(Due to a press error, the first part of this column was not published in the 09.21.05 issue. Our apologies for the inconvenience.)
The March 2006 mayoral election in Vermont's Queen City officially kicked off Tuesday as a 55-year-old, Montreal-born-and-raised fashion designer threw her hat into the ring for the Democratic nomination.
"In my twenties, while living in New York City as a union costume designer," said Democratic State Sen. Hinda Miller, "I came to Burlington the summer of 1977 to work at the Lake Champlain Shakespeare Festival at UVM. There, as many of you know, in the costume shop of the Royall Tyler Theatre, myself and two friends created the very first sports bra, called the Jogbra, by sewing two jockstraps together. The rest is history!"
Yes, indeed. And a big slice of Vermont political history was present as former Gov. Madeleine Kunin introduced Hinda to the crowd of 30 supporters. It was a women's-lib flashback moment. We've had a woman governor, but the mayor of Burlington has always used the men's room.
For an excellent, in-depth look into who Hinda Miller is, the current issue of Vermont Business Magazine has a marvelous, must-read feature by Joyce Marcel. It includes a long list of adjectives people use to describe Hinda: "sophisticated, attractive, tailored, polished, no-nonsense."
Ms. Marcel also personally found Hinda to be "warm, open, intelligent, introspective and witty."
A Vermont Martha Stewart!
What most people don't know about Hinda is that she became a U.S. citizen just four years ago, prior to launching her state senate bid. And most people don't know that she was planning on running as a Republican until two jockstraps, Howard Dean and Patrick Leahy, twisted Ms. Jog Bra's arm and convinced her she was actually "a centrist Democrat."
Burlington Democrats will vote for their mayoral candidate at the January 5 caucus.
P.S. Everything went smoothly until the very end, when, in an impromptu & A with reporters, John Briggs of the Freeps asked for Hinda's "take on the Moran Plant. How did you vote?"
"I'd rather keep that to myself," said the mayoral hopeful, explaining she preferred a community-supported solution.
"Did you vote in that election?" asked yours truly, on a fishing expedition.
"You know what?" replied Hinda, "I think I was out of town for that."
Absentee ballot, we asked?
It was one of those "you-could-hear-a-pin-drop" moments.
"Ah . . . nope," she replied softly.
Then, 20 minutes later, the phone rang. A much-relieved Hinda Miller happily told us she had checked at City Hall. In fact, she had voted by absentee ballot after all!
Anyone over 50 can surely sympathize, eh?
The Ghost of Bill -- His name was never mentioned at the grand opening, but without Bill Boettcher, it's impossible to imagine Fletcher Allen Health Care cutting the ribbon on its $380 million drive-through ambulatory-care Taj Mahal.
Boettcher, the former high-powered, goal-oriented CEO on Hospital Hill, is currently serving two years behind bars for not telling state officials the whole story about what the Mary Fanny's Renaissance Project would cost. Instead, he just got it done. That's what they hired him for.
Today, everybody appears delighted with the results. The inside of Hospital Hill has been carved out to build the largest underground parking garage between New York and Montreal. On top, the architecturally inviting new Ambulatory Care Center looks and feels like an upscale, three-story McDonald's. And the cash registers will be ringing from the daily in-and-out traffic.
Look, if Martha Stewart can come back after her federal prison term, so can Bill Boettcher. Commander Boettcher went down, but his mission was truly accomplished. His legacy lives on!
Let's face it. Everybody knows it'll always be known as "The Bill Boettcher Center for Keeping the Cash Registers Ringing."
Out-of-the-Mainstream? -- Last week, it was GOP Chairman Jim Barnett calling Vermont's seven-term congressman Bernie Sanders an "extremist" that drew our attention.
This week Democratic Party Executive Director Jon Copans called Vermont's two-term lieutenant governor "out of the mainstream."
