Quite the show Friday in federal court as Judge William Sessions grilled the attorneys about the proposed Circumferential Highway. The two big questions from Judge Billy were:
1. How can the government, and Gov. Jim Douglas, claim the purpose of the Circ is to spur economic development and create jobs when the government's own figures show less than 1 percent job growth resulting?
2. Has there ever been a project like this that got the green light despite relying on a 17-year-old, and arguably out-of-date, Environmental Impact Statement?
Sessions suggested to Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol Shea that one example of a difference between now and 1986 is the current concern about "sprawl."
"We don't use that word," said Shea. The government, she said, prefers to use the phrase "unintended growth."
The Circ Curse also proved itself alive and well. After the hearing, it was learned the state will be paying the construction company $30,000 a day in penalties because the contract signed in November stipulated construction would start on May 1.
Judge Sessions's decision isn't due until May 10. It would have been May 1, but on March 7, the government asked for a delay to file documents.
This week we also learned the projected cost of the Circ has miraculously shot up by another $40 million. The total cost is now estimated at $222 million. All to reduce cross-county automobile travel time by seven seconds, according to the government's figures. Seven seconds!
Meanwhile, the Douglas administration argues there's no money available for a dialysis unit in Newport or a milk-processing plant in Springfield for Vermont dairy farmers.
To this observer, Circ opponents carried the day in court. Especially sharp was Geoffrey Hand of the up-and-coming Burlington firm Shems Dunkiel Kassel & Saunders (www.sdkattorneys.com).
Geoff Hand took the point in the courtroom despite being a rookie. He graduated Vermont Law School just last summer. Finished second in his class. The guy's got a future.
Meanwhile, Monday is D-Day for the Circ. Transportation Secretary Patricia McDonald is confident her side will win and the bulldozers will roll. Asked if she'll have two speeches prepared, just in case, McDonald replied, "I only have one."
Lunch With Jim -- Quite the interesting journalism crew lunching at Leunig's Bistro Monday: Burlington Free Press Publisher Jim Carey, Executive Editor Mike Townsend and axed op-ed columnist Barrie Dunsmore!
As regular readers know, Mr. Carey was not a fan of Mr. Dunsmore's and last month ordered Editorial Page Editor David Awbrey to dump him. The dismissal followed a thought-provoking Dunsmore column highlighting the damage done by all forms of religious fundamentalism, both at home and abroad.
Dunsmore retired from a storied international career a few years ago and moved to Charlotte, Vermont. Until last month, things had been pretty quiet -- a pleasant change, no doubt, from his tenure covering the world's hottest hot spots.
Dunmore's dismissal last month by Vermont's largest daily newspaper -- owned and operated by the Virginia-based Gannett media empire -- roused a few hackles among readers. Dozens of letters to the editor were sent to the Freeps. None, however, has been published.
Last week, we ran one letter here. It was from Ted Koppel, host of ABC's "Night-line" and one of the nation's most respected journalists. We also reported the comments of Peter Jennings who indicated he was contacting the head of Gannett to complain about Dunsmore's shoddy treatment.
Perhaps that sparked Monday's lunch?
As usual this week, Mr. Carey did not respond to our request for an interview. Jim Carey may be the only newspaper publisher in America who, as a rule, does not talk to the press. For Mr. Carey, it's all about the bottom line.
Meanwhile, the anti-union Freeps is not known for its generous wages. Over the years we've known reporters in the revolving-door newsroom who've had to take second jobs to make ends meet.
Perhaps Jim Carey's next step will be the outsourcing of editorial jobs?
As it is, the top editors are transplants to Vermont. The executive editor is from Iowa. The editorial page editor blew in from Kansas. The editorial writer is from Toronto. And the paper's only local news column, by Sam Hemingway, has disappeared (not with a bang, but a whimper?).
Surely, the way things are going, the Freeps' next cost-saving move will be to eliminate local reporting and editing jobs. Surely Gannett reporters and editors could cover Vermont just as well by phone from Virginia or, perhaps, New Delhi. As it is, they rarely leave the building.
