He's the only independent in Congress, the self-proclaimed champion of "poor people, working people and the elderly," and he wears his politics on his sleeve. Since his historic 1981 election as mayor of Burlington, it's been one success after another for Bernie Sanders, and during that period the Bern has gone from living off working-class wages to doing pretty good for himself. Hey, it's America —The Land of Opportunity!
The old apartment he rented on North Union St. back in 1981 has been replaced by the $175,000 hacienda on Killarney Drive in the New North End. The $40,000 a year he pulled down as mayor way back when has more than tripled. Last year Congressman Bernie Sanders picked up a $133,000 pay check. And he's entitled to it. Day in and day out he works his butt off fighting in the trenches of the U.S. House of Representatives against the big-monied interests of corporate capitalism. Right?
But some things never change: Bernie Sanders is still a cheapskate.
Back in those early days of the Sanderista Revolution — the one that shook Burlington, Vermont like it had never been shaken before, the progressive mayor turned this community on its ear. With street-sweeper accuracy, Ol' Bernardo let the moneychangers, the hospital bigwigs and the board of trustees at groovy-UV know right off they were the enemy and he was coming to, get 'em with the mighty sword of taxation. Revolutionary zeal was all the rage, and no one who was there will ever forget that memorable day at the Ramada Inn in 1981 when Mayor Sanders was invited to address the kickoff of the United Way campaign.
Speaking directly from his Marxist bible (Karl, not Groucho), Ol' Bernardo couldn't conceal the contempt he held for all those well-dressed do-gooders. His infamous, in-your-face "I Don't Believe In Charity" speech knocked 'em on their tushes. The audience sat in stunned silence as Sanders sermonized about his dream to one day live in a society in which there was no need for charity. After all, who ever heard of "Boris' Kids" or the "Soviet Heart Association?"
Needless to say, the Bern's remarks were not what the United Way expected when the organizers invited him to speak, and it took some major damage control from Sanderista Central to put out the fire.
Well, guess what?
Bernie Sanders hasn't changed his beliefs one iota. According to his 1995 tax return, Ol' Bernardo still doesn't believe in charity.
Vermont's most prominent bald eagle raked in $133,000. About $8000 was deferred income. His 1040 reports "total income" of $125,842. According to the Bern's return (prepared by Progressive City Councilor Martha Abbott of Underhill, who runs Independent Tax Service, Inc.), Sanders paid $19,563 in federal taxes. Not bad. Sounds like Ms. Abbott really knows her stuff.
Sanders claimed five exemptions, including himself and wife Jane, two of Jane's kids, and her 81-year-old mother. He claimed $25,372 in itemized deductions, including state incomes taxes, real estate taxes and home mortgage interest. And our beloved congressperson deducted a grand total of $1,369 for "Gifts to Charity." That's all of 1 percent of his impressive income going to charity. Over the years, Bill Clinton's taken bigger deductions for dropping his pre-owned Jockey shorts off at the Salvation Army. Can you say "Scrooge"?
"We don't think we're cheapskates," said Sanders. "Jane and I have devoted our entire adult life to public service." The Bern said he doesn't want to bring back the age of Charles Dickens, which is something, he said, right-wing Republicans like Newt Gingrich would like to see.
"If anyone thinks that the problems of hunger in America, housing in America, health care in America, education in America are going to be solved by charity alone, I think that that is not correct. That is what right-wing Republicans say, but I don't believe it."
Nice spin, eh?
But what about Susie Creamcheese, you ask:
According to Susan Sweetser's 1995 federal tax return, the Republican earned $50,000 less than Ol' Bernardo last year, but reported more than twice as much in charitable donations — $3,200. Doing the math, that works out to 4.4 percent of Sweetser's income. Susie Creamcheese may not be a charity queen, but she's not exactly a cheapskate, either.
Do you think if Bernie wins this race, his charitable contributions will increase dramatically before his next reelection bid?
Postponed Again — The much anticipated trial of the local gent the feds claim is Vermont's drug kingpin has been postponed again. Trial for Billy Greer before Judge Bill Sessions was scheduled for November. But at the government's request, it's been pushed back until March to accommodate a key witness from the Netherlands who is currently in poor health. The Dutchman is said to be the first dike-plugger to enter the Dutch witness-protection program. Billy the Kid has pleaded not guilty to the charges and remains free on bail.
Backus is Back — Speaking of drugs, a lot of people are wondering just how well Jan Backus will fare in the Chittenden County State Senate race. Word is, five of the six seats are already reserved for incumbents Jack Barry (D), Helen Riehle (R) and Jean Ankeney (D), with Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling (R) and ex-Mayor Peter Brownell (R) snagging two more. Miracles can happen, but that's the Jimmy the Greek report from the paddock.
In the mix for the sixth seat are Kurt Wright (R), Janet Munt (D), David Curtis (D) and former Windham County State Sen. Jan Backus (D) of Winooski, who took on Jim Jeffords two years ago. Everyone remembers how, the week before the election in an interview at the St. Albans Messenger, Backus indicated her support for legalizing drugs. The you-know-what hit the fan, and the giant sucking sound was the Big Mo whooshing out of the Backus camp like a punctured tire on I-89.
Jim Schumacher, her chief of spin, told Ch. 3 Jan was just talking about marijuana, but there was Jan on the boob tube saying she didn't think people should go to jail for possessing small amounts of coke, either.
To her credit, Backus doesn't shy away from the drug issue to this day. She pointed out that in 1989, while a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she rewrote Vermont's drug laws, upping the penalties for dealers and lowering them for casual users. Her bill, she pointed out, had the blessing of the A.G.'s office, the State's Attorney's Association, the Sheriff's Association and the ACLU.
When it comes to drugs, said Backus, "We don't have the right answer yet. Clearly, the War on Drugs isn't working. Politicians have to be brave enough," she said, "to at least say that."