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Collision Course?

Fair Game


Published July 28, 2010 at 10:04 a.m.
Updated November 7, 2017 at 12:34 p.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

State Sen. Ed Flanagan (D-Chittenden) hasn’t had good luck with automobiles. The Democratic candidate for auditor of accounts was in a near-fatal car crash in 2005 that left him with a traumatic brain injury. After a couple of subsequent accidents, he chose to give up driving.

He’s since got himself an electric bicycle, but recent police reports suggest he is no safer on the road. Flanagan was involved in two bicycle crashes earlier this month that were witnessed by people who say he was riding erratically in traffic and hitting passing cars.

In the first accident, which occurred July 6 on St. Paul Street, the driver told police Flanagan was weaving. When she slowed to pass him, he swerved into her car and crashed. When she stopped to check on him, Flanagan refused help and asked the driver not to call the police, according to the police report obtained by “Fair Game.”

Flanagan sped off on his electric bike before the driver could summon help. The driver followed Flanagan, but lost sight of him and later called police when she realized who he was.

Police caught up with the senator at his downtown condo, where the officer noticed Flanagan’s scratched-up bike, the bike’s broken mirror and a blood spatter on one of his shoes.

Flanagan told the officer the driver of the car honked at him, came by too closely and “nudged” him as she passed. She stopped and asked if he was OK, Flanagan claims. He said he was and then went home.

According to the report, Flanagan told the officer he was “looking forward to riding his bike again.”

He’s a man of his word.

Two days later Flanagan was involved in a crash on Colchester Avenue near the entrance of Fletcher Allen Health Care. In that incident, he was headed east when he tried to make a left-hand turn across four lanes of traffic and hit a car, bounced off and crashed — nearly landing in the path of oncoming automobiles.

According to the police report, Flanagan tried to blame the crash on the car driver not letting him yield. Yet three eyewitnesses — including a cyclist behind Flanagan — saw the senator cut across traffic without making a hand signal or checking traffic around him.

Flanagan claimed he checked his rearview mirror, but police didn’t believe him, because his mirror didn’t survive the earlier crash.

In an interview with “Fair Game,” Flanagan chalks up the collisions to bad drivers in Burlington and his ongoing effort to get the hang of his electric bike, which he claims can reach top speeds of 40 miles per hour.

“It takes a certain balance and it takes awhile to get used to,” said Flanagan. “I got the bike two years ago and am still learning.” A former defensive end at the University of Pennsylvania, the wannabe auditor — who held that job before his accident — is determined to overcome the physical challenges he faces as a result of the 2005 accident.

The strange behavior is harder to diagnose. Flanagan’s Senate colleagues have quietly tolerated his oddities, which include lying down in committee rooms and obsessively sorting stuff. Last year he was caught masturbating in the locker room at the Greater Burlington YMCA. Flanagan denied it at first, but later blamed the behavior on the disinhibition syndrome associated with his brain injury.

However off putting his recent foibles may be, Flanagan hadn’t put other people, or himself, in physical danger.

Until now.

Check, Please!

Bike riding isn’t the only thing Flanagan is relearning. “Fair Game” has discovered he wrote a $1000 check to the Vermont Democratic Party and forgot to list it on his most recent campaign finance report.

As “Fair Game” noted last week, state auditor hopeful Doug Hoffer, Flanagan’s rival in the Democratic primary, found several discrepancies in Flanagan’s campaign finance reports, as well as those filed by Republican incumbent Thomas M. Salmon.

Flanagan listed no contributions or expenditures for the filing period, and couldn’t say where more than $27,000 in campaign cash came from.

Whoops. The Vermont Democratic Party’s July 15 campaign finance report listed a $1000 contribution from “Flanagan for Vermont” that was received on June 24, 2010.

Life During Wartime

Last week, Gov. Jim Douglas joined four other governors on a five-day tour of Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.

While in Iraq, he found some ammunition for his GOP troops back home to use against Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, the perceived front-runner in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

A military bulletin board listed Vermont’s primary date as September 14, not August 24 — the new date.

“One of the reasons I didn’t think they should change it during an election year is that word doesn’t spread as quickly as they think,” Douglas told reporters on a phone call from Afghanistan.

Word of the snafu did spread quickly in Vermont. Douglas’ former right-hand man Jason Gibbs, who is a candidate for secretary of state, seized the opportunity.

