Clavelle Shoots for the Moon!
A little bit of history Monday night. For the seventh time, Peter Clavelle (born on Hospital Hill and raised a Winooski river rat), took the oath of office as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. That makes him the longest-serving mayor in Queen City history, surpassing Mayor J. Holmes Jackson, a Montreal native, who steered Burlap through the Roaring Twenties.
This time, Mayor Moonie, designated successor of former Mayor Bernie Sanders, embarks on Burlap's first ever three-year mayoral term. And a few veteran political observers in the City Hall crowd Monday evening were speculating that Clavelle may not serve out the entire term.
That's because they're hoping Peter Clavelle successfully takes his act statewide in 2004. They're hoping that the Winooski Wizard has to resign as mayor of Burlington in order to take the oath of office as governor of Vermont!
It's no secret that Clavelle has been eyeing statewide office for quite some time. Unfortunately, there simply hasn't been an opening. Until now.
That's because Democrat Doug Racine, the candidate Clavelle backed, lost the governor's race last fall to Republican Jim Douglas. The conventional wisdom among insiders is that former Lt. Gov. Racine's crushing defeat has knocked him down a few rungs in the Democratic Party's political pecking order.
But while Racine lost in November, Clavelle actually won. Mayor Moonie stepped up to the plate and led the move to unite, rather than divide Progressives and Democrats. He promoted "fusion" to a divided Vermont Left.
Anyone with a fourth grade education can do the math. As long as Dems and Progs butt heads, Clavelle saw Repub-licans enjoying smooth sailing and glorious sunsets, like the ones Gov. Douglas and Lite-Gov. Brian Dubie are currently enjoying.
Then, in December, Peter the Prog successfully demonstrated his commitment to "fusion" by claiming the Democratic Party endorsement for mayor, too. Only a few holier-than-thou Progs objected.
Clavelle sailed to victory. His double-endorsement makes him the first Democratic mayor of Burlington since 1981!
Waiting in the wings for 2004, however, is former State Sen. Peter Shumlin of Windham County. Putney Pete originally wanted the top spot in 2002, but bowed to pressure from Democratic Party leaders to step aside and give Doug Racine a clear shot.
Shummy fell on his sword in a hopeless three-way Lite-Gov race in which he and Progressive Anthony Pollina split the Vermont Left. That led to Republican Brian Dubie's 41 percent "landslide" victory.
Mr. Shumlin is still very much alive and in play. A master of the Statehouse game, he's one of the most talented politicians we've ever seen tap dance on the Vermont political stage.
Democratic Sen. Peter Welch of Windsor County replaced Shumlin as Senate President pro tem. A brilliant and talented lawyer, Welchie ran unsuccessfully for governor back in 1990. His political ambition appears to have cooled dramatically. No longer does he covet the press attention he did in his earlier life. Nowa-days, Mr. Welch is much better known for his TV commercials on WCAX, touting his skills as a personal injury lawyer.
Then there's Tony the Prog. Mr. Pollina has turned into a perennial statewide candidate, loser and standard-bearer for a third party that has been unable to expand beyond four measly seats in the 180-seat Vermont Legislature.
In 2002, Tony the Prog garnered just 24.8 percent of the vote in the Lite-Gov race. To hear his recent speeches, you'd think he got twice that.
Actually, long ago Pollina did top that. In 1984, Tony the Democrat got 26.7 percent in Vermont's Congressional race. That's right, Anthony Pollina ran as a Democrat. Shocking, isn't it?
Unfortunately, the incumbent he challenged, a Republican named Jim Jeffords, was a pretty popular guy. Still is, in fact.
The wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee question for Mr. Pollina is whether or not he can ever win a statewide race wearing the Progressive Party jersey. He's not getting any younger.
If Tony sees what all but a handful of Progressive Party true-believers see, he'll follow the trail blazed by Peter Clavelle. If he doesn't, Mr. Pollina will continue to be venerated by Vermont Republican activists for helping them reach heights that otherwise are beyond their reach.
Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders, it appears, is the only one who could really gum up Mayor Moonie's run for governor. The recent focus by Ol' Bernardo on the Fletcher Allen Health Care scandal has roused speculation about his plans for 2004. At least, it's certainly gotten Gov. Douglas' immediate attention.
Right now, the Democrats have a very deep bench. The Progs don't.
Heading the list of up-and-coming Vermont Democrats are State Senators James Leddy, Susan Bartlett, Dick Sears, John Campbell (Sen. Soup?), and Matt Dunne. In the House, Rep. John Tracy may have lost the Speaker's race, but he's far from extinction.
Then there are current office holders like Auditor Elizabeth Ready, Treasurer Jeb Spaulding and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz.None of them, however, could knock off Clavelle. He's well known around the state and very well liked in Democratic circles. In fact, Mayor Moonie and crew had everyone in stitches at the recent Democratic Party fundraiser in Mont-pelier. Upon being introduced, Clavelle and his Burlington tablemates quickly donned Groucho Marx disguises.
We're a long way off from campaign kickoffs and formal announcements, but make no mistake, folks. Burlington's longest-serving mayor wants very much to be your next Democratic governor.
Deanwatch 2004 -- Our favorite presidential hopeful made a pit stop in Burlington on Monday morning. Returning from a Florida engagement, Howard Dean and "Gal-Friday" Kate O'Connor flew north to Boston, then drove the rest of the way home. One source reported spotting Ho-Ho at a Shelburne Road dry cleaner later in the day.
Hey, Ho-Ho sure has been dressing better lately, eh?
This week comes word that Dean is reuniting with his former traveling companion and deputy chief of staff, Bob Rogan. Rogan's been cooling his heels the last few years as a vice-president at CVPS in Rutland. Top-shelf dude.
