As the well-oiled Dean Machine hums across America at a healthy clip, adding enthusiastic riders at every stop, it appears some bugs picked up south of the Mason-Dixon line are clogging up the intake system. The owner and publisher of a Memphis, Tennessee, alt-weekly newspaper, the Memphis Flyer, tells Seven Days that despite his repeated attempts since October to offer Howard Dean his services -- free media exposure, introductions to prominent Southerners, personal checks with plenty of zeroes on them -- he has yet to hear back from a single person in the Dean For America camp. "I bet I sent 10 emails," says Ken Neill, who puts out the 52,000-circulation weekly. "It became comical among our staff as I sent increasingly sarcastic emails to the 'Dean Machine' hoping some human would say, 'Hey, this guy might be worth having in the fold,' and pick up the phone. Nada. Nothing."
Neill says that although his name has popped up on the Dean For America email list, beyond that he's heard nothing but a dial tone from the other end. Even more distressing, Neill says he's gotten the same story from friends in the media biz who've also offered their assistance to the former Green Mountain guv. "If the man can't reach out to people who want to help, how the hell can he hope to become president?" Neill asks.
Meanwhile, a few Vermonters who have tried phoning the Dean for America camp to volunteer or make donations tell Seven Days they've been routed repeatedly into phone-mail Siberia. (If you're losing your shit with us, press one...)
When Seven Days contacted the DFA folks at their new Burlington headquarters, press secretary Courtney O'Donnell explained she'd just become aware of the snafu. "This literally came across my desk today," O'Donnell says of the Neill faux pas. "They must really be revved up about it."
O'Donnell admits that a recent office move and ongoing flood of emails into their general information mailbox have made it hard to keep up with the backlog of enthusiastic supporters. Still, that's no excuse, she admits. "The last thing we want to do is anger the people in the South who want to help us," she says.
Neill, who still believes Dean is the best candidate of the bunch, remains skeptical. "By now, a lot of us who once wanted to help are feeling like Missour-ians: You gotta show me."
A Hail Mary Play? Here's a story to file under W, for "What are they thinking?" There's no shortage of Vermont public schools so strapped for cash they have to gut their extracurricular programs just to climb out of the red. But a local educational nonprofit has wads of money to give away -- and hasn't found a suitable taker. The Green Mountain Gladiators, Vermont's new semi-professional football team, has a legitimate offer on the table to the first school in the Burlington area that can provide them with a playing field with lights, a scoreboard and a fenced area for charging admission. According to Robert Carpenter, the team's director of equipment and facilities, the Gladiators are offering $17,000 in hard cash, or $83,000 in cash and services, for the opportunity to use a local football field for 30 to 40 hours of play time.
Superintendents and school board members should be clamboring over each other like defensive ends after a fumble to sink their paws into that much green, right? Wrong. "One school actually said, 'I've turned down a lot of other community organizations, so I wouldn't feel right saying yes to you,'" Carpenter says. "I'm thinking, 'They're offering you what? Twenty bucks an hour to use your field? We're offering you -- just in cash alone -- between $490 and $590 an hour!' It's absolutely ridiculous." As a cost comparison, the Montreal Condors, another team that plays in the Empire Football League, pays $175 an hour to rent out the palatial Molson Center.
According to Carpenter, many of the local schools have expressed reservations about the deal, fearing the Gladiators and their opponents will leave their gridirons looking like battlefields. (One player on the Gladiators, Burlington High School alum Sean Sulikowski, is six feet, eight inches tall and tips the scales at 400 pounds.) But Carpenter says the Gladiators will help the school acquire replacement turf if they damage the field.
If you haven't heard of the Gladiators, you're not alone. The nonprofit team is brand-new to Vermont, though its players are mostly Green Mountain boys. Aside from leviathan Sulikowski, other locals on the team include Shane Cheeseman and Tom Ritchie, both of whom played for BHS. According to Carpenter, the Gladiators' first pre-season game could be as early as June 28, with the team's regular season kicking off July 19 against the Scranton Eagles. The Gladiators take on the Condors July 26 for their first home game. Assuming, that is, they find a home. Currently, they're practicing at Burlington's Champlain Elementary School.