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Cool Hand Leaving

Inside Track


Published March 9, 2005 at 5:00 p.m.

Seven Days has learned that Luke Albee, longtime chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, has tendered his resignation. Yes, indeed, all good things do come to an end.

In interviews conducted Tuesday, Mr. Albee didn't sound happy about it. And neither did his boss.

That's because what these two guys did in the Senate for more than a decade is like what Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers once did on Hollywood dance floors.

Luke, a UVM grad, has been with St. Patrick for 20 years. He will be departing the Leahy staff in April. Albee started out on Capitol Hill fresh out of college answering the senator's mail. In fact, Luke beat out fellow young Vermonter Skip Vallee for the job. That's right, the same dude known to readers today as Gasoline Vallee, our favorite Republican fundraiser. True story.

For the last 11 years, Cool Hand Luke has been keeping the Leahy ship steady and on course as chief.

Yours truly first got to know young Albee during the 1986 U.S. Senate race. Vermont's first and only Democratic senator had won two squeakers in 1974 and 1980. In 1986, Big Bad Richard Snelling, former Republican governor and smartest man on Earth, was confident of sending Leahy the Lightweight into retirement.

As everybody knows, it didn't work out the way King Richard planned. Leahy's campaign manager that year came in from South Boston. Luke left the D.C. staff and came home to help Mary Beth Cahill get the true Vermont feel.

Quite simply, Leahy's 1986 campaign team outplayed Snelling's. They were always two jumps ahead. St. Patrick positively crushed Big Dick that November, winning 63 percent to Snelling's 33 percent.

If only Leahy Campaign Manager Mary Beth Cahill had the same touch for John Kerry in 2004, eh?

If only she'd had a better candidate.

After the Snelling Massacre of 1986, the young and battle-scarred Mr. Albee returned to the Washington staff and became legislative director. Capitol Hill was his playground. He settled down, got married and started a family. In 1993, Luke was tapped to be Leahy's chief of staff.

And what a ride it's been!

With that Arkansas fellow in the White House, things were sure looking up. At least for awhile, eh?

Let's just say Luke will never forget Bill Clinton and the giant media-sucking political war that erupted over the Presidential Pecker.

In spite of the Clinton-Monica media orgy, the impeachment battle launched over lies about semen stains, and the GOP takeover of the White House and both branches of Congress, Ol' St. Pat has continued to effectively fight the good fight, and Ol' Luke has been a key reason.

Let's face it, the Vermont Republican Party hasn't been able to find a credible candidate to challenge Leahy since 1992. And the one they came up with that year only got within 11 points.

Hey, what ever happened to Jim Douglas, anyway?

Albee told yours truly he's going to join a small D.C. government-relations firm headed up by former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Steve Richetti, who worked for Clinton.

St. Patrick told Inside Track he will sorely miss his Cool Hand Luke. Choosing the right person for staff chief is, after all, one of the most important decisions a senator can make.

The "right" person, said Leahy, "has to be my alter ego." With Albee, he said, "the friendship and respect we've had for one another made that work. We just talked in shorthand."

With four kids, noted St. Patrick, Albee has big college bills ahead and can easily earn a lot more in the private sector than he can on a senate staff salary.

"There's no chief of staff better in the whole Senate," said Leahy softly.

Dittos, folks. In Vermont's political world and wars, the cool hand of Luke left many a mark without leaving fingerprints.

Who else could have covered up the senator's cross-dressing fling with a younger Sen. Orrin Hatch and then FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover?

Just kidding.

Best wishes, Luke.

Barkin Leaving Bernie -- U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders is losing his press secretary Joel Barkin to married life and the Big Apple.

And, make no mistake, Joel is a little sad to leave. There's only one Bernie on Capitol Hill, and being his press secretary is a one-of-a-kind-experience. Barkin's been at it for three years.

Ol' Bernardo, said Barkin, "is one of the true good guys down here."