As Rogan comes on board, longtime Press Secretary Sue Allen departs the Dean for America campaign staff. Sweet Sue's been with Ho-Ho for five years.
Ms. Allen made it clear from the start she was only going to stick with the campaign for its initial stages. Recently remarried last fall, Sweet Sue has family responsibilities to attend to. She'll be missed.
Ms. Allen is being replaced by two press people: Campaign manager Joe Trippi's wife, Kathy Lash, and former journalist Dorie Clark of Boston. Here's a little Q & A with Sweet Sue. For her departure, we'll even give her the last word.
Q. What was the best part of being Howard Dean's official spokesman all these years?
A. "It may sound hokey, but the best part of working for Howard Dean is Howard Dean. He is funny and honest, he puts his wife and kids first (which makes him a family-friendly boss), and he makes us all proud with his speeches and positions. He makes you feel like you're working to make Vermont - and now the nation - a better place to live, not working for a paycheck."
Q. The worst?
A. "The worst by far are the hours, and that has less to do with the candidate and everything to do with the industry. Presidential campaigns are round-the-clock endeavors. Staff become 'family' to each other; it's difficult for married staffers with children -- like me -- to make room for another 'family.'"
Q. Most memorable moments?
A. "The first was sitting in the 5th floor Governor's Office one September afternoon with a small group of senior staff and hearing him talk about his decision not to seek reelection to the governor's office. It was a bittersweet moment. He was clear in his thinking, but torn about giving up a job he loved."
Second, the Friday in February when he spoke to the Democratic National Committee and brought down the house. All the presidential staffers were gathered around the TV watching on C-Span, and I actually got a tear in my eye because he was so inspiring. It was a reminder of why we were all so committed to this campaign."
Q. Were you in the room when he signed civil unions?
A. "Yes, along with almost his entire staff. He made a speech, similar to the one he gave at the press conference a few hours later. We all applauded; we were deeply proud."
Q. What do you think of the local reaction to Howard's run for the presidency? Skeptical at first, eh?
A. "I think it's hard for Vermonters to picture Howard Dean as president, just as it is for the other candidates in their home states. He's served in the Vermont House, as Lieutenant Governor and finally Governor. They see him at the grocery store and the gas station. They remember his campaign: 'Howard - I just like him.' But over the course of this primary, I hope and expect that will change. Already he's giving voice to many Vermonters who have concerns about this war."
Fletcher Allen Layoffs? -- More bad news from Hospital Hill. In a two-page, single-spaced letter sent to the homes of Fletcher Allen Health care employees, Interim CEO Ed Colodny broke the bad news. Operating expenses at Vermont's largest hospital are up and revenues are down. The Mary Fanny was almost $5 million in the red for the first quarter.
Mister Ed cited increased costs for patient care and outpatient services as well as costs related to ongoing investigations of the hospital's Renaissance Project Scandal.
But the news that sent a chill though many Mary Fanny workers was that layoffs, or what Colodny called "personnel reductions," are around the corner.
Last fall nurses voted overwhelmingly to form a union. They said that the shortage of nurses was already affecting patient care. Currently, the nurses are in the midst of negotiations with management over their first contract. Recently they held a press conference to complain about the snail's pace of those negotiations.
The obvious question is whether or not Colodny's weekend epistle threatening layoffs is related to the battle at the bargaining table. Nurse Steve Chamberlin thinks it is.
Chamberlin, the co-chair of the nurses' bargaining committee told Seven Days, "The timing is just too coincidental. We're in negotiations." Mister Ed's letter to the troops, he said, "is really bad for morale."
Some Renaissance, eh?
Electric Shock! -- City Hall is buzzing in the wake of the unheralded bombshell announcement by Burlington Electric Department (BED) boss Barbara Grimes.
In her March 23 Weekly Report issued by email the day before she left for a two-week Hawaii vacation, General Manager Grimes wrote, "I am disappointed to report that the FY2004 budget that is being proposed will need a rate increase."
According to Grimes, "To maintain our debt coverage, revenue needs to meet expenditures; can't use savings, it has to be revenues."
Grimes also indicated "layoffs" will be necessary to balance the municipal utility budget.
The news caught city officials as well as members of the Burlington Electric Commission off-guard. In fact, not a word was mentioned about a revenue shortfall at the March 20 Bur-lington Electric Commission meeting, according to the minutes. That was just three days before Grimes released the bad news and headed for Honolulu.
Asked Monday night if Ms. Grimes' announcement about money problems came "out of the blue," Electric Commission Chairman John Franco replied, "Pretty much."
Franco told Seven Days that as soon as he got the Grimes report, he immediately called a special meeting of the commission. It was last Wednesday. No press attended.
"We've only scratched the surface," he said.
Mr. Franco mentioned several possible reasons for the financial shortfall, including increased power costs and higher contributions to the department's pension fund resulting from stock market woes. He also said the recent frigid winter prevented BED from selling excess power generated by the McNeil Plant in the Intervale.
Burlington Electric is a not-for-profit, ratepayer-owned utility. And it's provided the lowest electric rates in Vermont for years. BED hasn't had a rate increase since 1995 and that was a tiny one of just 1.67 percent. Then, in 1996, BED instituted a 5 percent rate reduction!
In Grimes' March 23 report, she summed up the situation this way: "Ugly weather, ugly times, I am really looking forward to my vacation."
Late Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Clavelle said through his spokesman Bill Mitchell that Grimes "is on a well-deserved vacation" and has his "support and confidence." It's "early in the budget process" and "a rate increase is not a foregone conclusion.