Drum roll, please!
Ladies and gentleman of Burlington, Vermont, please vote! The future of the largest city in the state of Vermont is in your hands. And the only question is, who will be left in the top spot after the Queen City engages in its first-ever use of Instant Runoff Voting?
Given the IRV factor, the outcome is certainly in doubt. So much doubt that the local cop union, the Burlington Police Officers Association, has declined to issue an endorsement. What if the cops' candidate lost? Contract negotiations could become payback time.
Detective Ray Nails, the union president, told "Inside Track" his members decided they didn't want to endorse anyone this time.
"I think the body wants to take a wait-and-see attitude," said Nails. Let's see what kind of style the new mayor adopts. As to who wins, Detective Ray said his membership is going to rely solely on the voters. "This is going to be a big election," he said.
Behind the scenes, the last-minute barbs are flying. Republican Kevin Curley's new wardrobe is winning kudos, but no one's ever seen him this dressed up before, and some don't recognize him.
Bob Kiss has the "legendary" Prog election machine behind him. They know how to win these things, but Kiss Man was an awful late entrant and is not well known. The Proggies would have given anything for him to have entered a month or two sooner, but c'est la vie.
Democrat Hinda Miller, the only multimillionaire in the race, is spending the most, and usually that's enough to pull it off. But it's also made her the No. 1 target. Just the other day we received an email alerting us to this UVM website — http://www.uvm.edu/sga/survey/ — where Hinda's hubby, Joel Miller, gets failing grades as an apparent "slumlord." Click on "View Survey Results" and then click "2005" and look for Miller's name on the list.
Mr. Miller gets F-grades for "can be contacted easily when necessary"; "makes professional repairs"; and "is concerned with my satisfaction." He did, however, got a "D" for "my space is free of rodents."
Asked about the slumlord allegations involving the candidate's husband, Miller Campaign spokesperson Christine Salembier replied, "This is clearly kitchen-sink time in the mayor's race. Joel Miller's properties are all up to code and meet or exceed safety regulations. Anonymous critics come with the territory."
Yes, but they don't often have such interesting UVM websites to back them up.
Fearless Pete's crystal ball has Mrs. Miller finishing first, Kiss second and Curley third. But Hinda doesn't break the 50 percent threshold on the first round. IRV kicks in, eliminating the two "fringe" candidates. No change in the order.
The Curley supporters, we predict, will ignore their candidate's advice and make Hinda, instead of Bob the Prog, their second choice. Many, after all, think of her as a Republican deep down inside her stock portfolio. That should end it all.
With the second-choice votes off Curley supporters' ballots, the Era of Mayor Jogbra begins! Or these words will have to be eaten next week.
Coincidentally, our forecast matches Monday's campaign-spending reports. Curley has raised just $4336. Kiss has raised $14,695. And Hinda has raised $56,207.
P.S. Since Seven Days goes to press before the votes are counted next Tuesday night, check for a special online "Inside Track" election obit next Wednesday.
Welch's Good Week? — Last week just might have been the most important week of the 2006 congressional campaign for Democratic State Sen. Peter Welch.
The opposing horse most folks consider his greatest threat, Republican Martha Rainville, was flushed out of her five-month "exploratory" campaign phase and the excuse it provided her to decline to address press inquiries on the issues of the day.
On Tuesday, the General Assembly chose Gen. Michael Dubie, brother of Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, to replace her. Two doobies, they say, are always better than one!
Marvelous Martha, Vermont's respected National Guard leader since 1997, will now have to take all the incoming.
And if that wasn't enough for Team Welch to cheer about, Progressive State Rep. David Zuckerman, the potential third-party spoiler Republicans were praying for, saw the holy light, announced the end of his "exploratory" campaign and withdrew.
On Friday at a Statehouse presser, Welchie launched his first salvo at Camp Rainville.
"I strongly disagree with her on the war," said Welch. "I read about her position that, in hindsight, maybe things could have been done differently, but it appears she supported the decision to go to war."
Naturally, he couldn't resist pointing out that Vermont led the nation with a congressional delegation wise and brave enough to oppose W's Iraq War Resolution.
"They were able to see through the fog machine created by Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush," said Welchie, "and come to the right decision and vote against the war. I think we need members of Congress in the Vermont tradition capable of seeing through the fog."
Good line, and one that Candidate Rainville is going to be hearing all spring, summer and fall, assuming she wins the GOP Primary. (More on that later.)
"What Martha Rainville's said is that she more or less, on the basis of what was known then, would have supported [the war]," said Sen. Welch. "Now, she did vote for George Bush twice and I disagree with her on that." Bush's foreign policy, said Pedro, "has cost America credibility in the world."
According to a campaign aide, Marvelous Martha was at an out-of-state Guard function this week and not available for comment.
Unfortunately, the week became less great for Welch as he had to report that he'd failed to file his required personal financial disclosure with the FEC on time. It was due last summer.
And it happened to be a financial disclosure that showed the Democrat had a very good year in 2004, earning just under $860,000 in his obviously profitable law practice. Looks like those ambulance-chaser ads he used to run on WCAX-TV paid off!
Welch will not explain the largesse, saying it's all part of a sealed settlement in a lawsuit he handled. But he did have to explain his rather impressive stock portfolio, which included investments in companies that Bernie Sanders, the man he hopes to succeed, uses as punching bags.
Challenged with a bean-ball pitch about his generous pharmaceutical stocks, however, Welch hit a grand slam.
"I don't agree with the policies of every company and, in fact, I have fought publicly when I disagree with those policies. I believe pharmaceutical companies should provide fair prices."
Then he got up close and personal.
"Pharmaceutical companies do two things. One is good and one is bad. The good thing is, they create lifesaving drugs, drugs that extend lives. I have a very vivd personal experience benefiting from that."