Barkin told Seven Days his wife landed a big job "at a major new media agency" in Manhattan. And he's accepted a consulting gig with the Working Families Party "to help them in their Social Security campaign

"I'm leaving a bit reluctantly," said Joel, "but married life is full of compromises, right?"


Lieutenant Busted -- Next to Gen. Martha Rainville, Lt. Veronica Saffo, public affairs officer at Ft. Ethan Allen, is probably the best known member of the Vermont National Guard. Saffo has appeared in dozens of TV stories and newspaper articles in the last year.

But you won't find any story anywhere about Lt. Saffo's recent arrest on drunk-driving charges.

Lt. Saffo was picked up in the wee snowy hours of Sunday, February 13, after Essex Police responded to a mobile call from a motorist on Route 15. The caller had spotted a white sport utility vehicle with New Hampshire plates running the red lights just east of Camp Johnson, while bouncing off snowbanks and guardrails.

According to the police affidavit, it was 2:50 a.m. when two Essex squad cars finally got Lt. Saffo to stop her SUV. The Vermont Guard spokesperson told the officer she'd had "one drink approximately two hours earlier." However, according to Ofc. Robert Hall, Veronica was having difficulty standing and was not even aware that her front right tire was flat.

Lt. Saffo was taken to the police station, where her breath sample showed a blood alcohol level of .224 -- almost three times the legal limit.

Despite refusing to be either fingerprinted or photographed as required, Lt. Saffo was released that morning on a citation. According to the police affidavit, a friend picked her up.

Last Thursday, District Court Judge Ed Cashman ordered Saffo to report to the Essex Police within two weeks to be photographed and fingerprinted. A hearing on a civil suspension of her driver's license is scheduled for March 23.

When first contacted on Monday, Assistant Adjutant Gen. Bill Noyes said he was not aware of any of his officers being arrested recently. When we mentioned Saffo's name, he replied, "I might have heard something."

On Tuesday morning Noyes read us a statement citing the Privacy Act as the reason the Vermont Guard would have no comment on Saffo's DWI charge.

"Obviously, we take any allegations involving drinking and driving seriously," he said. "However, since this issue is being dealt with in a civilian court, we will have no comment."

Lt. Saffo was out of town Tuesday. She did not respond to a message left on her cell phone.

Irish Eyes -- No smiles this St. Patrick's Day, folks. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams of Northern Ireland is not invited to the White House. Instead, five family members of a Belfast Catholic man who had been murdered outside a bar by "republicans" will be received by President George W. Bush. The IRA has expelled three unnamed members in response to the killing and "suspended" seven others.

The IRA has also been accused by both British and Irish governments of the $50 million robbery of the Northern Bank in Belfast just before Christmas. However, no evidence has been produced.

From a distance, it's been remarkable to watch how quickly the Fianna Fail government of Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in the Republic of Ireland has pounced on Gerry Adams and the Sinn Fein Party.

Given that Ahern has presided over one of Europe's most corrupt governments for more than a decade, he must be thrilled to see Adams getting gored in the press on a daily basis instead of himself.

Ireland has been one of the Western world's most rapidly changing societies in the last decade. It was once known as a Catholic country. Today only 10 percent of its Catholics go to church.

One Catholic we know who does go to church, Sen. Patrick Leahy, sounded a little upset about the current mess when we raised the Gerry Adams issue Tuesday.

"Unfortunately," said St. Patrick sharply, "Gerry is never able to say something in one word if he could use 500."

Leahy was one of three senators who, as he reminded us, "stuck our necks out" in 1994 to get President Bill Clinton to grant Gerry Adams a visa to enter the U.S.

Back then, peace was in the air. And the IRA has maintained its self-imposed ceasefire. But everything fell apart last fall when Ulster Unionists demanded and did not receive what they considered sufficient proof of IRA weapons decommissioning.

Sen. Leahy told Inside Track he wanted "to talk to the parties first" before commenting further on the current imbroglio. "I think things could be a lot better," he said.

