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Burlington's Next Mayor

Inside Track


Published March 16, 2005 at 5:00 p.m.

Elections are a year away, but Seven Days has learned there are now at least two declared candidates in the March 2006 race for mayor of Vermont's largest city.

In fact, the first declaration of candidacy came on election night one year ago, when Republican Councilor Kevin Curley told a Ch. 17 TV audience he was running.

"We really need some new leadership," said a pumped-up Curley, "meaning, I heed the people's call to action and will be seeking the Republican nomination for mayor in two years."

Until the recent election, Curley was the only Republican out of 14 councilors. But State Rep. Kurt Wright, a former councilor, just won back his Ward 4 seat.

Wright told Seven Days this week, "I have no plans to run for mayor at this time." He added that one should "never say never" in politics. Wright said he's "leaving the door ajar."

Oh, boy, a Republican primary?

But the bigger news this week is that popular Democratic State Rep. John Tracy has finally made it official, telling yours truly, "I intend to be running for mayor in March of 2006."

Tracy, as everybody knows, is currently in the spotlight as the chairman of the special House committee charged with reforming our health-care system.

He insisted his "biggest priority" at the moment is not the mayor's race but rather, "what's right in front of me - reforming health care." The 53-year-old legislator from the Old North End said he would not have taken on the task of chairing the health-care committee "if I couldn't bring it through."

Since the campaign for mayor will begin in December, we questioned Tracy's ability to juggle both roles.

He indicated his House committee will likely continue working after the legislature goes home and should have a plan worked out by January.


But what about Burlington's current Democratic mayor, you ask? What about Peter Clavelle?

Unfortunately, we were unable to reach Mayor Moonie this week. He is with his family south of the border in Uruguay. According to his assistant, Bill Mitchell, the Clavelles flew to Buenos Aires last week and rented a car for the drive to Uruguay. They're visiting daughter Jaye Clavelle, who's been in South America since last summer.

Which means the darling daughter was lucky enough to miss her dad's dismal gubernatorial campaign last fall. Clavelle, who converted from Progressive to Democrat before his last run, got just 37.9 percent in a state where the likes of Pat Leahy, Jim Jeffords and Bernie Sanders win in landslides.

Clavelle's campaign just never got going. There was often no response to the frequent jabs thrown by the Douglas camp. Energy was lacking. So was an articulate message and a plan for the future.

After all those years in the shadow of Bernie Sanders, all those years of making Burlington an award-winning, great place to live, Clavelle appeared lost on the statewide stage. And things have only gone downhill for Mayor Moonie since.

Clavelle's gubernatorial thrashing was followed by two more big defeats in March. His enthusiastic support may even have hurt, rather than helped, the proposal to move the Burlington YMCA into the old Moran power plant on the waterfront. The proposal was overwhelmingly defeated. And most voters also ignored Clavelle's pleas for a local sales tax to relieve the property-tax pressure on homeowners.

One could argue Mayor Moonie not only lacks coattails, he lacks a coat, too.

That was evident when we asked Rep. Tracy if his mayoral candidacy might be put on hold should fellow Democrat Clavelle return refreshed and eager for an eighth term.

"I'm sure Peter will make whatever decision Peter makes. But if Moonie runs," he added, "it might come down to a Democratic caucus."

Mayoral candidate Tracy said he hopes to have a little chat with the current mayor once Clavelle gets back to town and has some time to consider his future plans.

As for a Progressive Party mayoral candidate appearing on the ballot in 2006, both Councilor Phil Fiermonte and CEDO Director Michael Monte indicated they are not interested. Councilor Jane Knodell, the Prog with the Ph.D., did not return our call.

As for the prospects of Clavelle calling it quits after this term, Rookie Prog Councilor Tim Ashe noted, "He's come back from defeat before. I wouldn't write his obituary just yet."

But should Clavelle pull the plug, as many expect he will, Ashe assured us the Progressive Party will have a candidate for mayor. Plenty of time to decide, eh?

Media Notes - This just in: Ch. 3 news anchor Sera Congi is moving on to the hometown of the Red Sox.

