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Bernie Sanders

Treasurer Hunt

More on Bernie's Labor Day bash. Plus, Bernie wins awards in the Washingtonian for being least eloquent and a fashion victim.


Published September 5, 2012 at 11:05 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

The sleeper race of the season is a contest among three political unknowns vying to manage the $4 billion Vermont state treasurer’s office.

Despite the high stakes, none of the candidates has attracted much attention. Not quasi-incumbent Beth Pearce, Republican challenger Wendy Wilton nor Progressive challenger Don Schramm. For Pearce, a Democrat who was appointed to the post in January 2011, that may be intentional.

“The smart money says we will benefit greatly from being on a down-ticket race in a year when we have high turnout,” says Ryan Emerson, Pearce’s newly minted campaign manager.

That’s because with President Barack Obama and Gov. Peter Shumlin topping the Democratic ticket — and both men pulling 60-percent-plus support, according to the Castleton Polling Institute — down-ticket Dems should hold the advantage, all things being equal, come Election Day. And in terms of name recognition, all things really are equal for these candidates.

Pearce served as deputy treasurer for seven years before Shumlin appointed her to replace Jeb Spaulding. But she has never before run for public office, and it shows. While Pearce gamely hit the parade circuit this summer and popped up here and there at Democratic gatherings, she still comes off as the behind-the-scenes bureaucrat she has been all her life.

Wilton, on the other hand, is politically attuned and quick with a quip. The Rutland City treasurer argues she’s got the chops to run the state treasurer’s office and says she understands municipal needs better than the incumbent. She may not be known outside of RutVegas — where she won a senate seat in 2004 and served one term — but she’s got something Pearce doesn’t: a geographic base.

“Mine is a Vermont-style campaign,” Wilton says, arguing that, unlike her opponent, she’s “a native Vermonter” relying upon volunteer campaign support and in-state contributions. “I am a retail campaigner. I have no problem getting in front of a crowd and pressing the flesh, and I do so successfully.”

Schramm, the Progressive, concedes he doesn’t have much chance of winning. He’s running, in part, to win the 5 percent of the vote necessary to retain major-party status for the Progs.

Wilton doesn’t have the paid staff Pearce does, but she actually raised more money than the incumbent in the month before the last filing deadline in August: $18,664 to Pearce’s $11,540. Throughout the campaign, though, Pearce has out-raised Wilton, $95,486 to $34,634 — and you can bet she’ll tap the deep-pocketed Democratic donor network to come out on top in September’s filing.

Soon after Democratic attorney general candidate T.J. Donovan conceded last week, Pearce raided his campaign for staffers. She hired Emerson, who ran Donovan’s campaign, and she brought on Donovan’s finance director Dylan Giambatista, to serve as communications director. They’ll join political director Ralph Montefusco, fundraiser Jake Brennan and a slew of other campaign consultants.

Those staffers seem to have settled on a message: In Giambatista’s first press release as campaign flack, he used the word “professional” three times to describe what the treasurer’s office needs — and what Pearce personifies. Her opponent, they argue, is a political gadfly who is not up for the job.

“You have one candidate with 35 years of experience, and you have someone who’s bounced around with finance, but she also had a legislative career for one term before she was booted out,” Emerson says. “You know, Beth has never run for an office in the legislature. She is solely focused on this job and solely committed to this job.”

Wilton takes issue with that characterization, pointing to her real-world experience working for Key Bank and the Vermont Small Business Development Center.

“I can’t see that Beth has ever worked in the private sector. I have,” she says. “I don’t know that my opponent really understands the challenges facing small businesses because she’s worked in government her entire life.”

Now that’s not very professional.

Labor Pains

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Labor Day rally and barbecue Monday in Battery Park was all about the people’s senator. Labor leader after labor leader kissed the senator’s ring, telling a crowd of a couple hundred that Ol’ Bernardo is the best dang worker’s champion in the whole U.S. Senate.

But there was another belle at the ball. And he was — gasp — a Republican!

Sporting a blue Professional Fire Fighters of Vermont baseball cap, Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans) flitted about the sun-soaked rally alongside friends and allies in the labor movement. For a while, the candidate for state auditor parked himself next to PFFV president Matt Vinci, whose union was the first to publicly back the senator’s candidacy back in June.

“He’s always stood up for organized labor, working families, in the Senate,” Vinci explained. “It’s loyalty. That’s what it is. Don’t say no to someone who said yes to you.”