Not good.

Media War -- Politics and media. Media and politics. Like horse and carriage, you can't have one without the other.

And a check of the online archives at Vermont's TV news power, WCAX, shows some politicians doing a lot better than others.

Remember, in politics, exposure is job one.

For example, House Republican leader Peg Flory of Pittsford gets very high marks. Princess Peg replaced Rep. Rick Hube as leader of the GOP caucus on January 18. Since then, she's appeared about a dozen times with a speaking part in a Ch. 3 news broadcast.


Her counterpart, House Democratic Leader Carolyn Partridge, could learn a few things from Flory. Rep. Partridge has appeared but once -- that's right, once -- on the WCAX-TV news since the session started on January 3.

Ah, but the House Speaker is a Democrat, you say.

Well, rookie House Speaker Gaye Symington of Jericho is also no match for Peg Flory when it comes to getting the attention of the WCAX Statehouse news team.

It looks like Speaker Gaye has been on the Ch. 3 news with a speaking part 13 times. However, most of her appearances were one-line reactions to Gov. Douglas' State of the State and Budget speeches in the early days of the session.

Since Peg Flory became Republican leader seven weeks ago, Speaker Gaye has been seen and heard in a WCAX news story just three times. Clearly, House Democrats could improve their media skills.

Perhaps they could take a page from the playbook of the top Democrat in the Vermont Senate: Peter Welch of Hartland. Seems Sen. Grape Juice is always on Ch. 3!

Of course, Welch has to pay for most of it. But, seriously folks, those commercials during the news that feature Sen. Welch as a caring lawyer with an 800 number, dedicated to getting injured people the money they deserve, does a lot for name recognition.

We'll see if Partridge & Co. don't have to resort to buying spots to break out of the Ch. 3 shadows.

Welcome, Bishop Sal! -- The announcement came suddenly last Thursday. The Pope had found a replacement for Vermont's Bishop Kenneth Angell.

The selection could not have offered more of a visual contrast. The Bingo Bishop, after all, is a rather large fellow. Easy to see Ken Angell playing offensive tackle as a young man.

His replacement, however, looks suited for a career in the saddle at Saratoga.

Monsignor Salvatore R. Matano, all 5-foot-4 of him, will be elevated to bishop in April. He'll officially take over running the Vermont diocese in August when Bishop Angell retires. A Rhode Island native, Sal the Jockey's been working out of the Vatican Embassy in D.C. for the last four years.

That ought to tell you Vermont's bishop-to-be ain't no political novice. He's also a generation behind Angell. Matano's a baby boomer who was a seminarian in the '60s, and a very bright one, too.

Matano studied theology in Rome and was ordained as a priest in St. Peter's Basilica in 1971.

"While I don't know intimately of Vermont," said Matano, "I do know of Vermont because you are very prominent in the news." Vermont, he said, is known for its "progressive views."

Hey, word travels fast, eh?

Given that only about 25 percent of Vermont Catholics attend Mass anymore, and that most of the current priest crop is eligible for Social Security, we asked Monsignor Sal if he felt like he was taking over a sinking ship.

"Is the ship sinking?" asked Rhode Island Sal. "Well, let's say we have a few corks in a few holes."

Always wondered what they did with the corks from the altar wine, didn't you?

Without referring to the current shrinkage in parishioners and the never-ending criminal and civil court cases involving sexual misconduct by priests, Matano reminded us the Catholic Church has survived many difficulties.

"We've endured for an awful long time," said Sal reflectively. "It's probably the oldest institution in Western civilization."

Hmmm. We would have guessed bordellos.

"The ship will continue to sail," said Matano, "and hopefully grow stronger."

Well, if anyone can pull it off, this politically aware guy from Rhode Island just might be the ticket. One thing's obvious: Vermont's new bishop neither looks nor sounds anything like the bishop he is replacing.

Got a good feeling about Bishop Sal.