active members, making a Meetup unlikely from our experience. Please consider switching to another nearby chapter to increase your chances of actually having a Bush in 2004 Meetup. Numbers shown are number of active members if you switch:
• Albany, NY (6)
• Manchester, NH (5)
• Keene, NH (2)"
Comforting to know Bush supporters can't even stomach one another, isn't it?