Gibbs has been highlighting Markowitz’s shortcomings as the state’s elections chief and is urging Markowitz to ensure that active-duty military and guard members know when to return primary ballots.

Markowitz told “Fair Game” Gibbs shouldn’t fire first and ask questions later.

Guard members do know about the date change, because the Vermont National Guard has been very proactive, said Markowitz. Doesn’t hurt that Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie’s brother, Gen. Michael Dubie, is at the helm.

The improper Iraq listing was due to an out-of-date booklet published by the Federal Voting Assistance Program, the federal agency that pressured Vermont to change the primary. The booklet has now been corrected, Markowitz said.

That’s not good enough for Gibbs.

“Whenever a problem comes up, she’s quick to blame others for the mistake and take no responsibility,” he said. “She should have done more to make sure the information was correct in the first place. Maybe she’s too busy running for governor.”

The GOP attack was bolstered by friendly fire from desperate-sounding Democrats Susan Bartlett and Doug Racine, who parroted the criticisms of Gibbs and additional volleys made by Auditor Tom Salmon in a Times Argus story outlining criticisms of Markowitz’s tenure.

So far, Lt. Gov. Dubie has stayed in his foxhole. Waiting for the bodies to pile up?

Labor Pains

The Vermont Department of Labor has told Susan Bartlett that her campaign workers must be treated as employees, not as independent contractors.

Last week, “Fair Game” noted that Bartlett wasn’t deducting taxes for Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance from her campaign workers’ wages, perhaps running afoul of the law.

The campaign is in the process of figuring out the back tax bill. It’s also buying workers’-comp insurance, said John Bauer, Bartlett’s campaign manager.

“When issues like this arise, we’re not going to avoid them — you pick up the phone, make a call and get the answer,” said Bauer.

Yell Fire!

Of all the union endorsements, one of the most coveted is that of the Professional Fire Fighters of Vermont. Why? They’ve never backed a loser in a statewide race. Ever.

Two weeks ago the union met with candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state, according to Matt Vinci, the union’s president.

As a result of the interviews, the union’s brass unanimously elected to endorse Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie in the governor’s race, Rep. Steve Howard (D-Rutland) for lieutenant governor and former Democratic State Senator Jim Condos in the secretary-of-state contest.

“We have a lot of friends running this year, and this was a very difficult decision to make,” Vinci said. “For us it came down to past relationships over the years, and these three candidates have stood strong with us.”

Working for a Living

Federal campaign-finance filings suggest the three GOP candidates challenging Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) are having trouble raising money against the popular incumbent.

Former Omya exec John Mitchell raised $2450, spent $15,631 and has a negative $1131 in the bank. He loaned his campaign $12,050.

Businessman Keith Stern donated $10,000 to his own campaign, spent $1477 and has $8522 in the bank.

Former “True North” radio show host Paul Beaudry has raised $13,492 from individual donors — the most of the three. He spent $8401 and has $5065 in the bank. To make do, Beaudry is paying himself a weekly salary of $500.

“I was clear with my supporters that I would need to eke out a living because I couldn’t afford to run and not earn a paycheck,” said Beaudry.

Meanwhile, Welch is sitting on $1 million in the bank and collecting his annual congressional salary of $174,000.

Bipartisan Brothers

A congressional email from Welch’s office last week bore a familiar surname — Coriell.

The missive’s author was Scott Coriell, a 2007 Middlebury grad who joined Welch’s Burlington office several months ago. He moved to the D.C. office to serve as press assistant to chief spokesman Paul Heintz, said Bob Rogan, Welch’s chief of staff.

“He clearly has politics and a nose for journalism in his blood,” said Rogan. “We are lucky to have him and are glad to have him on our team.”

Coriell’s brother, Dave, works for the top Republican in Vermont: Gov. Jim Douglas.

Any advice from the big bro?

“My only advice to him is to say good things about the governor,” said Dave Coriell.

Don’t Bogart that … Doobie?

A pro-marijuana group began circulating a petition in Burlington on Saturday that claims, “We, the people of Burlington, support the legalization, regulation and taxation of all cannabis and hemp products.” The group’s catchy slogan? “Yes, We Cannibas!”

I wonder if voters will get “Dubie” and “doobie” mixed up?