The phone lines lit up Friday morning as political folk from Vermont to Foggy Bottom read the blistering attack editorial in The Burlington Free Press titled "Wal-Mart's Bernie."
The author, Editorial Page Editor David Awbrey, began: "News item: U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders has secured $1.2 million in federal transportation funds to smooth traffic flow at the proposed site for a Wal-Mart store in St. Albans.
"Hmm... Is that the same guy?
"Is that the Bernie Sanders who scorns 'corporate welfare?' If so, why is he offering federal tax money to help the nation's largest corporation set up shop in St. Albans?
"Is that the Bernie Sanders who wants to restrict China's ability to export goods to the United States? If so, why he is favoring Wal-Mart, which is the largest U.S. importer of Chinese-made products?"
And on and on. You get the flavor. The editorial ended with the tag line: "Yes, indeed. It's that Bernie Sanders, Wal-Mart's favorite socialist."
Many Vermonters were no doubt shocked to learn that their favorite anti-corporate rebel had sold out to the enemy.
But for those in any way familiar with the St. Albans project Sanders is supporting, the editorial sparked a wave of wild, uncontrollable laughter from Franklin County to Capitol Hill.
You see, Ol' Bernardo is seeking federal funds for the area around Exit 19 on the south end of St. Albans, not Exit 20, the exit near the proposed new Wal-Mart store.
Perfectly understandable that Mr. Awbrey, a recent Kansas transplant, is not familiar with the geography of St. Albans, Vermont. What's not understandable is why he didn't bother to check with any of the locals to make sure his entire premise for trashing Vermont's highly respected congressman was a valid one. He never even contacted Sanders' office before trashing him!
Seven Days had learned that Awbrey made the tragic mistake of relying on information published in The Burlington Free Press.
Sure enough, the Freeps reported in a sidebar to a May 30 Steve Kiernan feature on Wal-Mart in Vermont:
"The St. Albans sewer line already has been extended into the proposed store's area. U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders has secured $1.2 million in the federal transportation funding bill for traffic improvements around the site."
Wrong, wrong, wrong. And the error remained uncorrected when Awbrey began his diatribe.
When asked if readers can expect a published correction for his inaccuracy, Awbrey said the mistake was not one made by the editorial department but rather by the news department. He referred further inquires to Executive Editor Mike Townsend.
"We're separate," explained Awbrey. "Mike's the one to talk to."
Townsend, unfortunately, did not respond to messages left for him by Seven Days on Monday and Tuesday.
Perfectly understandable, eh?
The first public reaction came in Friday afternoon's St. Albans Messenger. Editor Emerson Lynn published an hilarious editorial titled, "Bernie Aiding Wal-Mart? Right. When Pigs Fly."
Emerson Lynn has never been accused of being a Sanders cheerleader, but he does know the difference between St. Albans Exits 19 and 20 — about five miles.
As Bernie's chief of staff, St. Albans native Jeff Weaver, put it, "Emerson's no friend of Bernie, but clearly he's more familiar with the geography of Franklin County than The Burlington Free Press is."
As Lynn wrote, the project Sanders is getting funding for "has nothing to do with Wal-Mart. Wrong exit."
Interestingly, Gannett's Vermont paper proudly posts a "Code of Ethics" on its website. Very nice of them. It's the Gannett corporate code and contains about 30 platitudes, from "We will be honest in the way we gather, report and present news" to "We will correct errors promptly."
Over the last few days, we've been checking the paper's "Setting It Straight" column. We've learned that the Freeps published the wrong start times for two footraces at Shelburne Beach. That it misspelled the name of the new Winooski city manager. And one correction reported that writer Candace Page's byline had been left off several pieces in the Sunday paper.
Important stuff readers need to know, right?
But not a word about the biggest, dumbest, most embarrassing and completely incorrect newspaper editorial Vermont has ever seen!
Ah, Gannett — The Wal-Mart of American journalism!
Debate Update — Burlington's Democratic Mayor Peter Clavelle was in high spirits Monday, bragging that he'd won the first debate in the 2004 gubernatorial campaign.