Anyway, Barrie Dunsmore's not coming back, at least not in the local daily. Word is the Mitchell papers, the Rutland Herald and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus are interested.
At Leunig's Monday, Carey made the pitch that his decision to axe Dunsmore was not based on the publisher's personal religious beliefs nor on Dunsmore's criticism of homegrown religious fundamentalism.
Carey, as everyone knows, is high on Jesus. Praise the Lord! He even has a Jesus bumper sticker to prove it.
According to Dunsmore, Carey apologized over lunch for "the way this was handled." He attributed it to bad communication on the part of the Freeps.
Dunsmore informed Carey he was more interested in "why" he was abruptly drop-ped, rather than "the way it was handled."
According to Dunsmore, Carey told him he thought the column was appearing "too frequently" and "did not sufficiently deal with local issues."
So, Publisher Carey's plan was to get a distinguished journalist with more than 30 years of foreign policy experience to write insightful columns about local sewage treatment projects?
In fact, over six months, Dunsmore's column appeared only nine times in The Burlington Free Press. Five of those columns dealt with a local Burlington guy named Howard Dean.
Ever hear of him, Jim?
Honesty, apparently, isn't the best policy at Gannett, eh? Why should it be if it doesn't affect the bottom line?
P.S. Sam Hemingway's local news column started back in 1989. Say what you will about it, but at least it was local.
Last year Mr. Hemingway ceased writing the column and switched full-time to covering the Howard Dean campaign. Since the Dean dream died, Sam's slowly gotten back into writing news stories.
Will the Hemingway column come back?
"Maybe, maybe not," said Hemingway Tuesday. Right now, he told Seven Days, he's "doing a little bit of everything." He insisted that the column's departure "was my call." Sam said he's looking at the present "as a new challenge to be a reporter."
Best of luck.
Howard's Future -- It's all about the future, folks. All about keeping Howard Brush Dean III alive as some sort of viable political something-or-other. The man's no quitter.
Actually, he's an unemployed 55-year-old non-practicing physician in search of a life.
It seems only yesterday that "flash mobs" for Howard Dean were a hot topic in the "Doones-bury" cartoon strip. Now many wonder if history will remember him as little more than a flash in the pan. The former Political Pet Rock of 2003 is desperately trying to be remembered as more than a one-hit wonder.
On Monday, Ho-Ho made TV appearances on CNN's "Inside Politics" with Judy Woodruff and MSNBC's "Hardball" with Chris Matthews. Gov. Dean confirmed reports he's working on a deal that would get him his own TV show!
What's it all about?
We tried to get more information from the horse's mouth, but our request for an interview with Ho-Ho drew no response. The old hometown weekly apparently is no longer on the media radar screen of Hollywood Howard.
As far as we could tell from his Monday media blitz, two things have changed in Howard Dean land.
One is Ho-Ho's hair. He has better hair, longer than he usually wears it. Gives him a touch of suaveness.
The second noticeable change is that Howard Dean has gone back to sounding like the Howard Dean Vermonters knew as their governor for more than a decade. He was his old, middle-of-the-road, moderate self.
Ho-Ho insisted he agrees with fellow Yale alumnus and acknowledged Democratic nominee John Kerry on the War in Iraq. This from the guy who grabbed the spotlight a year ago with his blistering antiwar rhetoric. It was what once set him apart. Now Ho-Ho's joined the fold. He's gotten religion. Should anyone be surprised?
Dean says his Democracy for America organization will raise money for "progressive" Democratic candidates and train organizers to get the grassroots involved. If it gains traction, it will also be the vehicle to keep Howard Dean in play. The odds, however, are against it.
The fact is, Dean's stunning, staggering defeats in the Democratic primaries sucked the wind out of Dean's political organization. The long lines of cars with out-of-state plates stretching down the road from his old presidential campaign headquarters on Farrell Street are but a distant memory.
