Regardless of the vote count, there's been one major political power shift in this year's election. It's pretty clear that Vermont's Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders has picked up the most impressive endorsement of his political life!
That's right, Ol' Bernardo, the Vermont socialist fighting for the interests of "poor people, working people and the elderly" in the Land of Newt Gingrich, has received an extraordinary backhanded compliment from the Republican National Congressional Committee. Two years ago Bernie was on the national GOP's top 10 hit list of congressmen they'd like to defeat. The national GOP fueled Susan Sweetser's 1996 campaign with over $130,000. But Susie Creamcheese self-destructed in a storm of sleaze that was but a foreshadowing of Ken Starr's "Fornigate" expedition. Sweetser's hiring of a private investigator to squeeze some dirt — any dirt — out of Bernie's first wife hit a new low in Vermont politics. The rising red-headed star of the Vermont GOP ended up with just 32 percent of the vote. All that cash — for what?
The GOP head honchos in Washington, D.C., have apparently learned their lesson. This year they declined to give Ol' Bernardo's Republican opponent, Mark Candon, a nickel. Why throw money down the toilet in support of a hopeless candidate who's given many Vermonters the distinct impression he's dumber than a box of rocks?
Nope. This year the Republican Party at the national level has accepted the fact that Bernie Sanders is Vermont's "congressman for life."
Sign Wars — One result of Bernie's success is demonstrated by the fact that he's much better-dressed than in the old days. He makes a good buck now, and of late he's become accustomed to wearing suits on a regular basis. But he's still not shopping at Burlap's upscale men's haberdashery Michael Kehoe Ltd., just up the block from City Hall. And he won't be shopping there any time soon.
A couple Friday nights back, there was a fundraiser for Sanders at City Hall. And out on the front stoop was a big "Bernie" banner and a bunch of balloons. That did not sit well with two local gentleman who had been dining across the street at Smokejacks. Michael Kehoe and Michael Wool, an attorney at Langrock Sperry & Wool, took exception to the presence of a political banner on a public building. Kehoe tells Inside Track the Bernie banner gave him "a mild case of indigestion." The pair decided, in the name of democracy, it had to go.
According to eyewitnesses, Kehoe, the haberdasher, had popped most of the balloons and was fixing to cut the banner's strings when several Sanderistas intervened. The argument, according to witness, was quite nasty and was embellished with references to Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Police were called by the Sanders camp.
Bernie's campaign workers made it clear they had rented Contois Auditorium for the event and had permission to put up the Bernie banner after 5 o'clock. The coppers advised Mr. Best-Dressed and Wooly Bear to take their complaint to the media or the city council. The banner remained in place.
Unbeknownst to Wool and Kehoe was the fact that a "Ruth Dwyer" banner had adorned the same railing just a few days earlier. Anyway, when he came to work the next morning, Vermont's Armani says the windows of his men's clothing emporium were adorned with a batch of Bernie stickers. Shocking!
In an unrelated matter, check out the flyer our congressman found under the windshield of his car parked in front of his New North End home last weekend. The flyer reads, "Your political preference shows that you are a Communist Socialist Pig."
Now what kind of genius was behind such a daring deed?
You got it — another distinguished, wacko member of the Vermont political fringe.
Hey, the last couple weeks of a campaign bring out the worst in some. Take the lawn-sign battles. Political lawn signs have proliferated in the last decade. And that's led to a whole new role for campaign volunteers who find stuffing envelopes boring. These days there's no shortage of dedicated volunteers who make the nighttime rounds removing the signs of the opposition. No class.
Looking Ahead — Hey, you think 1998 was fun, just wait until the 2000 election. What's Ruth Dwyer's next move? Take on Jim Jeffords in a U.S. Senate primary and turn out all the right-to-lifers and right-wing wackos to give Jeezum Jim a good scare, or worse? Run for governor again against the herd of candidates who want to follow in Howard Dean's footsteps? Barbara Snelling, Doug Racine, Peter Clavelle, Bernie Rome and Michael Obuchowski come to mind. Or else take on Bernie Sanders in a battle of the state's most passionate pols?
Chief Update — Burlap's new police chief Alana Ennis takes over the post Dec. 1. Last week, according to sources down at the home of the Thin Blue Line, Ennis put a down payment on a condo at Red Rocks. Meanwhile, Attorney Jerry O'Neill, the chairman of the police commission and Alana's No.1 fan, blew town yesterday for a monthlong vacation touring Asia. That's right, Asia. O'Neill's law firm has a distinguished reputation for specializing in personal injury cases. With the rapid growth of automobile ownership in China, Jerry could probably give 'em a few pointers on rear-end collisions and back pain.
Closer to home, there's great anticipation over how Chief Ennis will utilize her experience as top cop at Duke University to cool the jets at Groovy UV, where hardly a week goes by without some gross alcohol-related incident. Recent news coverage makes it difficult to distinguish Vermont's largest institution of higher learning from Beer Camp. Perhaps UVM Prez Judith Ramaley could break the ice by throwing a keg party to welcome Ennis to town?
Meanwhile, the grumbling hasn't ceased over the $20,000 pay raise O'Neill got the city council to tack on to Ennis' salary. At the recent fire commission meeting, vice chair Kevin McLaughlin made a motion to award Fire Chief Dayton Contois a $20,000 pay increase. It passed unanimously.
Contois, a 30-year veteran who makes just $53,000 a year, compared to Ennis' $81,000, politely refused the pay raise, saying he'd rather see the money go into the fire department's operational budget. Class act, Chief Contois.
Finally, in Cop Land, federal mediator Ira Lobel did bring both sides together in his recent visit to town. Union Prez Jim Marrier tells Inside Track there is a tentative contract agreement with the city. Ratification by the rank and file could be completed by the time Ennis arrives.