After 10 years in Vermont, Sera told us she's landed a reporter position at WBZ-TV in Boston. Her last day at WCAX is March 25. She's going to miss a lot of people, she said. And a lot of people will miss her.

Best wishes, Sera!

Snelling's Warpath - There was fire in the blazing blue eyes of State Sen. Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden) Monday morning as she told yours truly about her determination to get Vermont to do the right thing regarding the state's original residents - the Abenakis.

"As Vermonters," said Princess Di, "we're proud of ourselves for moving forward on so many things, yet we're afraid to talk about the Abenakis."

Snelling said opponents, including the attorney general's office, employ scare tactics by claiming state recognition of the first Vermonters will lead to federal tribal recognition that will lead to casinos and land claims.

It's similar, she said, to the tactics of civil-unions opponents who spread fear over what civil unions "might" lead to.

"All I'm trying to say," said Snelling, "is there's a real moral issue in my mind. This is a recognized minority in the state of Vermont. There's plenty of scholarship to say they existed. You find relics all over the state. There are people who have maintained cultural traditions. It's the right thing to do."

Ironically, her dad, Republican Gov. Richard Snelling, once held a somewhat different view. Back in 1977, one of the newly sworn-in governor's first acts was to revoke the Thanksgiving Day executive order issued by his Democratic predecessor, Tom Salmon, which granted state recognition to the Abenaki.

Princess Di said she believed King Richard's concern "was about the concept of another sovereign nation within the sovereign state of Ver-mont. He was clear that should not happen. I agree with that," she said.

"What we're doing," said Daughter Diane, "is very specifically saying we recognize this tribe based on its cultural contribution, et cetera. We're not giving them special privileges or rights, like fishing rights," she noted.

Princess Di's bill, S.117, has five cosponsors: Sens. Matt Dunne, Hinda Miller, Don Collins, Jane Kitchel and Vince Illuzzi. Illuzzi chairs the Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs.

Chairman Illuzzi told Seven Days he's "always supported" state recognition of the Abenaki. "But I've never been in a position to do so before," he added with a wry smile.

Now that he is in position, the maverick Republican from the Kingdom predicts his committee will pass an Abenaki-recognition bill and the Senate will approve it.

Issues raised by opponents about casinos and land rights are "red herrings," said Sen. Illuzzi. State recognition, he argued, will have no impact on possible federal recognition. Besides, said Vince the Prince, under federal law a tribe cannot open casinos if a state doesn't allow them.

"The time has come," said Chairman Illuzzi. "We can't keep denying our history and our heritage."

Oh, yeah?

At least we can try.

A $75 Million Mistake? - Colchester "housewife and mother" Marilyn Sowles gets Inside Track's "Watchdog of the Year" Award for catching an embarrassing $75 million mistake in the recently adopted Chittenden County Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) that all the experts, planners and town reps missed.

According to its Executive Summary, the MTP has been in the works for "nearly four years." It was prepared, the public is told, "under the detailed guidance specified in federal regulations governing its content."

That's a relief, eh?

But Mama Sowles has been a Circumferential Highway watchdog for more than a decade. That's the gazillion-dollar highway Gov. Jim Douglas is determined to build across Chittenden County. Even government experts predict the completed 16-mile Circ would reduce cross-county rush-hour travel time by just seven seconds. The Circ price tag is currently estimated to be approaching a quarter-billion dollars. Your tax dollars at work, right?

What caught Mama Sowles' eye were the cost estimates in the now-adopted MTP for five transportation alternatives - everything from more busses and commuter rail to what's called "Freeway Expansion."

The Freeway Expansion alternative includes the full build-out out of the I-89 interchanges and the completion of the Circ Highway and Burlington Southern Connector.

What jumped off the page to Sowles was the fact that the cost estimate for Freeway Expansion ($122.6 million) was less than the MTP cost estimates for improving county bus and commuter-rail service.

Sowles raised the matter at a recent CCMPO meeting. Appar-ently, she said, the estimate had been based on a two-lane, rather than four-lane, Circ Highway.

