Vermont's fledgling Progressive Party reached a major crossroads this week. One road leads to an ongoing political civil war between Progressives and Democrats. The other leads to victory for progressive policies.
What was telling about Monday's City Hall kickoff for Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle's reelection campaign was the fact that so many hardcore Progressive Party activists turned out to stand with him.
Anthony Pollina of Middlesex was there. So was Chris Pearson, Tony's campaign manager and executive director of the Prog Party. And Martha Abbott of Underhill, the state chair. And folks from Mayor Bernie Sanders' administration of 20 years ago, such as John Franco and Jim Rader.
This despite the fact that Mayor Moonie has dared to pollute the Progressive blood supply by seeking an official injection of Democratic Party blood.
As Seven Days goes to press Tuesday, Mayor Clavelle plans to attend both the Progressive Party and Democrat Party city caucuses. He will be nominated for the mayoral endorsement at both. For some Progressives, that's a poisoning of their pure political waters. In fact, the statewide party's bylaws prohibit Prog candidates from having non-Prog party labels on the ballot:
"No Party Committee shall nominate or endorse a candidate for public office unless that candidate commits not to be identified on the ballot or any campaign material by any major party label, other than the Progressive Party."
Clavelle's decision to reach out for the Burlington Democrat Party endorsement, we're told, was the subject of a wee chat Saturday evening between the mayor and Congressman Bernie Sanders. The occasion was the mayor's annual open-house Christmas party at his South Union Street hacienda.
Sources say Ol' Bernardo, the father of the Vermont Progressive movement, was none too pleased with Clavelle's decision to court Democrats. Indeed, Sanders was noticeably absent at Clavelle's Monday love fest. So were two very "pure" members of the Prog Party's executive committee: former State Reps. Dean Corren and Terry Bouricius. Corren currently serves on Bernie's congressional staff. Longtime readers know the duo as the "Self-Righteous Brothers." In Prog circles, it doesn't get any purer than Corren and Bouricius.
As everyone on the left knows, the recent election merely served to highlight the current dilemma. With Democrat Peter Shumlin and Progressive Anthony Pollina in the Lite-Gov race, Republican Brian Dubie breezed to victory with just 41 percent of the vote. The vote of the Vermont left was split. What to do?
Progressive City Councilor Jane Knodell (Ward 2) opened the festivities Monday by facing that dilemma head on. Jane, a UVM economics prof, is one of the brightest bulbs in the Progressive box.
"It's an important week," declared Knodell, "because Peter Clavelle has asked those of us on the broad left of the political spectrum a question that has needed to be asked. The question is this: What is more important? Building affordable housing for the families of our city, or holding on to old grudges and notions of political purity?
"What is more important? Trans-forming our transit system to make a cleaner and more livable city, or holding on to old grudges and notions of political purity?"
"What is more important? A strong local economy with sustainable businesses, paying livable wages, or holding on to old grudges and notions of political purity?"
Ms. Knodell's eloquent remarks hit the nail right on the head. Under our current system, as long as Vermont Progressives and Vermont Democrats fight each other, Vermont Republicans will be occupying the political winners' circles for the foreseeable future.
"I had no idea what she was going to say," said Clavelle during the question period. "I thought that it was great. I think it's time. It's time to let go."
Time will tell.
Bernie Sanders may not approve of Clavelle's move to drop the "grudges and false notions of purity," since they emanate from his mayoral revolution of 1981. But the question for Ol' Bernardo is: If you truly love the Vermont Progressive Party so much, why don't you join it?
The fact is, Bernie refused to put the Progressive Party label under his name on the ballot last month. As always, Mr. Sanders runs as an Independent. But when he's on Capitol Hill, who does he hang out with?
Democrats, that's who. In fact, with but one exception -- himself -- every single member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus that Sanders started is a Democrat.
As Mr. Pollina departed Contois Auditorium on Monday, he said he doesn't "hold grudges. I do stay very focused on my political principles, but I don't hold grudges."
What will Clavelle's abandonment of "political purity" do to the Progressive Party?, we asked.
"It's going to be a long time before we know the answer to that question," replied Tony the Prog.
Let's hope not too long, Anthony. The next election's only 22 months away. Republican Gov. Jim Douglas and Republican Lite-Gov Brian Dubie will be going for a second term. And with help from the Progressive Party, Jim and Brian will pull it off again without either one getting more than 50 percent of the vote.
Speaking of Jim -- Gov.-to-be Jim Douglas was asked at his press conference last Thursday to comment on Republican U.S. Sen. Trent Lott's racist remarks at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday bash. Lott, as everyone knows, said America "wouldn't have all these problems," if Thurmond, the segregationist candidate for president in 1948, had captured the White House.
"Well, the comments that I've heard reported by Sen. Lott," answered Mr. Douglas, "are unfortunate. They're unacceptable in my view. I'm not in a position to suggest whether he ought to be the leader for the coming session of the Congress. That's a question for the Senate Republican caucus to decide, but I was unhappy to read his public comments."
Asked if he considered Lott's comments "racist," Douglas indicated he did not.
Jeezum crow, er, Jim Crow? That same day even President George W. Bush whacked Lott, calling his comments "offensive and wrong."
Late Tuesday, with Lott's star falling fast, Douglas updated his remarks and issued a statement: "Senator Lott's comments were offensive, especially to those who fought to end the terrible and immoral practice of segregation. Senator Lott's remarks were at best misguided, insensitive and disrespectful."
