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Yuck... The Homestretch

Inside Track


Published October 20, 2004 at 4:00 p.m.

I love politics, but I hate, hate, hate the last two weeks before the election.

For one thing, Vermont's radio airwaves will be jam-packed with nasty, negative attack ads from organizations you've never heard of.

The one we caught Tuesday morning trashed both Lite-Gov challengers, Democrat Cheryl Rivers and Progressive Steve Hingtgen, on behalf of Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie. It was produced by an outfit called the "American Taxpayers Alliance."

Thank you. I had no idea Ma Rivers and Stevie Wonderful were such wicked enemies of the people for advocating universal health care!

And during the last two weeks, the calls inevitably start coming in from outraged candidates complaining that the opposition has been stealing their campaign lawn signs. In fact, so many lawn signs have been stolen in the middle of night in recent elections, one could reasonably suspect the sign manufacturers themselves were behind the nonpartisan thefts.

Unfortunately, it's more likely the juvenile dirty deeds of political nut-cases who suffer from penis envy and/or erectile dysfunction.

Also, political campaigns traditionally start accusing one another during the last two weeks of "illegal" this and "illegal" that. The issues that will actually affect voters take a back seat.

On Monday, for example, Vermont Democrats accused Republicans of running illegal TV ads promoting Gov. Jim Douglas' reelection. The spots are produced and paid for by the Republican Governors' Association.

Love the shot of Gov. Scissorhands cuddling the adorable little girl in his arms. He just looks so gubernatorial!

On Wednesday, members of another independent group called TrueMajority (as opposed to Fake Majority?) will announce their radio and print ad campaign supporting Peter Clavelle. The radio spots feature a back-and-forth between "Ronnie" and "Cathy." It starts like this:

Cathy: Hi, Ronnie.

Ronnie: Oh, hi, Cathy. Pretty crazy election year, huh?

Cathy: I'll say. So who are you voting for?

Ronnie: Well, Kerry and Leahy... and I guess Douglas.

Cathy: You know, Douglas is a nice guy and he makes it sound like he cares, but you wouldn't believe how much he's like Bush.

Ronnie: Bush?

Cathy: I checked it out and I couldn't believe it, either. What's important to you?

Ronnie: Well, the big thing is the war.

The point of the ad is encapsulated in Cathy's last line: "Jim Equals George."

TrueMajority is funded by some of Vermont's most progressive, graying, baby-boomer-generation capitalists. They protested the Vietnam War and, God bless them, they're protesting this one, too.

TrueMajority includes the men who made ice cream famous -- Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, as well as Magic Hat beer baron Alan Newman and spunky Burlington waterfront developer Melinda Moulton.

Ah, yes. The reason to elect Peter Clavelle governor is because he will end the War in Iraq. No problem. If only life were that simple. If only George McGovern beat Tricky Dick Nixon in 1972, eh?

Unfortunately, there's not one seasoned Vermont political observer we know who thinks highlighting Iraq is Clavelle's key to victory. Obviously, it's a strategy that was set in stone some time ago, and even Mayor Moonie's dismal showing in last week's Ch. 3 poll won't open his eyes.

That's the poll that showed Clavelle 14 points behind Jim Douglas with just 37 percent support. The same poll found President George W. Bush backed by 40 percent of the 400 Vermonters called.

Starship Enterprise to Mayor Moonie! It ain't about the freaking war! It's about the freaking state!

Yours truly recently suggested to Mr. Clavelle that his gubernatorial "Iraq Strategy" had failed.

"It's not a question of strategy," he snapped back. "It's a question of reality. Vermonters need to understand the politics, the priorities, the government philosophy of Jim Douglas is the same as George Bush. That's a reality of life!" he exclaimed with spit and fire in his voice.

Unfortunately, the Clavelle campaign has managed to totally ignore the "reality" that Vermont voters, are, as Gov. Douglas pointed out, "very independent, prodigious ticket-splitters."

Let's face it. Douglas has been running an excellent campaign. He's "in the zone," as they say, and he happily whacked Clavelle's Iraq War pitch out of the park the way David Ortiz whacked his 12th-inning homer into the Fenway seats to win Game Four.

