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Don't Count Your Chickens

Fair Game

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The Mother of All Democratic Gubernatorial Primaries is midway through its umpteenth week, but there’s still no sign of a definitive winner.

I’m starting to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day — forced to relive the same 24 hours over and over again. You’d think they could have settled all of this while I was away on vacation, but nooooo.

So, the Great Recount starts Wednesday. Depending on who you ask, it could end as soon as Saturday or as late as next Friday, September 17 — three days after the originally scheduled primary date of Tuesday, September 14!

Based on an estimate of 500 ballots per hour, Chittenden County Deputy Clerk Anne Williams predicts it will take at least 26 hours just to recount Burlington’s ballots. That doesn’t include the county’s 17 other communities.

But Sen. Doug Racine shows no signs of calling off the recount. Nor will he say if any scenario would prompt him to do so. In the 2008 Chittenden County Senate primary, Denise Barnard questioned her narrow election night loss to Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) when some bad math was discovered the next day. She called for a recount, but when the Burlington ballots confirmed the final tallies, she pulled the plug.

“We’re just going to have to see how the recount goes and, if there are any vote changes, to size up those changes and then make a decision,” Racine told “Fair Game.”

As in Ashe’s case, any changes in election night numbers are more likely to be the result of recording mistakes than miscast ballots. Ditto the state auditor’s race recount of 2006, which took six weeks to complete and overturned the results.

A total of 74,633 ballots need to be recounted. Of those votes cast, putative winner Sen. Peter Shumlin received 18,276, while his four challengers received 54,740. Shumlin is taking advantage of the “waiting period” to reach out to the people who voted for his challengers as well as anyone else who will listen to his pitch.

Shumlin also needs to raise cash after the most expensive gubernatorial primary in state history. We’ll find out just how much everyone spent next week, when the postprimary campaign-finance filings are reported to the secretary of state’s office.

“The recount certainly hasn’t made fundraising any easier, but we are moving ahead and making progress,” said Alex MacLean, Shumlin’s campaign manager.

Many donors may be willing to cut checks, but not until after the recount. Hard to hire campaign workers without any cash on hand. Maybe Shumlin will have to dip into his own pockets like he did during the primary, eh?

So much for the theory that an early primary would give one of the five Dems the necessary few extra weeks to prepare for battling Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie.

For his part, the lite gov is taking advantage of the delay to launch a “marathon” tour of the state — a 26.2-hour, nonstop political caravan.

Anybody who needs a gimmick like that to convince people he’s serious about “running” for governor has bigger problems than lack of an opponent.

Pols on Parade

Politicians aren’t allowed to march in the Northfield Labor Day parade, but that didn’t stop them from working the crowd at the state’s largest such procession on Monday.

Secretary-of-state candidates Jim Condos and Jason Gibbs worked the sidelines.

Meanwhile, Dubie filled in for Gov. Jim Douglas on the viewing stand while the gov was in Vergennes for — what else? —a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Symbolic.

Dubie did his meet-and-greet before and after the parade while his campaign “copilots” handed out signs and stickers.

Sen. Peter Shumlin came with a smile, a firm handshake and Treasurer Jeb Spaulding in tow.

Despite the marching ban, a few pols got into the parade legitimately: Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington) was represented, but skipped the campaign paraphernalia. Her employer, Heney Realtors, had a float in the parade. What luck!

Sen. Phil Scott (R-Washington), the GOP hopeful for lite gov, was there, driving a vehicle for Dubois Construction, his firm. What a coincidence!

Missing from the Labor Day parade? Labor. There was only one union float, carrying a dozen or so members of the central Vermont chapter of the Vermont State Employees Association.

A sad commentary on the “state” of organized labor in Vermont.

Contempt for the Courts?

Storyteller and filmmaker Malcolm “Mac” Parker missed a key deadline Friday in the ongoing state probe into the multimillion-dollar financing of his film Birth of Innocence.

It’s not the first time he’s failed to provide a complete accounting of how much money he raised, and spent, on his film. Parker allegedly violated state securities laws by trying to pass off the approximately $13 million he raised (as of February 2009) as “loans” rather than “investments.” Of that money, nearly $4 million went to a silent partner named Louis Soteriou, who disappeared earlier this year.

