Downtown Burlington was crawling with United States senators Monday. You could hardly cross the street without bumping into one.
Democrat Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont's senior senator, played rich uncle to Progressive Mayor Peter Clavelle at an afternoon press conference. With a smile across his kisser a mile wide, St. Patrick announced he'd slipped $650,000 into the HUD appropriations bill to help Mayor Moonie land a spiffy new downtown supermarket.
'Course, Patrick went on and on about how when "Marcelle and I moved to Burlington after law school we didn't have a car." Just like normal people, Pat and Marcelle depended on a supermarket within walking distance of their North Winooski Avenue apartment. How rustic. And, as always, the hairless wonder couldn't resist reminding the captive media audience about the old days "when I was state's attorney."
The first automobile that the struggling young attorney and his nurse bride purchased was "a used Volvo," said St. Patrick. When asked why he didn't buy American, he patriotically noted that after the Volvo — except for a flirtation with a certain Porsche — the Leahys have consistently parked American vehicles in the garage. Then the gentleman with the legendary political powers, who once made Lake Champlain legally "Great," pointed out yours truly's bicycle was made in Taiwan.
But don't forget, oh, Great Leaker, Gov. Howard Dean recently declared Taiwan Vermont's sister province!
Monday morning belonged to Republican Jim Jeffords, Vermont's junior senator. Jeezum Jim booked an hour walking tour of the Church Street Marketplace, escorted by Marketplace Director Ron Redmond. Aide Jolinda LaClair took pictures of anyone willing to pose with one of Rutland High School's most distinguished graduates.
When he strolled into Leunig's Bistro, bartender Bob Conlon graciously greeted him as "Senator Anybody-But-Bernie."
Conlon was picked as August's downtown "employee of the month" by the Burlington Business Association for his "outstanding customer service." He also gives great lip. His enmity for Congressman Bernie Sanders goes back many, many moons to his days at The Last Chance. He’ll take to his grace the memory of the evening then-Mayor Bernie Sanders dropped in. The Irish band had the joint hopping with “green alligators and long-necked geese.” They were pumping out the “Fat Man Buds” at 95 cents a pint, recalls Conlon, and he’ll never forget the sight of the socialist mayor of the Queen City “waiting four deep to get his nickel change back.”
Okay, so Ol’ Bernardo was a fiscal conservative. No big deal. But, Conlon says, I’d vote for O.J. Simpson before I’d vote for Bernie,” which means Election Day is not a happy time around the Conlon heart.
Jim Jeffords will need Conlon’s vote, and many more in Chittenden County, should the inevitable come to pass. And believe me, he’s working on it.
Let’s see, this summer Jeezum Jim put on a lovely dog-and-pony show at the Northgate Apartments, did a walking tour of North Street escorted by Mayor Clavelle, announced a $750,000 federal grant so the Burlington Police Department can upgrade its communications capability, and last week he announced a $1 million grant for the Flynn Theatre.
Let's face it, Jim Jeffords loves Burlington!
And the day after dropping that cool million on the Flynn, Jeezum Jim was guest of honor at Friday night's "Jeffords for Vermont" fundraiser at Fairholt, the mansion home of Amy Tarrant, chairman of the Flynn's board of directors.
According to Jeffords' top aide, Susan Boardman Russ, about 150 supporters, including, we're told, a couple Howard Dean-type Democrats, shelled out at least $100 each and got a free tour of Chez Amy thrown in. That's her $3.5 million, 14,000-square-foot palace on the hill surrounded by the lush fairways of the Burlington Country Club. "Just a private little house party," was how Russ described it. For some unknown reason, this was one campaign event closed tight to the fourth estate. Probably afraid the press would filch towels or silverware, though, honestly, we've got more towels than we need already. (By the way, no new developments on the appeal of Fairholt's city tax assessment. Stay tuned.)
Although Mrs. Tarrant did not return our message left on the Fairholt answering machine, sources say she is passionately rallying support for Jeezum Jim in the Vermont arts community. Indeed, Jeffords has long been a rare Republican champion of the National Endowment for the Arts, and some in the arts community will be torn choosing between Jeezum Jim and Ol’ Bernardo should they be forced to. And the arts crowd won't be alone.
We've met no shortage of folks who've always liked both Jeffords and Sanders. They do not relish the 2000 U.S. Senate race turning into a Sophie's Choice for progressive-thinking, socially responsible, non-smoking Vermonters. They say they like Vermont's congressional batting order just the way it is, thank you very much.
Certainly Sanders is well aware of such sentiments as he puts together his "things to do” list for next year. Every vote counts. But one thing folks don't realize is just how Vermont’s two votes in the United States Senate count today. Jeffords holding a committee chairmanship, he’s been dancing to the GOP tune on all the big votes affecting national policy. What that means is, at crunch time, Leahy votes “yes” and Jeffords votes “no,” or vice versa. Vermont’s senate vote ends up a wash, kind of like kissing your sister. A “Senator” Sanders, notes Bernie backers, would be singing from the same hymnal as Senator Leahy. Vermont’s vote would always be a solid 2-0 on the issues most dear to a majority of Vermonters. A 2-zip vote would move the agenda forward. Our little state would have maximum impact.
Meanwhile, don’t think Jeezum Jim can count on all the state’s Republicans to support him. After all his own party has been his toughest audience. Take the big, burly Paul Bunyan-type who went out of his way to shake Jeffords’ hand Monday as he left Michael Kehoe’s. “I did not appreciate your vote on impeachment,” said the constituent from Bethel. And there are a lot more like him out there in the hills.
Kwik Stop's Back — Former Republican City Councilor Kurt Wright was in the audience at Monday night's city council meeting. It's the first Kwik Stop Kurt sighting since he lost the mayor's race in March. Last week, Mr. Wright was elected city chairman at the Burlington Republican Committee.
The best performer Monday was Republican Councilor Matt Gardy, who says he is definitely running for mayor. But Gardy could get only one of the three other Republicans to vote with him in opposing a resolution establishing a "coordinated code enforcement office" to make sure the Queen City's quality of life remains buff. To Gardy the new office represents a governmental "invasion of our property and rights."
At least if Gardy were mayor, we’d all be able to dance on the bar without big-government interference.
Reverend Update — Many people have asked, but no, the Rev. Gary Kowalski, fundraiser for Tom Smith's cause, still hasn't returned our phone calls. Guess he just doesn't want to talk about it anymore. Sure hope he hasn't got that holier-than-thou bug that's been going around.