"Vermont voters want to hear about what a governor can do," Douglas told Seven Days, "They want to know about our hopes and goals on issues we can affect. I don't think they're impressed by political rhetoric that is not relevant to the issues of the governor's race."

And so far, Mr. Clavelle's articulation of his hopes and goals on issues that affect Vermonters has been, shall we say, a wee bit lacking?

Veteran Democrat players have even suggested in the last week that Peter Clavelle wasn't really "running to win," in his first statewide race. Rather it's a prep for 2006.

Besides, the incumbent has only been in for two years. Gov. Douglas, they say, hasn't screwed up in any significant way. Voters have no burning desire to kick him out just yet.

That's also indicated by the number of fellow Democratic candidates who have shied away from endorsing Clavelle. The Democratic state senate candidates in Caledonia County are but one example.

Clavelle, of course, insists he's in this to win and that there will be an "upset victory" on November 2. But our take is, Mayor Moonie's gotten some very bad political advice. His campaign has been reluctant to act and slow to react.

Sadly, the Democratic challenger has completely blown the use of "free media," i.e., the daily news cycle of print, radio and TV news, to differentiate himself from the incumbent. And he sure could have used a little coaching on how to give a good speech. A successful political speech requires a lot more than volume.

Monday at UVM, Clavelle basically delivered 10 minutes of shouting. A CBC radio reporter from Montreal described him as "high-pitched."

And, had Howard Dean, our state's newest rock star, not been on the program, the crowd of about 500 students would likely have shrunk to a few dozen.

The Canadian journalist, by the way, was there to cover Dean. All he knew about fellow francophone Clavelle, he told us was that, despite his French-Canadian roots, Clavelle doesn't speak French.

C'est dommage, n'est-ce pas?

On Tuesday, we asked Mayor Moonie to tell us just who his brilliant campaign advisors are. Who's been telling him that it's OK not to be able to explain one's radical new health-care plan, as long as one repeatedly links Jim Douglas to Bush's bombing of Baghdad?

Clavelle confirmed that he has indeed relied for some time on the expert advice of what he called his "kitchen cabinet."

"I'm not divulging their names," he said.

Perfectly understandable. Why embarrass them?

Leahy Spell Check -- You'd think after graduating St. Michael's College and Georgetown Law School, then serving as Chittenden County state's attorney, followed by five -- count 'em -- five terms in the United States Senate, Patrick Leahy would have learned how to spell.

But his latest TV spot features our smooth and dapper, follically challenged senior senator flaunting his law-and-order credentials in a courtroom setting as a "Former Prosecuter."

No such word as "Prosecuter."

It's "Prosecutor."

We caught the goof Monday evening on WPTZ.

According to Layhee campaign manager Carolyn Dwyer, yours truly was the first and only citizen to notice. How did something so embarrassingly stupid happen?

"If I knew," replied Dwyer, "it wouldn't have happened and we wouldn't be talking about this."

The Leighhy spot, produced by Murphy Putnam Shorr & Partners, first aired last Thursday. The "prosecuter" typo was caught on Friday, she said. Corrected spots were cut and shipped, but it doesn't happen overnight.

Luke Albee, Leehay's chief-of-staff, did not sound thrilled by the news that St. Patrick had just flunked Spelling 101.

"It was a mistake," admitted Cool Hand Luke, "but not a prosecutable offense."

Cute, eh?

UVM Green -- Some of UVM's less-than-highest paid employees are waking up to an unpleasant lesson in generosity.

We're told Groovy UV has had a practice of awarding longtime workers an anniversary present. One worker recently received a $15 gift certificate good at the campus bookstore to mark his 10th anniversary working at UVM.

Then, on payday, he noticed his check was four bucks less than it usually is.

It appears UVM treated the anniversary bookstore credit as a gift and taxed it accordingly.

We contacted UVM's public relations director about the matter Monday morning, but as of our Tuesday afternoon deadline, we haven't heard back.

Happy anniversary -- now pay up!

The Meaning of Red -- The first news of the ugly accident at the southern terminus of the Burling-ton Beltline last Wednesday evening came on the WCAX 11 o'clock news. The victim was described as an "elderly Burlington man."

