When yours truly first caught Wilson Ring's AP story late on Super Bowl Sunday afternoon, time stood still for a few moments.
Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders, the wire service reported, had collapsed earlier that day at Sgt. Joshua Johnson's funeral in Richford. Johnson, a brave and special American, is the 21st soldier with Vermont ties to pay the nonrefundable price of this pointless war in Iraq.
Ol' Bernardo was treated on the scene by paramedics and walked to the ambulance for transport. He was checked out at the ER and got home in time for the big game that evening.
Sanders, the favorite to win Jim Jeffords' U.S. Senate seat in November, was not available for press interviews Monday. "He's working at home," said Jeff Weaver, his chief of staff on Capitol Hill.
Vermont's congressman did attend his big Tuesday event in Middlebury. Ol' Bernardo heralded the cheap heating-oil deal he cut for low-income Vermonters with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. That's the same Hugo Chavez who Pat Robertson recently suggested should be assassinated. The "Christian" broadcaster told his viewers that if President Chavez is worried the U.S. will assassinate him, "I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war, and I don't think any oil shipments will stop."
God bless America, right?
But as the story of Ol' Bernardo's little health problem made the rounds Monday from here to Washington, political junkies were all struck by the thought they had not dared think before -- what if? What if something awful, God forbid, happened to Bernie Sanders and he was not able to finish his quest for a U.S. Senate seat?
Hey, even Richie Tarrant talks publicly about his near-death experience a couple years ago, one that landed him in intensive care and pointed him toward early retirement in Florida. But Tarrant bounced back, and look at the spring in his step today, eh?
Asked Monday about the Sanders health scare, DNC Chairman and former family physician Howard Dean said, "He's relatively young and, as far as I know, he's always been healthy. He apparently continues to be healthy, so I'm delighted."
Sanders is 64, we noted. Dean is 57. Mick Jagger is 62.
"I was very displeased with the outcome of the Super Bowl," replied the relatively young baby boomer running the DNC, "but I liked Mick Jagger."
In fact, our hypothetical, informal survey of potential Sanders replacements in the Vermont U.S. Senate race indicated there appears but one horse that would be guaranteed of hitting the November finish line in first place, and it's none other than Howard Dean. Among Democrats, Dean would have the right of first refusal under such unfortunate circumstances. Other than "president," "U.S. Senator" is likely the only new title Dr. Dean would consider.
If Dean said no, it would be a wide-open shoot-out. Democrats, including Peter Welch, Matt Dunne and John Tracy, would have a hard time passing on such a rare opportunity.
Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie would surely rethink his decision to stay out of the Senate race, a decision based on the fact that Bernie appeared unbeatable.
And how could Progressive Anthony Pollina possibly say no?
But it's not going to happen, folks. Pure fiction. Ol' Bernardo is in fine health, and all the dreamers will just have to wait their turn. Still, just pondering the possibility of Vermont politics without Bernie Sanders left many startled by the enormity of the shoes that would require filling. There's never been anyone like him on Vermont's political stage, and there never will be again.
P.S. Sanders spokesman Jeff Weaver tells us that Bernie doesn't hit the hardwood much anymore for basketball games in the Capitol gym. These days, Vermont's 64-year-old political legend swims laps in the pool instead.
What Mayor's Race? -- It's been under wraps and low-key so far, but that's about to change: The largest city in the state of Vermont, the metropolis of Burlington, is about to experience a short-but-sweet mayor's race for a rare open seat.
Democrat Hinda Miller, a state senator, Canadian native and former sportswear company boss, appears the early favorite. Candidate Jogbra is followed closely by Republican Councilor Kevin Curley and last-minute entrant Rep. Bob Kiss, a Progressive. They're joined on the ballot by two "fringe" candidates, Loyal Ploof and Louie "The Cowman" Beaudin.
The fact is, none of the candidates is terribly well known citywide. The getting-to-know-you curve will be steep, so we figured we'd start at street level. What kind of vehicles do the major candidates drive?