Mayor Moonie was referring to Friday's "debate" at Basin Harbor hosted by Ch. 3's Marselis Parsons. The audience was the graduating class at UVM's Snelling Center for Government. Clavelle's victory is unquestioned, since Gov. Jim Douglas declined to appear. Sources say it actually turned into a pretty good debate between Clavelle and Parsons.
In 2002, Douglas spent so much time debating Democrat Doug Racine around the state that some expected they'd apply for a civil union. Not this time.
It's clear Gov. Scissorhands is adopting a Rose Garden strategy this year. Sources say recent polling by the Republican and Democratic Parties show him in the low 50s. Clavelle is under 40 percent. Why give Clavelle exposure and stature by appearing at debates and forums with him?
Of course, the gap will inevitably close. How fast it closes will determine how long Douglas hides behind the roses.
Asked about his reluctance to debate his Democratic challenger, the Guv said, "The point is that I've got a lot of work to do. I'm not going to put the state of Vermont on autopilot and go around and engage in a political campaign when I have official responsibilities to perform."
According to the Governor's official "Weekly Public Appearance Schedule," Douglas was at the Grand Reopening of Nectar's nightclub and restaurant in Burlington that evening. (Clavelle was there, too!)
The following morning, Gov. Scissorhands officiated at the grand opening of AJ's Sunoco Station in Barre. Can't put the darn state on autopilot, ya know.
According to a Douglas aide, there was a ribbon at the gas-station opening, but the governor did not cut it.
Meanwhile, Douglas may not want to engage his challenger, but Republican Party Chairman Jim Barnett relishes every opportunity.
Barnett, the twentysomething lightning rod who's been a major dose of Viagra for the Vermont GOP, was on Ch. 3's "You Can Quote Me" on Sunday. Mad Dog pretty much ate the two inquisitors, Marselis Parsons and Andy Potter, for breakfast. James batted almost every question tossed at him over the fence.
Mad Dog happily chewed on Clavelle with lines such as, "Peter Clavelle spent 20 years as the leader of a fringe political movement and now wants to be a Democrat. I think it says something about the opportunistic style of Mr. Clavelle, and it says something about the Democratic Party that would have him."
Of course, Young James forgets that the actual leader of the fringe political movement he refers to was a guy with a thick Brooklyn accent named Bernie Sanders. Anybody know whatever became of him?
If you do, please call Mr. Barnett at GOP headquarters.
Sanders was elected Mayor of Burlington in 1981. Seems like only yesterday. Clavelle arrived two years later to head up the new CEDO office. Economic development is actually Mayor Moonie's forte. Just take a ride around Burlington with eyes wide open.
Mad Dog Barnett also went out of his way to throw a few overhand rights at Democratic State Auditor Elizabeth Ready, charging that she has "politicized" the office.
Mad Dog, given plenty of leash by the hosts, said Chainsaw Liz of Lincoln "is more interested in headlines than bottom lines." He also threw some old dirt her way, i.e., Ready's unusually high cell-phone bill from a couple years ago.
"She didn't 'fess up to all those private calls until she was called out by the media," said Barnett.
Mad Dog flat-out predicted Republican Randy Brock will kick Chainsaw Liz's butt in November!
Leaning Right? — Next Sunday "You Can Quote Me" will feature Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Scudder Parker. That's right, a Democrat will be on "You Can Quote Me." About time, eh?
According to the WGOP, sorry, WCAX website, of the 15 "Quote Me" shows that have had political guests this year, 11 featured Republicans. Three had Democrats and one had Progressive Dave Zuckerman. That's 73 percent Republican guests!
Wouldn't the Gipper be proud!
In fact, if you throw in last fall's political shows, it gets worse. Seven out of eight featured Republicans. Rep. Bernie Sanders, an Independent, was the lone exception with a December 21 appearance.
The GOP guests so far this year were Gov. Douglas, Speaker Walter Freed, five Douglas administration secretaries and commissioners, and two GOP congressional candidates, one of whom has since dropped out of the race.
Ch. 3 News Director Marselis Parsons told Seven Days that they probably had a similarly high percentage of Democrats on when Howard Dean was governor.