Better late than never, eh? Too bad Diamond Jim couldn't have dropped his Republican partisanship sooner and showed a little backbone, eh?
TV News Ratings -- The November Nielsen TV ratings are out and sounds of celebration are coming from the local TV station with the Plattsburgh, New York, headquarters.
WPTZ Ch. 5, owned by the Hearst-Argyle chain, was first in the Burlington-Plattsburgh Metro Market at 6 and 11. The Metro includes 76,000 households in Vermont and 44,000 households on the New York side of our great lake. And WPTZ finally caught up with and passed WCAX, "Vermont's Own," in the larger "DMA," which stands for "Designated Marketing Area." The DMA includes all of Vermont, the New York side of Lake Champlain plus a slice of New Hampshire.
"I think we've got the momentum going," said WPTZ news director Andy Wormser.
A few months ago Mr. Wormser launched the market's first 5 p.m. Monday-through-Friday newscast, and the ratings indicate it quickly built a solid audience. WPTZ's "First at Five," with Erin Connors in the anchor chair, clobbered the competition in the Metro and finished in a dead heat with WCAX's reruns of "Friends" in the larger DMA.
The Metro numbers for the 6 p.m. news give WPTZ a whopping 44 percent of the audience. WCAX gets 28 percent and WVNY continues to finish a distant third, with a measly 3 percent of the TV news pie.
At 11 p.m., WPTZ increases its lead in the Metro, doubling Ch. 3's audience. And "WPTZ plus," which is WPTZ and its White River Junction station, WNNE, pulls ahead of Ch. 3 in the DMA.
But don't let the numbers fool you. Marselis Parsons & Co. remains #1 in Vermont.
According to Nielsen, 52 percent of Vermont TV sets are tuned to Marsillyiss and Sera Congi at 6 o'clock. Only 15 percent of the TVs on the Vermont side of the lake are tuned to Stephanie Gorin and Thom Hallock.
Meanwhile, on the New York shore, hardly anyone's watching the Ch. 3 news. WCAX draws just 3 percent of the New York audience at 6 o'clock. Ch. 5's got a solid 78 percent.
WCAX, after all, has had just one reporter, Jack LaDuke, dedicated full-time to New York. They're just breaking in a new one, Adam Sullivan. Meanwhile, WPTZ has a bureau in Colchester with three reporters plus WNNE.
"We focus on the Champlain Valley," said Wormser. After all, Ch. 5 now calls itself "the Champlain Channel."
Ch. 3 calls itself "Vermont's Own."
"Historically," Wormser told Seven Days, "Ch. 3 is stronger in Vermont and we're stronger in New York."
But he suggested his station's good showing in the DMA this time is due to the fact that "More Vermonters see us as a viable choice."
Meanwhile, what can be said about Ch. 22?
In the last year WVNY news has added "A Hard Look with Ruth Dwyer," and insightful weekly commentaries by retired ABC network correspondent Barrie Dunsmore. (Barrie's take on the Homeland Security Bill, by the way, was right on!)
A 3 percent share is nothing to write home about. But it is an improvement over their previous 2 percent.
Hey, wait a minute. That's actually a 50 percent audience increase! Get ready, folks, for the promos declaring Ch. 22 News with Eric Greene and Lara Yamada "the fastest-growing TV news operation in the Champlain Valley."
Media Notes -- Meanwhile, in a near-miraculous development at The Burlington Free Press, The Freeps has gone for age over beauty and brought in an older gent to cover the City Hall beat. And for the first time in our 20-plus years on the beat, the Freeps city hall reporter is older than the mayor!
John Briggs is a ripe but frisky 57. The Indiana native told Seven Days that until about five years ago, he was a college English professor. Professor Briggs taught American Literature around the world, from China to Morocco to the University of Michigan. Then he decided it was time to try something different -- journalism.
For the past three years Mr. Briggs was the city hall reporter for the Observer-Dispatch, Gannett's Utica, New York, paper.
Also on the personnel front, talented Ch. 5 reporter Collin Parker is departing shortly for "greener" pastures. Green in the sense of greenback dollars. Collin's joining the distinguished public relations staff at Fletcher Allen Health Care. Mr. Parker will take over the desk vacated by Jason Gibbs, press secretary for incoming Gov. Jim Douglas.
And finally, kudos to Vermont A.P. bureau chief Christopher Graff. Chris interviewed Gov. Howard Dean shortly after Al Gore announced Sunday that he's dropping out of the race. The following appeared the next day in the "Political Note" on the ABC News Web site:
"Note to the world: get in good with Mr. Graff. He's the David Broder of Vermont politics."
Corrections -- Last week we incorrectly reported that the newly elected House Democrat leadership duo marks the first time a House caucus has had all-female leadership. Not true.
Twenty years ago, Rep. Judy Stephany was the Democrat leader and Rep. Althea Kroger was the whip.
Also, in 1853 Jefferson Kidder, a Democrat, was chosen by the legislature to be lieutenant governor even though he finished second in the general election with just 38 percent of the vote. Kidder's the only Lite-Gov in Vermont history who received a lower percentage of the vote than our incoming Lite-Gov Brian Dubie.
No kidding. Earlier we incorrectly reported Doobie-Doo reflected the all-time low with 41 percent.
Happy Holidays! -- Next week Inside Track's annual "Year in Review" graces this space. Then Seven Days takes a week off. First issue of the New Year will be January 8. Have a good one! By then, Trent Lott will be toast.