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Bernie Sanders

What Are We, Stupid?

Fair Game


Published March 11, 2009 at 8:39 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Another Town Meeting Tuesday, another set of election results arriving too late for the “Fair Game” column. You think elections could be held on Sunday or Monday to give Seven Days time to write about them in Wednesday’s paper? Just an idea.

Action on Republican Kurt Wright’s recount request in the Burlington mayoral election is getting underway as this week’s issue goes to press, so I hope to be delivering the news on the Seven Days staff blog, Blurt, by Wednesday night.

While the recount isn’t likely to change the outcome, it may answer this question: What the hell were Burlington voters thinking by reelecting Progressive Bob Kiss?

State GOP Chairman Rob Roper pulled no punches on Vermont Public Radio: “I think that what happened in Burlington on Tuesday was a travesty, and I think the will of the voters was circumvented.”

Preach on, brother. A travesty, indeed. Let’s review:

  • Two-thirds of the voters didn’t have the smarts to put Wright down as their first pick.
  • Five out of seven wards ranked Wright behind Kiss and Democrat Andy Montroll.
  • Kiss was in the lead, claiming the most first-place votes in only six of seven wards, before Ward 7 voters pushed Wright out front.
  • Wright had 33 percent after the first round, 37 percent after round two. That’s close enough to 50 percent, isn’t it?
  • See how our will was circumvented? What was in those brownies at the polling site bake sales?

    Let’s examine the math behind this circumvention: In the first round, Wright had 2951 (33 percent) votes to Kiss’ 2585 (29 percent) and Montroll’s 2063 (23 percent). In the second round, Wright had 3294 (37 percent) to Kiss’ 2981 (34 percent) and Montroll’s 2554 (29 percent) after Independent Dan Smith and Green Party candidate James Simpson’s votes were eliminated and their second preferences divvied up among the other three candidates. In the final round, Montroll was eliminated: 1332 of his preferences went to Kiss, while 767 went to Wright. That put Kiss on top with 4313 (51.5 percent) and Wright with 4061 (48 percent).

    The outcome inspired a T-shirt offering a new definition of IRV: “Keep Counting ’Til Bob Wins.”

    Given this info, it does appear those pesky Montroll and Smith supporters mucked things up by ranking Kiss before Wright on their ballot. What losers.

    Seriously, in a liberal city where you had three candidates pulling votes from the left, and two from the right, IRV worked as intended. It gave voters a chance to rank their candidates: The one preferred by 50 percent of the electorate ends up the winner — you know, a majority.

    With four competent candidates, it was sure to take a few rounds.

    As mayoral spokesman Joe Reinert aptly described it: “This was not a one-lap race, or a two-lap race; it was a three-lap race, and as such all that matters is who was ahead after three laps.”

    The race may not be over yet.

    Anti-IRV forces are already at work to ensure the voting system is not used in state elections, and there is talk of recalling IRV in Burlington.

    Wright is the poster child for dumping IRV and has been urged to lead the citizen petition effort to do so. “Citizens voted for IRV and if they choose to get rid of it, that process should be citizen-driven, too, and not encouraged by me,” he said. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

    Word is, the Vermont GOP may file a lawsuit to make sure the will of Burlington voters is upheld. You know, voters who really meant to vote for Wright.

    “A close election can create some controversy,” said Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, a pro-IRV group that helped Burlington set up the ranking system in 2006. “I think IRV comes out of this smelling like roses if you step away from a partisan analysis and just look at the kind of campaign it helped generate, the way voters handled it, and the more democratic outcome it produced.”

    A partisan analysis? In Burlington? Now, that’s silly.


    Silent Bob — The Progs pulled it off — again — but not everybody in the party is celebrating. Some key Progs see the reelection of Bob Kiss as a wake-up call, even a call to promotional arms.

    “Many folks who live here and enjoy its great attributes are not as aware as they should be about who led in making this city great,” said Rep. David Zuckerman (P-Burlington). “We need to step up and be better messengers with respect to the good work that has been and will continue to be accomplished.”

    John Franco, an attorney and Progressive who was part of the first Bernie Sanders administration, said Kiss is “pathologically humble” and is averse to overt political actions and statements. “He firmly believes that good deeds, as such, should stand on their own,” said Franco.

    Several Prog insiders who spoke privately to “Fair Game” said they were disappointed in the Kiss campaign. They wanted to see a more energetic effort that praised Progressive successes and pulled more people to the polls.

    That concern is now underscored by the belief that Kiss is governing from a position of minority rule, with Democrats holding a near majority on the city council.

    Kiss doesn’t believe he is governing from a minority position, noting that his victory was a partial referendum on three decades of Progressive rule. “The substance overshadowed the ‘stuff’,” he puts it.

    That said, Kiss promises to do his part to turn up the volume on Progressive policy victories. “I can certainly do more than I have,” said Kiss, “and I will.”