Since Bob Kiss is the least known, let's start with him. He lives in Ward 1 on Germane Street, a quiet, one-block street surrounded on three sides by cemeteries. Out front is parked his white, slightly rusty, 1994 Isuzu pickup truck. Candidate Kiss reports he's a light motorist, mostly the back-and-forth to the Statehouse in Montpeculiar, where he's served quietly for the past five years. In fact, Kiss has just 76,000 miles on the truck after 12 years. That's less than 7000 miles per year.
The Kiss vehicle is also unique because it sports 23 bumper stickers on its tailgate. This man of few words uses every inch of the back of his truck to make a statement. Maybe a photo of the tailgate would make a nice campaign flyer?
There an old, faded "Bernie" sticker. One for Anthony Pollina, too. And more issue-oriented ones, such as "Fight Sprawl," "No GMOs," "Question Big Media," Keep Abortion Legal" and "Stop the Circ."
That last one, by the way, makes Kiss the only major candidate opposed to completing the Circumferential Highway, which many believed has outlived its potential usefulness.
Good thing we checked his bumper stickers, because Kiss didn't mention his circ opposition in his first piece of campaign literature, distributed door-to-door in the Queen City last weekend.
Kiss told "Inside Track" the Circ Highway, pushed by the Douglas administration, "is a 20th-century solution to a 21st-century problem."
Speaking of bumper stickers, Republican mayoral hopeful Kevin Curley of the New North End doesn't have any on his 1994 black Ford Ranger.
Curley currently drives his truck to his job as a print shop supervisor at Vermont Print and Mail in Hinesburg. We were unable to get the current mileage. However, Campaign Manager Harry Snyder said that after the March election, Curley will park the truck and ride to work downtown with his wife. Kathy Curley, he said, pilots a 2002 black Lincoln Continental.
How appropriate for a Republican mayor, eh?
Finally, Hinda the Democrat, a resident of DeForest Heights in the upscale Hill Section, drives the newest vehicle of all -- a "tannish" 1999 Audi station wagon. According to Campaign Manager Christine Salembier, the right-hand door doesn't work. The "mom car," as Salembier described it, has 121,000 miles and no bumper stickers.
There you have it, folks. Burlington voters clearly have a choice.
Inside Kiss -- Despite 34 years in Burlington, most people could not pick Bob Kiss out of a lineup. We learned this week that "Kiss" is a Hungarian name. His father was an immigrant. "Kiss" has nothing to do with lips or kissing. It means "small," the tallest mayoral candidate told us.
Helping the Kiss for Mayor Campaign, we've learned, is an old Progressive stalwart, David Clavelle. David was a key fixture in the Mayor Bernie Sanders' reelection campaigns of the 1980s, and many Prog campaigns since. But about seven years ago, he and his wife moved to Colorado. Now he's back, and working as a school teacher. His trademark ponytail is gone.
Could this be the end of the Progressive run in Burlington?
"That's what they said back in 1993 when Mayor Peter Clavelle lost to Peter Brownell," replied David, Mayor Moonie's cousin. The volunteer Kiss Campaign advisor told "Inside Track" it would have been a lot better had the Progressive mayoral candidate announced before Christmas. That would have allowed more time for people to get to know him, and to get his message out effectively. Four weeks will be a challenge, conceded David.
"I think it's winnable," he added, "The question is, will enough voters get to know Bob?"
Here's an interesting development. Progressive City Councilor Jane Knodell, who came out of the Prog closet to endorse Democrat Hinda Miller before there was a Prog candidate, now says she's supporting Hinda and Bob!
Knodell told us she helped with the Kiss leaflet drop over the weekend and recently attended a fundraiser for Hinda. She said Hinda and Bob are two good candidates and she's supporting both.
Professor Jane the Economist said her main concern is "picking the right candidate to take the next step in the development of Burlington as a city."
With Instant Runoff Voting taking place for the first time, Knodell and everyone else will be able to vote for Kiss and Miller -- and Curley, too.