Yes, indeed. Welch recalled his late wife Joan Smith, who was once told by doctors that she had six months to live.
"She went through a year of chemo," said Welch, "and she lived nine years and was healthy, really healthy, in significant part because of the benefit of prescription drugs. It was a good thing for my family," said the Democratic candidate for Congress, "and it's a good thing for America."
No one's going to argue with that.
Meanwhile, Welch also raised a red flag over Rainville's choice of a campaign media firm, Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm of Alexandria, Virginia. It's a top-shelf outfit that previously worked for top Republicans as well as for the anti-John Kerry Swift Boat Vets crowd. Many believe SRCP's Swift Boat attack ads made the difference on November 2004.
Welch is a little worried.
"It's a forecast of what's to come," he predicted. "The Swift Boat ad company that she's hired is a company that's attacked people who are patriotic and turned them into traitors. I'm apprehensive that's a forecast of what's to come in this campaign."
Welch said he will defend himself, "and I expect I'm going to have to do that."
Mystery Horse Noticed — While most pundits appear to have already declared Marvelous Martha the winner of September's GOP primary, yours truly is reserving judgment until we get a whole lot closer. That's because Martha's top GOP rival, someone nobody in northern Vermont has ever heard of, just got publicly attacked by the Chavez government of leftist, oil-rich Venezuela!
State Sen. Mark Shepard earned the bouquet, published on the Venezuelan government's official website, because he dared to question a piddly little Vermont Senate resolution thanking Rep. Bernie Sanders and President Hugo Chavez for the 2.4 million gallons of low-cost home heating oil for Vermonters provided by CITGO, the Venezuelan national oil company.
Mark Shepard, miente o es un ignorante irresponsable cuando afirma que en Venezuela se ha suprimido la libertad de expresión, se censura a los medios y se suprimen los derechos legales.
Our Spanish isn't real good, but a colloquial translation would suggest Venezuala considers Sen. Shepard to be a stupid, lying butthead. At some point a duel at dawn with the Venezuelan ambassador may be in order.
"Well, I didn't really expect they would do that," the Bennington Republican told "Inside Track" this week. "I mean, how did they even get the information? It was a bit of a surprise!"
At the moment the pro-life newcomer to statewide politics is the only Vermont congressional candidate to ever be publicly attacked by the Chavez government, which the Bush administration paints as Fidel Castro II despite the "CITGO" sign over Boston's Fenway Park.
Shepard said all he did was question the resolution "because it was thanking someone for something we hadn't received yet, and secondly, because I did not wish to honor Hugo Chavez." Shepard says he had "problems with Chavez's record on human rights and civil liberties."
A lot of Vermont Republicans, including Martha Rainville fans, do as well. And the personal attack by the Venezuelan government has only boosted Marvelous Mark of Bennington's confidence.
"I've won three elections I was supposed to lose," Shepard told us. "This will be the fourth."
Viva la revolución!
What Governor's Race? — Republican Gov. Jim Douglas has been attending the National Governors Association meeting in Washington the last few days. Here at home, his Democratic challenger has been having a tough time getting press attention.
But this week, Democrat Scudder Parker got an opening, courtesy of the NGA, and he took it. At the moment, you see, Vermont has the lowest energy prices in New England. On Monday the release from D.C. announced, "Governor Jim Douglas was selected by a coalition of his colleagues from the Northeast to lead their organization's efforts to facilitate responsible regional and national energy policies."
Scudder Parker nearly fell off his stool when he got the news. You see, besides being a former man of the cloth, state senator and chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party, Ol' Scudda also worked for years as an energy-efficiency expert with the Public Service Department. Energy issues are his area of expertise.
And Candidate Parker wasted no time calling Gov. Scissorhands' appointment "astonishing!"
"That's absolutely what I think," he told "Inside Track." "I think it is astonishing that he thinks he's qualified to lead the Northeast on energy policy."
As for the fact Vermont has the lowest electric rates in the region under Gov. Douglas, Challenger Parker pointed out, "These are the same rates that Jim Douglas and his folks complained about being high three years ago. He's done nothing to change them. What's happened is, the region's prices have gone up. Ours have not gone down. And the same forces that have driven prices up are going to clobber Vermont when Vermont Yankee and the Hydro Quebec contracts go out — and he's doing nothing to plan for that!"
Ol' Scudda pointed to Gov. Douglas' opposition to wind power and his refusal to buy the hydro dams on the Connecticut River when he had the chance as evidence that Jimbo's recent NGA energy appointment is ludicrous.
"He has systematically chosen not to take actions that would benefit Vermont's energy situation," said Parker.
Jeezum crow. If Mr. Parker can make enough Vermont voters aware of that, his chances in November just might improve dramatically, eh?
Final Four? — The saga of Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Richard Tarrant continues. He may have held only one 16-minute press conference so far (questions appear to make him nervous), but the man who would be our new senator has run four great TV commercials to date, with many more to come!
According to WCAX-TV sales records, Tarrant has dropped about $91,000 in Ch. 3 to date. Eight months to go. His filings indicate that his Ch. 3 payments represent 66 percent of his TV ad spending, with another 25 percent going to WPTZ, 7 percent to WVNY and 2 percent spent on WNNE in White River Junction.
Sports fans have been emailing and calling us to complain about Richie Rich's ad claim that he played in basketball's "Final Four" while attending St. Michael's College in the 1960s. It was known as the "College Division" championship back then, a category for small schools that later became Division II. Tarrant's St. Mike's team, they note with sarcasm, lost to the "basketball powerhouse" of the University of North Dakota in 1965 in a fight for third place. Evansville won it all.
The real "Final Four" that year was won by UCLA. Michigan was runner-up.
Amazing how legends are built, eh?