    He’ll have to, given the incoming council, a makeup not seen by a Progressive mayor since Sanders. To break through the Ds stonewalling in the 1980s, Sanders struck deals with Republicans and created neighborhood groups to build support for Progressive proposals.

    Franco doesn’t see that scenario playing out. “The Democrats would be foolish to simply act as obstructionists again,” he said. “They would be setting themselves up for another three decades of exile.”

    I’m not so sure. Take Monday’s city council meeting, for example: The Ds refused to let the council meeting go past 10:30 p.m., derailing important discussion of housing issues vital to Champlain College and the University of Vermont. The reason? They didn’t like a separate minor zoning change to let Burlington grow up, literally. The change would let 10-story commercial buildings in the city’s downtown reach 127 feet — 11 feet taller than currently allowed.

    “It was a win-at-all-costs approach,” said Wright, council president. “And the council simply can’t behave this way. It was very disrespectful to the university, to the college, to the planning commission and other councilors who have spent a lot of time on these important issues.”

    Dems say they didn’t mean to gum up the works and are OK with debating everything but building heights. Bataphobia perhaps?

    Councilors who support more debate will likely convene a special session Friday night in advance of a March 30 public hearing on these topics, Wright said. Holding the hearing in March allows the current council to finish up its work on major issues before the new council is seated in April.

    That council, with possibly eight Democrats, is sure to put Kiss to the test.


    Political Perversion? — On the topic of perpetual campaigning, Kiss could take a lesson from the guv.

    Less than a month ago, Jim Douglas said it was “perverse” to be talking about the next election cycle rather than being fully focused on the work of the people. He was referring to the growing field of Democrats eyeing a run at Douglas in 2010.

    Well, if you thought he was too busy palling around with Pres. Barack Obama, think again. Guess what Douglas sent out the day before Town Meeting Day? That’s right, a fundraising letter reminding supporters of this truism: Democrats want to take your money, so consider giving it to Douglas. All in the name of stopping Dems from implementing their “job-killing agenda.”

    The guv needs campaign cash because he can’t “sit back and let the attacks on my record go unanswered.”

    Oh, really?

    As readers will recall from last week’s column, Douglas dispatched six highly paid commissioners and secretaries to tamp down criticisms made by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham). But I guess having minions at your disposal isn’t enough.

    Shumlin is one of the Democratic names being floated as a possible gubernatorial candidate. Sen. Doug Racine (D-Chittenden) is a definite candidate, while Secretary of State Deb Markowitz is “exploring” the idea.

    Another sure sign that Douglas is ramping up for reelection is that he named former campaign manager Dennise Casey, who is currently deputy chief of staff, to be his official spokeswoman. Dave Coriell, who used to work in the governor’s office before joining the campaign, and was later given a “job” at the Department of Finance and Management, is rejoining the fifth-floor team. Talk about revolving doors.

    One final example of Douglas in campaign mode is his use of alliteration to describe official functions. Douglas is in the midst of a 10-day “Road to Recovery” tour to talk up Obama’s stimulus funding.

    That slogan sure sounds familiar. Back in January, I predicted the guv might foist a new campaign mantra on us. “Road to Recovery” and “Path to Prosperity” were my picks.

    They didn’t even say thanks.


    Fogel Under Fire — As we noted last week, UVM prez Dan Fogel has had a rough go of it lately.

    But rather than hiding in his campus office, Fogel took to the airwaves Friday to answer calls as Bob Kinzel’s guest on VPR’s “Vermont Edition.”

    Fogel told VPR listeners that the budget cuts should be viewed in the context of his growth strategy since 2003. That focus has brought more Vermont students to campus, increased applications to UVM, boosted salaries for faculty and staff, and added roughly 300 jobs. Currently, UVM employs roughly 1359 full- and part-time faculty and 2418 staff.

    “I would say that this has been a successful strategy and that because of it we will emerge from this recession stronger and faster than other institutions,” said the prez.

    And, despite the cutbacks to staffing and programs, UVM will boost financial aid by $10 million for the coming academic year to help families struggling to pay for college.

    Despite his best efforts, Fogel isn’t off the hot seat yet.

    This week, supporters of baseball and softball announced a petition drive to save their teams, which are to be axed at the end of the spring season. Nearly 2000 people had signed as of Monday. The petition’s wording states that if Fogel doesn’t change course, its signers are not likely to give money to UVM.


    On the topic of job growth under Fogel, union spokespeople believe they have identified two more top administrators earning at least $150,000. That brings their count of six-figure administrators to 40.

    Interesting growth strategy.


    Get Your Blurt On — Come join the ongoing debate about IRV on our staff blog, Blurt. The debate is very spirited. Burlington City Councilor Jane Knodell, former Democratic legislator Nancy Wood and blogger Jay Vos have all weighed in.

    I’ll post results from this week’s IRV recount to Blurt as I get them.

    Got a news tip? Email Shay at shay@sevendaysvt.com

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