Ironically, the people most attracted to Dean were those who knew him the least. The folks who knew nothing of his Vermont history. Instead, they latched on to his leftist rhetoric like he was a voice crying in the wilderness.
What they didn't know was that their new hero had never in his entire life been a "progressive" or a "leftist." They had no idea that Dean had actually been a pro-business moderate who scorned the left as bitterly as he scorned the right.
These goodhearted people could not imagine that Dean had never championed equal rights for gay couples until the Vermont Supreme Court ordered it.
They couldn't believe he'd staunchly opposed medical marijuana and methadone clinics. They simply heard what they wanted to hear and flocked to Howard Dean like he was the Messiah.
Oh, well. Not the first time.
All that's the past. Today is the present, and tomorrow, they say, is the future. And looking coldly into tomorrow, one can certainly imagine the possibility of George W. Bush defeating John Kerry in November. For many voters it'll be little more than a choice between two silver-spooned Yale graduates who agreed that invading Iraq was the right thing to do.
Great minds, after all, think alike, right?
But if George W. Bush and Dick Cheney win another four years in power, there will surely be some serious house-cleaning over at Democratic Party headquarters.
If Howard Dean, our favorite silver-spooned Yale graduate, can manage to keep his head above water until then, he'd be nicely positioned to show he's more than just a one-hit wonder.
If Dr. Dean can keep his mug in the media, either by becoming a regular talking head on the political chat shows, or launch a show of his own, he would be perfectly positioned to step up as a post-election party leader.
In fact, his personal political star would likely rise much higher in a second Bush administration than if John Kerry won the White House. To date there has been no sign the Kerry campaign has any use whatsoever for Howard Dean's services. As Ho-Ho said on Monday, there are no joint appearances scheduled. Besides, Kerry's too tall and Dean's just too short.
Of course, our Howard may not hang on at all. Previous presidential hopefuls who stirred similar passion spikes faded away when their moment passed.
Frankly, the notion of Ho-Ho hosting a TV show about "ordinary people" is a little far-fetched. There's little "ordinary people" contact on Park Avenue Howard's resume since the days he told patients, "Bend over. This won't hurt a bit."
Alas, Ho-Ho the Centrist had a great run playing the part of a Henry IV-style left-wing political firebrand from Vermont. He had a brilliant script, too: antiwar, pro-union, anti-rich, pro-universal health care.
Too bad it was just a script, eh?
As the Bard of Avon put it, "If we are marked to die, we are enough to do our country loss.
"But if to live, the fewer men the greater share of honor!"
P.S. The only staffer with Vermont roots that we could find at Dean's Democracy for America headquarters Monday was Tom Hughes. Tom's the new "political director" at DFA.
Tom was executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party in 1998. He went on to work for Al Gore, but returned to run Doug Racine's unsuccessful 2002 gubernatorial campaign. Recently, he was Ho-Ho's field director in New Hampshire.
He's due for a winner, eh?
Job Seeker --
Burlington's Republican lone wolf State Rep. Kurt Wright is available for hire. Not as a legislator, but as an employee. The Queen City's only GOP representative recently departed his managerial position at Kerry's Kwik Stop on St. Paul Street. Kwik Stop Kurt, as we've long called him, was a friendly fixture behind the counter there for more than 20 years.
Kurt had the ability to simultaneously run the register, make change and express his political viewpoint to local talk radio hosts over the phone cradled on his neck.
Success may have spoiled Kwik Stop's career at Kerry's. You see, Mr. Wright eventually took talking about politics to the next level. He ran for city council and won. Later he ran for the legislature.
Kurt's in his third term in Montpeculiar representing the city's New North End, the last bastion of Republicanism in The People's Republic of Burlington. His legislative responsibilities have caused a disruption in his availability at the Kwik Stop. Now, we've learned, Kwik Stop Kurt has been let go.
Wright tells Seven Days he'll start looking for a new job as soon as the legislature gets out. Kurt's got "25 years in the grocery business," but says he's willing to be "retrained" for the 21st-century economy.
Ah, the possibilities!