Turned out she was right.

In fact, Senior Transportation Planner Peter Keating told the CCMPO that the estimate in the MTP was off by even more than Mama Sowles originally imagined. Instead of $122.6 million, the more realistic cost of the Freeway Expansion alternative should have been $198.2 million. That's a $75 million oversight, folks.

At its February meeting, the CCMPO adopted a motion to have the staff "verify the correctness of the data in the other tables included in the county plan."

Good idea, eh?

The motion passed, but, surprisingly, it was not unanimous. The reps from South Burlington (Sen. Jim "He's Everywhere" Condos) and Essex (Jeff Carr, our state economist) voted against it.

Condos explained his "no" vote by pointing out that even if the cost estimate for that "alternative" had been correct it would not have mattered, since "it was an alternative that was not accepted."

Mr. Carr, the state economist, was out of town and did not reply to our queries.

Keating the Planner's research indicated the tables used in the recently adopted MTP were three years old. He found "some old computer files," he said. "It appeared the freeway alternative did not take into account a four-lane Circ Highway, and also underestimated the amounts for completing a two-lane Circ through Colchester."


Keating's boss and CCMPO Executive Director Bill Knight told Seven Days the problem was with the consultant hired to do the work.

"As you may or may not know," said Knight, "we fired our consultant for this work and finished it up ourselves. This may be another indication supporting that decision. Data and information are critical to our work and it must be correct."

Absolutely! Which is why the pro-Circ crowd's credibility continues to shrink.

Keating told Seven Days he will present the results of his review of the other tables in the MTP at Wednesday evening's CCMPO meeting. He declined to give us an advance on Tuesday.

Noting that "some communities voted against making sure the information in the MTP is correct," Mama Sowles wondered, "Is this MPO really as open-minded on the Circ as the judge requires it to be?"

That's a reference to U.S. District Judge Bill Sessions, who ruled in favor of Circ opponents last May and ordered the Douglas and Bush administrations to stop the bulldozers and do a legitimate Environmental Impact Assessment as required by federal law.

In fact, three public hearings on the new EIS are being held around the county this week with very little fanfare. At their last meeting, Colchester Selectboard members (who support the Circ) wondered aloud why three Circ public hearings were crammed into one week.

They also questioned the wisdom of convening one of the hearings at Burlington City Hall at 6:30 on Thursday night, March 17 - St. Patrick's Day.

Good luck parking, folks! BYOB.

As for Sowles, the Colchester housewife who brought the $75 million mistake in the MTP to the attention of the CCMPO, she is surprised by one thing.

"Nobody thanked me," she said.

P.S. We'll thank you, Marilyn Sowles. Thank you very much indeed. Watchdogs are in short supply these days. Keep up the good work!

U.S. Senate 2006 - Had an interesting little sit-down the other day with GOP State Chairman Jim Barnett and Democratic State Chairman Peter Mallary. First time the gents ever met!

Barnett wondered aloud if the Vermont Democratic Party would field any candidates for federal office next year. Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords is up. So is Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders.

"Look," said Mallary, "we gave Jim Jeffords the Curtis Award, our highest award, a couple years ago in thanks for his courage in the Senate. There are many, many Democrats who think extremely highly of Jim Jeffords. If he runs, I believe many Democrats will want to support him."

But Mallary noted his position as party chairman prevented a full-blown endorsement just yet.

"I'm going to wait, keep my powder dry, and see what the landscape looks like," said Chairman Peter, "but Democrats like Jim Jeffords a lot."

As for fielding a Democrat to run against Bernie, Mallary indicted the picture might change.

"I think that it is premature to have any conversation about that because I know Jim Jeffords is telling everyone that he's running again. I believe that he believes that now. There's some time left. We'll have to see."

Should Jeezum Jim retire, said Mallary, his understanding is that there's a Sanders press release already written announcing his U.S. Senate bid.

The full Barnett-Mallary face-off can be seen in the latest edition of yours truly's "Point-Counterpoint" TV show running on Ch. 17 in the Burlington area and other cable-access channels statewide. Check local listings.