Mark the calendar. Last week was an extraordinary week for Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders and the causes he’s been championing. You gotta believe he’s thinking long and hard about riding this wave all the way to the United States Senate.
Ol’ Bernado received cordon bleu coverage in the national media and some puzzling non-coverage closer to home. The Congressional Town Meeting he organized at St. Michael’s College not only overflowed the auditorium, it went coast-to-coast on the “CBS Evening News” with Dan Rather. Internet postings instantly quadrupled at the IBM pension club site at http://clubs.yahoo.com/clubs/ibmpension. And Friday morning’s New York Times featured the Bernie/IBM town meeting as the feature business story of the day.
And if that weren’t enough impact for the lone congressman of the 47th largest state in the nation, USA Today published an op-ed article by Sanders on the great prescription drug rip-off recounting his recent trip to Montreal with five Vermont cancer patients.
Remember 10 years ago when they said this left-wing screaming radical progressive commie socialist would be totally ineffective in Washington? Remember when Jesse Ventura just wrestled?
Here in Vermont the top question — heck, the only question — in political circles is, will Sanders challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords in 2000? In fact, in addition to the above-mentioned media coverage, that very topic was the subject of “Weekdays With Bernie” — Vermont Waits for Sanders to Decide About Senate Campaign,” the feature story in Roll Call, “the newspaper of Capitol Hill” (on the net at www.rollcall.com).
Closer to the nest, the press coverage was generally excellent, particularly in The Burlington Free Press. The Freeps went whole-hog in reporting the story and editorially whacking Big Blue for the pension shuffle. This from a union-busting Gannett-chain paper, you ask? Surprise, surprise.
It was also surprising the Rutland Herald, the state’s second-largest daily newspaper, didn’t bother to send a reporter to Sanders’ IBM town meeting. We’ve previously noted the pro-Jeezum Jim, hometown boy, slant in the Rutland paper. Once the Rutland Herald led the pack in state political print coverage. But something’s up. Something a little weird, at least when it comes to coverage of Jeezum Jim and Ol’ Bernado. Sanders is now nationally recognized as the first member of Congress who stepped up to the IBM issue, but you might have missed out on that if you’re a Herald reader, since the powers that be used just four little paragraphs of the A.P. wire story on the largest congressional town meeting in memory. It made the obituary page. Cute.
Lately, Jeffords of Rutland has been eating Bernie of Burlington’s dust on the hot issues defining corporate greed, from IBM to the pharmaceutical industry. Jeezum Jim waited and waited as the calls from IBM constituents poured in. Last week he released an exchange of letters with IBM CEO Lou Gerstner and posted them on his Web site to show he’s doing something. (Funny, but Sanders received the same letter verbatim from Big Blue three weeks earlier, signed by a vice-president.)
Jeffords’ deputy press secretary, Heidi Mohlman, explained her boss’ caution Tuesday. Jeffords, said Mohlman, is “very thoughtful. He didn’t want to get IBMers’ hopes up. He doesn’t want to come out swinging unless he’s sure he’s in a fight he could win.”
One thing the senator is doing is campaigning hard across the state. His office recently contacted Burlington City Hall to arrange a 15-minute escorted walking tour of North Street, the Champs Elysees of Sanderista Country. Great photo op, Jimbo!
Hairy at Last! — Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle just doesn’t look the same since he stopped shaving a few weeks ago while on vacation. Burlap’s most popular political “skinhead” said he wanted to see if he could “grow hair someplace on my head.” Reactions to his new fuzz-covered face, says Clavelle, have been a “mixed bag.” Will the face fuzz last?
Meanwhile, Mayor Moonie got an up-close-and-personal taste of the downtown parking situation on a recent summer evening. Da’ mayor drove a van full of kids downtown to get ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s on Church Street. He made the mistake of parking in the old Price Chopper lot. But owner Stuart Chase has turned those parking spaces into a tow-truck paradise, and Clavelle’s Mercury Villager got hooked.
Just part of the quality of life in the big, bad city.
Moving On — The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Vermont shop, James Bradley, is retiring this week after 30 years on the front line of the War on Drugs. Sir James will put his talents to use in the private sector, having just passed the state test for a “private investigator” license. He’ll be doing “due diligence work,” and trust me, Sir James is one diligent dude. No office yet, but one can contact “Bradley Associates” on the Internet at Bradley67@@aol.com.
Many will long remember how Sir James boldly stepped before the TV cameras outside federal court in Burlap to blast the U.S. Attorney's office for the double standard evi-denced by its kid-glove treatment of convicted cocaine smuggler Rivka Medow and Judge William Sessions' slap-on-the-wrist 15-month sentence. There's a baseball term that applies when a government official tells it like it is: big balls, or something like that. How refreshing.
Sir James told Seven Days that America's drug policy has to be reexamined. "We've been doing it the same way for 30 years," he said. "What have we achieved?"
Well, one thing DEA hasn't achieved is a reduction in either supply or demand. "We haven't stopped the appetite," said Vermont's newest private dick, er, eye. "Our goal was to arrest the people dealing at high levels. Who's responsible for education and treatment? It ain't the DEA."
By the way, the cocaine indulgence that Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has done everything but swear to on a stack of bibles would be sufficient grounds to deny him a position at the DEA. Bad W! Marijuana, however, is another story.
"Recreational" pot smoking (as opposed to "non-recreational?") won't prevent an aspiring candidate from becoming a DEA agent, said Bradley, "as long as the candidate wasn't dealing the stuff."
Sir James is booked for his last hurrah on Friday morning's Mark Johnson Show on WKDR: Should be a keeper.
Speaking of Radio — Kudos to Lana Wilder and those two jokers she spends morning drive with on Champ radio. The Arbitron ratings from the spring sweeps are out, and Corm and the Crotch, er, sorry, Coach, scored big balloons. Champ improved to third overall, behind 95 Triple X and WOKO. Steve Cormier and Tom Brennan are the only people who've ever sent a, deranged white gangsta rapper look-a-like over to my house bright and early one morning armed with a pink plastic butt. Countless folks have wanted to, but they actually did it. Bravo!