Wanda Otero, Parker’s attorney, said the accounting effort is proving to be onerous. She said the state is better equipped to do it because it has copies of all Parker’s files. Asking Parker to do the math is akin to asking the defendant to help the prosecution, she notes.

The state has, once again, asked the court to fine Parker for failing to complete the accounting.

Meanwhile, Parker’s former film editor, Horace Williams, continues to cooperate with a federal probe into Parker’s film fundraising. Williams spent two and a half hours helping counsel at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Burlington by describing the chain of events before a federal grand jury.

Williams is one of few people who has met Soteriou and understands the film’s history and content.

“My sole motive since May has been to preserve the possibility that the movie can be completed so that the investors have a chance to get at least some of their money back,” said Williams.

New Boss in Town

There’s a new publisher at the Burlington Free Press: James Fogler comes to the Queen City via Gannett’s Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y., where he was vice president of marketing.

Fogler replaces Brad Robertson, who headed west to Phoenix, Ariz., to run GannettLocal — Gannett’s in-house marketing, design and social-media firm.

Prior to being at the Democrat and Chronicle, Fogler served for three years as president and publisher of the Ithaca Journal. During his tenure, Gannett consolidated its printing of the Ithaca, Binghamton and Elmira papers at Binghamton, and outsourced other services to other Gannett outposts, according to Jim Bilinski of the alt-weekly Ithaca Times.

Sound familiar?

Eventually, the Binghamton publisher took control of all three papers and Fogler was shipped off to Rochester. After Fogler left, Gannett made yet another sweeping round of staff cuts, essentially “gutting the Ithaca Journal and the other papers,” said Bilinski.

Bilinski said Fogler is a nice guy. “He doesn’t have a lot of experience on the editorial side,” Bilinski said of Fogler’s publishing skills. “He seems to be much more comfortable in marketing.”

Candidates Get Schooled

It wouldn’t be the “political season” without forums at Johnson State College hosted by Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington), a political-science prof and de facto “dean” of the Vermont Senate.

The first statewide candidate forum, between Republican incumbent Auditor Tom Salmon and his Democratic challenger Doug Hoffer, is Monday at 4:30 p.m. on the second floor of the library. Convenient.

Back in the Day... 1995

For media and political junkies, 1995 was a very good year.

The buzz in local newsrooms was about the dust-up between Chittenden County Assistant Judges Althea Kroger and Elizabeth Gretkowski.

The controversy extended well into 1996, thanks to Kroger, a well-known state senator and attorney who abruptly left Statehouse politics in 1994 to run for the job — and won. She immediately caused a stir, publicly accusing her cojurist and others of financial mismanagement.

It went downhill from there.

The Vermont Assistant Judges Association tried to mediate the dispute. When that failed, it held a trial and later asked Kroger to resign. She refused. The state’s Judicial Conduct Board then investigated and recommended Kroger be impeached. In 1996, articles of impeachment were drafted but never voted on. Kroger eventually resigned and was later admonished by the Vermont Supreme Court.

Also big in political news that year: Pres. Bill Clinton’s Burlington visit to address the annual meeting of the National Governors Association. Gov. Howard Dean was NGA chair that year.

Dean made his first national appearance as a political pit bull by wondering aloud if the GOP-led Congress’ policies were crafted while “smoking opium in the Speaker’s office.”

Zing!

I had a front-row seat for both of these stories as a reporter for the Burlington Free Press. I covered the Kroger story and was assigned to the White House press pool during the Clinton visit.

Another memorable Freeps story I wrote that year was about a newspaper start-up by two former employees of the local arts weekly Vox.

Yep, you guessed it.

On August 8, 1995, I wrote a very brief story about Paula Routly and Pamela Polston’s plans to start Vermont Voice — the paper that later launched as Seven Days.

“The more were talked about it, the more we realized that’s what we wanted to be, the voice of Vermont,” said Routly at the time.

“Without discounting our competition, we think what we plan to do will be well received,” added Polston.

And how.

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