Brian Dubie has run statewide three times. He lost with 41.3 percent in 2000. Won with 41.2 percent in 2002, as Prog Anthony Pollina and Democrat Peter Shumlin split the left. But after Vermonters got to know him better, Doobie-Doo did better and soared to victory with 56 percent in 2004, despite Democrat Cheryl Rivers and Prog Steve Hingtgen carving up the so-called left. How can that make Dubie "out of the mainstream"?
"My response is that mainstream views are those held by a clear majority," replied Copans. Most Vermonters, he said, support the right of women to make "personal health-care choices," i.e., abortion.
In addition, said Copans, "most Vermonters oppose President Bush's poorly planned, misguided war in Iraq."
Dubie, an officer in the Air Force Reserves (not Army, as we mistakenly said last week), does not.
"Not only do most Vermonters oppose the war," said Copans, "most Americans have seen the light, following Vermont's lead yet again."
Irish Rising? -- For purposes of full disclosure, yours truly is of Irish descent. It wasn't by choice. Dear old dad got off the boat in New York City in 1928. By the time this future political columnist arrived more than two decades later, the Irish immigrant pulled himself up by his bootstraps and was able to bestow on his kids material blessings and educational opportunities he never dreamed of when growing up on a cattle farm in Kilkenny.
The story is not unlike that of Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Richie Tarrant. Mr. IDX was not available for comment this week. In fact, he wasn't available for Ch. 3 the other day, either. Sources say he's out of the country at an undisclosed location. Have money, see the world, eh?
But we fondly remember a previous chat with Mr. Tarrant about his Irish-Catholic immigrant father, from County Cork, who landed in New Jersey. The immigrant's son did pretty well for himself, eh?
In fact, it looks like there will be quite a bit of Irish blood in the GOP Senate primary. On Friday, Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie officially launched his U.S. Senate "exploratory" committee. He explained his "mainstream" cultural background to Louis Porter of the Rutland Herald/Times Argus this way:
"I consider myself right in the middle of my friends and neighbors," said Dubie, who described his family background as "Chittenden County Irish-Catholic Democrats."
Sure and begorrah!
However, not all of Vermont's Irish-Catholics have made the switch to the GOP. In the Burlington mayor's race, at least two of the Democratic hopefuls will bring Emerald Isle connections to the race: John Patrick Tracy and Karen Moran Lafayette. Then there's Republican Kevin Curley, too.
Also on the Irish-American political front, there's the looming Democratic Congressional primary, where Irish-American Peter Welch will face a stiff challenge from Peter Shumlin, the Putney Pistol.
Shummy may not be Irish, but his campaign manager certainly is. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, is she ever.
In fact, Kate O'Connor tells "Inside Track" she recently returned from a visit to the O'Connors' ancestral castle, called Carrigafoyle Castle. It's located in Ballylongford, Co. Kerry. Just Google "Carrigafoyle Castle" for pictures and much more.
"Cromwell took it from us in the 1600s and did some redecorating," said Kate. "It has three-and-a-half walls and a great skylight. It's being restored so it won't totally fall in, so it's looking better."
Then there's U.S. Senate hopeful, Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders.
Sanders may be of Russian Jewish descent, but he's known for "getting his Irish up." And his better half, Burlington College President Jane O'Meara Sanders, is the daughter of immigrants from Dublin and County Cork.
Race Matters -- So far there have been few public signs of life from Democratic Congressional hopeful Peter Shumlin. This week, he and his employees at Putney Student Travel are away on a "retreat."
Can't wait to see the video, eh?
But Shummy's campaign manager has been keeping an eye on things, and she's noticed the activity the frontrunner and establishment favorite, Peter Welch, has generated. The Welch website is up and running, too: http://www.welchforcongress.com. Check out the "Party With Peter" section.
"Recent events regarding Washington's support for Sen. Welch have not been lost on me," Ms. O'Connor informed us. She was referring to House Democratic Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer's recent three-hour visit to Burlap to endorse Welch and raise some cash.
O'Connor draws on her lengthy Howard Dean experience to dismiss the impact of Hoyer's Welch endorsement and its inside-fix overtones.
