The Statehouse in Montpeculiar suddenly sprang to life last week as the newly elected crop of rookie legislators reported for orientation. And joining them like flies on a Jersey cow's head were dozens of smiling lobbyists eager to introduce themselves to the freshman class.
The change of administrations means a whole new batch of business clients will be descending on the Statehouse this winter. Last week, we noted that gambling-friendly Diamond Jim Douglas will draw out-of-state casino interests that simply gave up on Vermont during the Howard Dean era.
As you know, Diamond Jim wants to reopen the old racetrack down south in Pownal. On VPR's "Switchboard," Governor-to-be Douglas told Bob Kinzel, "There's no law that needs to be changed to get the track up and running. It's simply a matter of whether it's financially feasible for an operator to come in and do it."
According to our sources, Nevada casino developer Eric Nelson, who abandoned Vermont a decade ago, would love to be that operator. But sources say Nelson's plan for a 300-room resort-style hotel at the track would require approval of year-round simulcasting as well as a few blackjack tables.
According to Diamond Jim, "We'd have to allow some simulcasting of races in periods other than when the live racing is underway at the track in order to make that economically feasible."
Under current law, simulcast races from other tracks can only be shown when live horses are running on the Pownal oval. Changing state law, as Diamond Jim wants, would make Pownal a year-round attraction for the betting public.
Another issue that will get a second hearing, now that Ho-Ho's departing, is the legalization of sparklers. You know, the Fourth of July staple -- light 'em up and watch 'em sparkle. In Vermont, they're illegal. That's because Ho-Ho vetoed a sparkler bill a decade ago. It was personal.
You see, as a teenager summering in the Hamptons, a young, barefoot Howard Dean once stepped on a burning sparkler. It made a lasting impression. But in 2003, sparklers will be back on the front burner, so to speak. How do we know?
Well, last Friday yours truly was engaged in a private conversation with a certain state senator in the Statehouse lobby. But the conversation was rather rudely interrupted by a hired-gun business lobbyist by the name of Lisa Nolen Birmingham, of the Burlap law firm Dinse Knapp & McAndrew.
Ms. Birmingham had a brand-new client in tow, and what better way to impress a client than by introducing him to a powerful lawmaker like the senator we were conversing with.
In her introduction, Lisa the Lobbyist told her client yours truly wrote a column that she wished never to appear in. And she told the senator that her client wished to legalize sparklers in Vermont. It never fails to amaze us how lobbyists often act like they're the most important people in the damn building.
P.S. Welcome to Inside Track, Lisa. Looks like you're the Sparkler Girl from now on.
Mink Update -- The recent Monday morning snowstorm in Burlington was a blessing for professional hockey puck Graham Mink of Stowe. Mr. Mink is currently the third leading scorer for the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League. The former UVM star is facing an aggravated assault charge that's been hanging around Vermont District Court for more than a year. It's the charge that caused him to drop out of UVM after three years and turn pro.
Mink's lawyer, R. Jeffrey Behm of Sheehy Furlong & Behm, was supposed to be at the Palace of Justice that morning. Mr. Behm -- pronounced "Beam," like the bourbon -- is a former federal prosecutor. He was on the court calendar for a 10:30 a.m. hearing before Judge Linda Levitt on his motion for a change of venue due to excessive media publicity. But unlike everybody else who showed up for work that snowy morning, Mink's defense attorney couldn't get out of his Williston driveway. Mr. Behm called the court clerk's office and requested yet another continuance.
It was granted.
When we contacted him later, Snowflake Behm told Seven Days he drives a Subaru. Subarus, as everyone knows, enjoy an excellent snow reputation because they have all-wheel drive.
Maybe Behm got a lemon, eh?
The next court hearing on the Mink case is scheduled for December 10, weather permitting, of course.
The Mary Fanny Report -- Mr. Behm's talents include much more than keeping hockey players out of the criminal penalty box.
Snowflake Behm is also in the news of late for the services he has provided to the Mary Fanny's trustee-appointed, ad hoc committee that recently concluded its investigation into Boettchergate. The committee's report is available online at the Web sites of Fletcher Allen Health Care and The Burlington Free Press.
The report tells a harrowing tale of deceit, incompetence and dereliction of duty by former CEO Bill Boettcher and his lieutenants, the distinguished trustees, especially Chairman Phil Drumheller and the Mary Fanny's mighty law firm Downs Rachlin Martin.
To think it was just a few months ago that Chairman Phil and Trustee Louise McCarren repeatedly and adamantly insisted on Mark Johnson's radio show that "Nobody did anything wrong!"
Jeezum crow. According to their own internal investigation, we now know that nobody did anything right!
Ms. McCarren is about to step down from her prestigious job as Verizon's chief executive in Vermont. Her job is being made redundant. If it weren't for the Mary Fanny mess, Louise would be in a perfect position for an appointment to a key slot in the incoming Douglas administration.