The Vermont State Employees Association, the Vermont State Troopers and the Teamsters Local 597 have all endorsed Illuzzi.

That doesn’t sit well with Doug Hoffer, a Democrat and Progressive who’s taking a second shot at the state auditor’s post this November. Two years ago, when he ran against incumbent Tom Salmon, Hoffer garnered endorsements from the VSEA, the Vermont-National Education Association and the Vermont State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

This time, he’s getting shut out.

“Vince has a lot of history with them, but I was their candidate two years ago. I’m still the same guy. Still the same principles,” Hoffer said at the rally, decked out in a white fedora. “I need to remind them that I’ve been an ally for years.”

Hoffer plans to ask the VSEA to reconsider its decision this weekend at the union’s annual meeting in Rutland. He’s hoping it and other unions will consider co-endorsing his candidacy.

“There’s no question Doug has a lot of support in the union. We’ve supported him in the past,” says VSEA legislative coordinator Conor Casey. “But almost every major piece of legislation we’ve passed, Vince has had his hand in it.”

As Sanders’ rally wound down — after the free food was depleted and the speeches were over — Communications Workers of America Local 1400 president Don Trementozzi walked over to introduce himself, saying he wanted to acquaint this reporter with a few political candidates.

Among them? Illuzzi, who will soon receive his union’s endorsement, Trementozzi said.

“Vince has got a long track record with us,” he said, adding that he doesn’t care what party a candidate hails from. “I’m a firm believer that we don’t just take our members’ money and support Democrats.”

Would he consider co-endorsing Hoffer?

“I don’t know Doug,” Trementozzi said. “He might have some labor history. I have to say right off the bat it’s going to be tough to think about endorsing anybody else but Vince.”

As for Sanders, he didn’t appear to share labor’s love for Illuzzi — at least on camera. When a paparazzi photographer tried to snap a picture of Sanders communing with Illuzzi and Vinci, a very agitated senator tried — unsuccessfully — to get out of the shot.

Leahy Lists

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy may be best known for his influence on the nation’s courts. But a new Foreign Policy magazine ranking of the 50 most powerful Democrats on international affairs places Vermont’s senior senator near the top of that list, as well.

Noting that Leahy “essentially controls the U.S. foreign aid budget” as chairman of a key Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Leahy placed number 18 on the list, beating out all but two fellow members of Congress. FP singles out the senator’s 1997 “Leahy Law,” which prohibits funding to foreign militaries that commit human-rights violations, and his fight to cut aid to allies, such as Egypt and Pakistan, whose commitment to democracy — or to the U.S. itself — is lukewarm.

Beating out Leahy on the list? White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon (No. 1), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (No. 4), mega-fundraiser George Soros (No. 9) and, well, “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart (No. 11).

In other list news, Leahy tied for second “wisest” member of the Senate in Washingtonian Magazine’s “Best and Worst of Congress 2012” rankings, as voted upon by Capitol Hill staffers.

Vermont’s junior senator, Bernie Sanders, also took home some prizes — but not likely the ones he was hoping for. Sanders tied for third as the “least eloquent” member of the Senate and came in first for “fashion victim.” Washingtonian helpfully noted that Sanders is “a three-time winner” of the latter award.

Come on, Bernie. Would it kill ya to get a new suit?

Waylaid Motorcade

We all know President Obama is heading south this week, to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Meanwhile, former governor Mitt Romney is taking up residence in, of all places, West Windsor, Vermont. The Republican nominee is hunkering down at the 143-acre, $3.9 million vacation home of his former lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, as he practices for this fall’s presidential debates.

While the Green Mountain State may be a good place to find seclusion, it ain’t that accommodating when it comes to presidential-candidate motorcades. As Kasie Hunt of the Associated Press reported Tuesday morning en route to West Reading: “At one point, the motorcade came upon [a] tractor, slowing it to a stop before the tractor got out of the way.”

Replacing Ed

One month after dropping out of the Chittenden County state Senate race, Burlington City Councilor Ed Adrian unexpectedly announced his resignation from the council last Thursday, effective September 30. Adrian didn’t specify why he was stepping down, but previously indicated that his many political and professional responsibilities had taken a toll on his family.

According to Senior Assistant City Attorney Gene Bergman, the city will hold a special election on November 6 — the same day as state and federal elections — to fill Adrian’s Ward 1 seat for the remaining 17 months of his term. Candidates must submit their petitions to run by October 1.

Ward 1 Democrats will select their candidate in a nominating caucus on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Schmanska Park Barn.