Whatever you say, Marsillyiss.
Didn't realize Democrats had become such an endangered news species in Vermont.
Progress — Things change. That's life. Got to roll with the punches. But there's something about Burlington's new ban on tobacco smoking in drinking establishments that leaves a bad taste.
It's not that yours truly is a smoker. Put the butts away about eight years ago. Personal choice. Besides, sticking burning tobacco leaves in your mouth and inhaling is a worthless enterprise to all but the tobacco companies and their shareholders.
As a twentysomething taxi driver in Chicago during the Ford and Carter presidencies, yours truly piloted one of the rare cabs in the City of Big Shoulders that banned smoking. Let me tell you, my American Lung Association sign taped to the dash was quite the conversation piece.
Interestingly, the passengers who complained all had one thing in common: They were all female. Never in five years did a male passenger bitch. Not once.
Men would notice the sign and, if they had one lit, would toss the butt out the window without a word spoken. Many would make remarks like, "You're right, Cabbie. It's a filthy, stupid habit."
It was 50-50, which kept things interesting. Many were perfectly polite and considerate. Many were not. About half would notice my "No Smoking" sign and, as I watched in the rearview mirror, immediately dive into their purses for their pack of butts. It was positively Pavlovian. Stimulus-response.
The sociology major in me obviously wanted to know why. Why do guys behave one way and dames the opposite?
The answer — politics.
The 1970s, remember, was the decade of women's liberation in America and yours truly had a front-row seat. In the spirit of equality, Big Tobacco began marketing its deadly product to female smokers. Women, like men, after all, have the same right to contract lung cancer and heart disease. Virginia Slims was the hottest brand in Smokeville.
Many a female fare in the throes of liberation and empowerment expressed the attitude: "No male cab driver is going to tell me what I can or cannot do!"
What does this have to do with The People's Republic of Burlington?
Well, since the Queen City's enlightened city government banned smoking in Burlap's last remaining smoky bars, yours truly is feeling like a liberated '70s woman in the back seat of a non-smoking Chicago taxi cab.
Nowadays, when we drop in for a gargle at the local watering hole, we can't help but notice that things have taken a disquieting turn.
The bartender, a smoker, fidgets. And all that time once spent emptying ash trays and selling cigarettes is now free time for him to fidget more.
Since the cigarette ban in establishments with a cabaret license went into effect last month, we've noticed quite a few familiar faces missing in action. Upstanding citizens. Smokers all. Can't fault them. They're only human. They now frequent Winooski establishments or private clubs. Perfectly understandable, but this nonsmoker misses them.
And the conversational flow has been altered as half-filled beer glasses sit unattended on the bar, their owners out in the back alley or on the front sidewalk having a puff.
Neighboring businesses are not fond of the new social order. The tobacco crowd now blocks the right-of-way and turns the sidewalk into an ashtray. Don't be surprised if the Burlington City Council passes a ban on smoking on sidewalks next.
There's an Orwellian Big Brother feel to the latest Burlington ban on certain human behavior. And the old liberated feminist in me doesn't like it.
The last vestige of the smoky-bar culture, the long-treasured haunt of writers, artists and the working class, has been eliminated by a bunch of holier-than-thou politicians.
Of course, most of the anti-tobacco folks simultaneously support legalizing marijuana. Marijuana smoke, they argue, is "medicinal." They support grandma's right to toke up to ease pain and nausea.
Hmm. Maybe smoke-filled bars will return to Burlington one day after all?
Unless, of course, they ban bars first. After all, alcohol kills by the tens of thousands. Why won't our political leaders protect us from the scourge?
Oh, it's been tried, you say.
Didn't work, you say.
Have a nice day.
Author! Author! — Seven Days columnist Jernigan Pontiac will be autographing copies of his new book, Hackie: Cab Driving and Life, this Thursday, June 10, starting at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble on Dorset Street in South Burlington. See you there!
Correction — According to gubernatorial press secretary Jason Gibbs, CLF's Mark Sinclair was on the bulk email list used to invite folks to last week's signing of the stormwater bill. We reported he had not been invited.
Sinclair, however, still says he never received the email.