Unfortunately, Jane would not say which name she'll be putting in the No. 1 spot on her IRV ballot.
More Ho-Ho -- Great to see him in the flesh on Monday at Burlington City Hall. The chairman of the DNC was in great form, and was obviously delighted to be back before a familiar bunch of press people. Dean even went around the room and shook hands with us!
Ho-Ho was recently on Fox News -- Sunday, January 29 -- his first appearance on the station since becoming head of the DNC. Fox, an incredible right-wing propaganda machine, recently became more familiar to Vermont viewers because of its fact-free obsession with the Judge Edward Cashman case. Don't forget that one, and only one, newspaper in Vermont won the Bill O'Reilly seal of journalistic approval during the Fox obsession: The Burlington Free Press.
Howard said he "actually did have a good time on Fox.
"I generally don't do the inflammatory hate shows, but I think Chris Wallace was a tough interview, but a fair interviewer," said Dean. "I don't mind doing Fox. I just won't go on the propaganda shows."
Good decision, eh?
Dr. Dean really got rolling when he tore into the "Republican Culture of Corruption." It's not a pretty tale.
"The House majority leader's been indicted and had to step aside," noted Dean. "His successor is already backing away from the lobbying reform they promised last week. The majority leader in the Senate is under investigation for insider trading. The chief aide to the vice president has been indicted. This is ridiculous and outrageous, and it doesn't belong in our country!"
He's got a point. That's why guys like O'Reilly and the Fox Nooze propagandists happily divert their viewers' attention to stories such as the recent Vermont sexual assault case.
Dean also noted his opposite number, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, was in Vermont on Monday. Most of the reporters present were unaware of it. That's because Vermont GOP Chairman Jim Barnett kept a tight lid on Mehlman's headliner role at a very private GOP fundraiser at the Inn at Essex.
Perhaps Mad Dog Barnett feared any publicity of the RNC chairman's impending visit might have drawn a few protesters?
Since Gov. Jim Douglas also quietly attended the event (it was not on his public appearance schedule), antiwar, anti-Bush Vermonters with signs would not have made for a good publicity photo.
Heidi Comes Home -- Former Jim Jeffords' Washington staffer and Montpelier native Heidi Mohlman is back home. Now Heidi Mohlman Tringe, she's a mother of one; her husband is the inventory manager at Cabot Creamery. Heidi is the new communications director at the Agency of Human Services.
Wild Unconfirmed Rumor! -- Ready for this?
A usually reliable source tipped us off Tuesday morning that Brattleboro native and former Howard Dean political aide and campaign manager Kate O'Connor is signing up with the Tarrant for Senate Campaign.
We checked it out. Called whatshisname, the New Hampshire guy running Tarrant's campaign. But Tim Lennon doesn't like to talk on the phone. He prefers cryptic emails. And he refused to give us a straight answer to our inquiry about O'Connor. Neither confirmed nor denied.
Wonder if Tarrant, the richest man in Vermont, realizes his out-of-state campaign manager communicates like a juvenile version of Dick Cheney.
Kate didn't respond to our email, either.
Interesting. Stranger things have happened, as they say, and Tarrant's Vermont senate campaign is clearly desperate for local talent.
After all, communications has been a big Tarrant weakness so far. His one press conference was a total bomb. That's why it was actually good news to see the want ad in The Hill newspaper the other day. The Hill covers Capitol Hill, and the Tarrant ad reads: "Currently seeking a Press Secretary, Deputy Press Secretary and Field Staff to work on a Republican statewide race in Vermont."
Pays pretty good, too, we'd bet. Of course, it also proves that Richie Tarrant, gazillionaire and political wannabe, could not find a single Vermonter who wanted to be his campaign press secretary. Not one!
There's a message there, Richie.
Corrections -- Joseph Goebbels was Germany's propaganda genius in the 1930s. We incorrectly used his father's first name in the print edition last week. Didn't catch it in time. Sorry.
And the week before, we put David Letterman on NBC instead of CBS. Dave's on CBS now. He used to be on NBC. Things change, eh?