Roger Garrity and Sera Congi had fresh video from the scene showing the remains of a crumpled bicycle. The victim had already been transported to Fletcher Allen Health Care.

Since two-wheeled transport is yours truly's transport of choice, the story caught our attention. There but for fortune... you know what I mean?

Nothing about the Burlington accident, however, made Thursday's Burlington Free Press, our beloved non-locally owned local newspaper.

Thursday evening, locally owned WCAX reported the bicyclist, Charles Burch, 72, had died.

Friday, the Freeps ran a four-sentence "brief" about the accident on an inside page. No big deal.

The Gannett-chain paper reports the installation of curbs on College Street as top news, but a fatal motor vehicle accident a few blocks away gets ignored. Great local news coverage, eh?

Lower down on the same page, the Freeps published Charles Burch's obituary. The paid-obit (the Freeps is one of the few papers around that charges for obits) apparently tipped off the news room that the Wednesday fatal on Manhattan Drive deserved a little more than a four-sentence "brief."

The next day, Saturday, the newspaper ran a story on Burch's death on the business page. After all, the distinguished local advertising executive had operated his firm in an office across the street from The Burlington Free Press for the last 25 years. The story, however, contained absolutely no new information about the fatal Old North End crash.

As anyone who travels around Burlap on two wheels knows, roads were built for cars. In any and every match-up between Toyota and Trek, Toyota will come out on top every single time.

Mr. Burch was riding westbound on Manhattan Drive that evening around 7:30. It was dark. He was struck by a Toyota traveling southbound through the intersection with Park Street. Though Burlington Police have not as yet completed their investigation of the accident, Seven Days has learned that all eyewitness accounts indicate Burch ran the red light, right into the path of the oncoming traffic.

One eyewitness, Joe Geraw, told Seven Days he had actually noticed the bicyclist several blocks back, near the Burlington Boys & Girls Club.

"The way he was riding," said Mr. Geraw, "was like he was in a daze."

The Old North End resident said that the biker was riding too far out from the curb and when the road turned sharply to the left, he had to stop his car to allow the bike to make the turn.

Geraw said he was sitting in traffic at the light at North Champlain Street when the bike passed him again, riding through the red light. When that light turned green, the light one block ahead at Park Street turned red where the high-speed Beltline dumps traffic into the neighborhood.

As Geraw's vehicle approached the intersection to turn right with the arrow onto the Beltline, he sensed the bike wasn't going to stop for the red.

Geraw remembered saying to his passenger, "Watch this. This guy's going to get hit!"

One second later, a southbound Toyota hit the brakes hard before skidding head-on into the bicyclist.

Geraw told Seven Days the bicycle rider was knocked so high into the air by the impact, "He almost hit the overhanging traffic signal." Mr. Geraw said he was out of his car "before the guy hit the ground."

Geraw and other eyewitnesses ran to assist the victim and the middle-aged female driver of the car. She collapsed in shock when she got out of her vehicle, he said. A half-dozen witnesses quickly called 911 on their cell phones. However, none was able to get through.

Geraw said that the emergency 911 calls just kept ringing and ringing and were never picked up.

Burlington Police say they are looking into that.

Eventually, said Geraw, a woman in a nearby house called 911 on a land line and got through. Police and Rescue One arrived shortly.

Even several days later, Geraw remained shaken by what he'd witnessed that night.

"It was an act of God," Joe said this week. "I hope nothing happens to the lady who was driving the Toyota. Her light was green."

Burlington Police accident investigator Cpl. Phil Small told Seven Days that all the other eyewitnesses told the same story Geraw told us. Mr. Burch had pedaled through a red light, at night, wearing dark clothing.

Let Burlington bicyclists be warned. Even before last week's fatal, said Small, Burlington Police have been growing increasingly concerned about the city's burgeoning bike traffic. Charles Burch's tragic death puts a spotlight on it. The rules of the road are the rules of the road for everyone.

Small pointed out that running a red light is a two-point $194 traffic violation, whether one is behind the wheel of an SUV or steering a two-wheeler.

"We're going to start writing tickets for bicycles," said the officer.