"The reason Howard ran for president was to change the national dialogue, move it out of Washington, and give a voice to average Americans," said Kate. "The entire Dean for America campaign was built on the premise that politics should work from the grassroots up, not from Washington down.
"Just think. Where would Howard Dean be now if he had listened to the power players in Washington? If he had done what Washington wanted, he would not have run for president and he would not be chair of the Democratic Party."
She's got a point, and she's still got her spirit. Plus, it's way early. And few people in Vermont have even heard of Steny Hoyer.
P.S. Wouldn't it be really interesting if former Deaniac Zephyr Teachout entered the Democratic Congressional primary? Sources close to Teachout now say she won't make her decision until November, but she's "leaning" toward running. Girl against the boys, eh?
Currently, Attorney Teachout is brushing up on her environmental skills at a certain very active, successful law firm on lower College Street. That would be Shems Dunkiel Kassel and Saunders ( http://www.sdkattorneys.com ).
While we were on vacation last month, Ron Shems won a big one in federal court in San Francisco. The judge went with Shems' argument and denied a Bush administration-backed motion to dismiss the global-warming lawsuit he's brought on behalf of Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the cities of Oakland, Boulder and Arcata.
Shems argues that multi-billion-dollar overseas investments in oil and gas development by the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and the Export-Impact Bank will create pollution that will accelerate global warming.
And we all know global warming means melting icecaps. And melting icecaps means higher sea levels. And higher sea levels mean bye, bye New Orleans. And Miami. And Boston . . . and fill in the blank.
Good luck, Mr. Shems.
Bernie Catch -- "Inside Track" has learned that the Sanders for Senate Campaign has signed up some top local talent in the form of Ethan Ready. For the last three years, Ethan's been an organizer with the Vermont State Employees Association.
Ethan has politics in the blood. He's the son of former Democratic State Senator and State Auditor Elizabeth Ready. Ethan's indefatigable door-knocking across the Green Mountains and expansive placement of READY lawn signs is the stuff of legends.
Young Ethan, son of Chainsaw, says he's "excited" about going to work for Ol' Bernardo.
Sanders, he says, "wants to organize the strongest grassroots campaign in the history of Vermont."
Signing up Ethan Ready is a good start, eh?
Hot Plates! -- A loyal reader contacted us the other day to express her shock at seeing a brand-new Honda Accord whip past with the catchy license plate "LOWCOCK."
Low or high, big or small, the reader was surprised the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles would let someone put their "johnson" on their bumper, so to speak, in light of laws banning "obscene" license plates.
A check of state statutes indicated she might have a point. The Department of Motor Vehicles will not issue so-called "vanity" plates that include "combinations of letters or numbers that connote, in any language, breast, genitalia, pubic area or buttocks, or relate to sexual or eliminatory functions.
In fact, a few years ago the DMV rejected a request for an "IRISH" license plate under restrictions that apply to "references to ethnic heritage." In 2003, Carol Ann Martin fought that one all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court and won. Today the Vermont statute includes the historic Irish Exemption: "the commissioner shall not refuse a combination of letters or numbers that is a generally accepted reference to a race or ethnic heritage (for example, IRISH)."
Of course, "COCK" has meanings other than genital. There's the bird known as the "cock of the wood," the rooster that crows, the hammer of a firearm and more.
A check of the records, said Commissioner Bonnie Rutledge, revealed the "LOWCOCK" plate "has been out for many years. In fact, "it's the last name of the registrant," according to the Commish.
"When the law went into effect," explained Rutledge, "we did not call back any questionable plates that had been issued prior to that date.
Apparently obscenity, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.
In a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contest, Vermont's license plate was picked as one of the top-five "best" plates in the country along with those of Colorado, Alaska, Utah and Wyoming. One of the artist-judges described the Vermont plates as ones "you'd see on an '82 Volvo. It's crunchy and granola-y."
Bonnie the Commissioner told the Pittsburgh paper Vermont is "quite traditional," but she could see the point about the '82 Volvo.
"I always tell people," said Rutledge, "that Vermont is a cross between Haight-Ashbury and Mayberry RFD."