As for DRM lawyers Allen Martin and David Sylvester (son of Harlan Sylvester, the Godfather of Vermont politics), let's just say they're not smelling like roses at the moment. Last week DRM went into damage-control mode. The firm put out a two-page letter to its clients, which Seven Days obtained. It defended the firm's role in Boettchergate. It's actually pretty funny in parts.
For example, according to the DRM spin, Big Al was merely doing his duty by not alerting the Mary Fanny board of trustees to Boettcher's Renaissance scam.
Hey, c'mon, nobody did anything wrong. Mum's the word, right?
There's plenty of speculation in legal and political circles about DRM's future, and whether Mr. Martin and Mr. Sylvester will face any consequences from the Professional Responsibility Board that oversees lawyer misconduct. The question is, who will file a formal complaint?
Deanwatch 2004 -- Our favorite presidential hopeful hit a national media trifecta in the last week. Howard Dean received glowing profiles in the National Journal, the Sunday Boston Globe and Monday's Washington Post. Yours truly made Howie Kurtz's Post story, "Dr. Who? For President," with the line, "People used to laugh at me when I said Howard Dean is going to run for president. Now they say, 'You don't think he can do it, do you?'"
On Monday, there was another sign the sand is running out of Ho-Ho's Vermont hourglass. His official portrait by Stowe artist Carroll Jones, Jr. was unveiled at the Statehouse. And what a portrait it is!
No tie and jacket on this governor, folks. Rather a blue chamois shirt and a canoe paddle. Jones' portrait looks like a potential catalogue cover for L.L. Bean.
Howard Dean -- rugged outdoorsman in the Lewis & Clark tradition. Bravo!
On Monday, Ho-Ho departs for a tour of Israel, sponsored by the American-Israel Political Action Committee.
See Andy Run! -- But why is he running? The Andy is Bur-lington City Council President Andy Montroll. Andy represents Ward 6, the Hill Section. He is a Democrat and a lawyer. He is soft-spoken and kind to animals and small children.
At his campaign kickoff last week in City Hall's Contois Auditorium, he told a crowd of 18 supporters (including his wife and kids), "We're not focusing on the right issues."
In a rambling speech, Dandy Andy highlighted the issue of "neighborhood quality." Too many noisy student parties.
Excuse me, but isn't Progressive Mayor Peter Clavelle the guy who's done more about neighborhood quality-of-life issues than any mayor in Queen City history?
In fact, on Monday Mayor Moonie announced he had convinced Fannie Mae, the nation's largest non-bank lender, to pump an initial $10 million into a pilot program promoting homeownership in Burlington. We're talking mortgages with a $500 down payment and credits for walking or biking to work and incentives to renovate student apartment houses and turn them back into single-family homes.
Andy Montroll has every right to run for mayor. But this week a lot of folks are scratching their heads and asking why.
Media Notes -- Join the Associated Press and see the world. Take Mike Eckel. A year ago he was snug as a bug in the historic Montpelier headquarters of AP located over the Thrush Tavern. Today he's covering the news scene from Bagram Air base in Afghanistan.
Unlike Montpeculiar, Mike's current world is one of dust, dirt, debris and unexploded landmines. He sent Seven Days this exclusive e-mail dispatch this week:
"It's thrilling being over here, though it can be grating at times, given how short a leash the military keeps the press on. AP is the only media outlet that's here at the base permanently/constantly. All the other outlets are based down in Kabul and come up only now and again when they feel like it. That means virtually everything that comes out of Bagram is my doing. Kind of nice, I suppose.
"Afghanistan is a fascinating place, squalid, ancient and dirty. The Americans walk very loudly and carry very big sticks when traveling around the country, and most of the Afghans I've talked to welcome them, and welcome the relative peace the country now knows.
"And there is nothing in the entire world that even comes close to the feeling of skimming across the mountain ridges and desert plains at hundreds of miles an hour in a Black Hawk helicopter.
"That was more than I intended to write. Take what you need. And make sure you say it's all due to Chris Graff and the other comrades on the Good Ship Vermont AP."
Will do. Just come home in one piece, Mike.
More new faces on the local TV news scene, folks. The latest are at WPTZ-TV.
Lauren Cook, an Indiana University grad from Niles, Michigan, is the new reporter in the Colchester newsroom. Lauren comes to Vermont from KAAL-TV in Austin, Minnesota, where she was the weekend anchor. You might recall, that's the station in Golden Gopher Land that 5 o'clock anchorwoman Erin Connors came from as well.
Brenda Devlin, a Milton, Massachusetts, native and Emerson College grad, is the new reporter in their White River Junction newsroom. Brenda comes from AT&T Cable News in New Bedford, Mass. She joins Nicole Bell in the WRJ newsroom. According to News Director Andy Wormser, "that gives us the largest contingent of television reporters based in the Upper Valley."
And apologies to WCAX-TV newbie Kate Duffy. We incorrectly reported she was a Boston College grad. Right religion, even the right religious order (Jesuits). But this Jesuit-educated columnist got the wrong college.
Kate went to Holy Cross, and don't you ever forget it!