February 28th, 2009

Mayoral Race, Final Weekend: Nadworny Drops Playboy Bomb on Republican Kurt Wright, And It Hurts So Good (Not)

by Philip Baruth

If you read the post below, you saw VDB make the argument that Instant Run-Off Voting forces candidates to buff down their edges, and encourages them to emulate the positions of the opposing party or parties. And we believe that to be true. But that doesn’t mean that voters will buy the repackaging. Case in point: Burlington advertising guru Rich Nadworny takes an axe to the Wright campaign’s portrayal of its candidate as a crusader for women’s rights.

After revisiting Wright’s chummy appearance on The O’Reilley Factor, during the Cashman affair a few years back, Nadworny takes up the Republican’s highly publicized support of a resolution condemning Burton for their Playboy-enhanced snowboard line. Wright has made the related case that pornography on the slopes begets violence against women, and no doubt that positioning has helped in the hunt for second-place Democratic votes. But Nadworny sees an irony, maybe more than one:

“What’s most surprising is that Kurt, as an employee of Kerry’s Kwik Stop, was actively involved, himself, in promoting the sales of pornography. A quick visit to Kerry’s has a rack full of Playboy, Penthouse and more! Why didn’t Kurt do anything to remove pornography from Kerry’s while he was there, if this issue was so important to him? I’m sure Kurt Wright had good reasons for promoting pornography in his former job. I just think Burlington deserves better from its next mayor.”

Ouch. Now that’s gotta hurt. And not the early John Cougar “Hurts So Good” kind of hurt, either.

Late Update, Saturday, 6:48 pm:

Longtime reader CM writes in with her own fond memories of the now-tripartisan Kurt Wright:

Greetings VDB!

Just wanted to send you a little “thank you” note on informing us of the Rich Nadworny “My Turn” piece. I’ve known Kurt quite well since he was the stock-boy at Kerry’s Kwik Stop, before being promoted to cashier . . .

During the year 2005, I was participating in a “military families speak out” anti-war tour, and speaking before the Vermont legislature (of which Mr. Wright was a member, if I have my facts straight) to ask them to develop a commission to study the effects of the war deployment on the VTANG and VT economy. At the same time, Mr. Wright was, NOT so quietly behind the scenes, referring to us as “radicals,” liberals, hippies, and heaven-forbid, I think the word “traitors” was even heard to dribble from his lips.

I guess he had no problem with Vermonters potentially having to KILL women and babies, or come home in body bags, but God help us if Vermonters are allowed to snow-board down our glorious ski slopes with the image of a hot babe staring up at them. Maybe somebody needs to clue Kurt in to the fact that participation in wars of aggression are most CERTAINLY known to be a causal factor relating to the incidence of domestic violence! Yup, Burlington deserves better. And you can quote me.



February 27th, 2009

In Praise of Instant Run-Off Voting

by Philip Baruth

Announcer: On Town Meeting Day, Burlington will use instant run-off voting for only the second time in its history. It’s not a system that everyone is comfortable with, but Commentator Philip Baruth is a convert.

Notes From the New Vermont
Commentary #227: In Praise of Instant Run-Off Voting

A couple of hours after sunrise on Tuesday, Town Meeting Day, Burlington voters are going to begin heading out to the polls, and once there they will elect a new mayor. There are four very strong candidates on the ballot – a Progressive incumbent, a centrist Democrat, a moderate Republican, and an Independent who’s made some headway by asking voters to reject party politics altogether.

Now, I’ve been watching events unfold very closely for months, and I have to face the facts: I have absolutely no idea who’ll wind up in the Mayor’s office. And it’s not just me. Nobody in town seems to have any firm idea who’s going to pull it out in the end.

This 2009 mayoral race is as close to a complete and utter crapshoot as you’ll ever find in Vermont politics.

But I can tell you this: Democrats and Progressives won’t unintentionally elect a Republican because they mistrust one another so deeply. If the Republican wins on Tuesday in Burlington, it will be because he’s appealed to a significant number of those Democrats and Progressives, not just because the Left inadvertantly split its sizeable majority here in two.

How can I be so certain? Because we’ll be using Instant Run-Off Voting.

If you’re not familiar with it, Instant Run-off Voting sounds complicated, but it’s really not. When you walk into the voting booth, the ballot asks you to rank-order your top candidates: your first place choice, second place choice, and so on. If no candidate reaches the magic threshold of 50% when the ballots are tallied, then the candidate with the lowest total is eliminated.

But the voters who strongly supported that eliminated candidate now have a second chance to influence the election – their second-place choices are figured into the totals of the remaining candidates. If no one reaches 50% in that round, then another low-performing candidate is eliminated, and so on. Eventually, someone reaches 50%, and they do so because they managed to score lots of second-place votes outside their own party.

In 2006, political scientist Tony Gierzynski conducted an extensive exit poll, and he found that over 66% of Burlington voters liked the new system better than the old, and 61% wanted it used in the Governor’s race.

And why not, really? IRV always produces a consensus winner, or at least a winner that a solid majority of voters find less objectionable than any other.

And IRV makes every candidate a de facto diplomat, at least every successful candidate. Think about it: if you know the election is probably going to be decided by moderate voters in the opposing party or parties, then Karl Rove politics – wedge issues and attacks aimed at firing up your base – are completely counter-productive.

What works most consistently?

Praising your opponent where you can, negotiating differences where you must, and filing down any sharp edges in your advertising. It’s like watching a prize-fight where the two heavyweights just sort of . . . stop hitting each other, and start talking politely to the crowd about the various differences in their boxing styles.

Not as much fun to watch, admittedly, but at least you don’t have to mop the sweat and blood off the canvas when the match is over.

[This piece aired first on Vermont Public Radio. Audio of the commentary is available here.]

February 25th, 2009

Jindal Has The Guts To Call Out Obama On Katrina Response, A Shame Obama, Who Was Solely Responsible For the Category 5 Hurricane, Will Never Ever Live Down

by Philip Baruth

Well, Bobby Jindal delivered for Conservatives last night, laying out the key elements of the neo-GOP argument in his response: Katrina taught us that we can’t trust Government, not that we can’t trust privatized Republican Government, and President Obama, in addition to being a beacon of hope for all Americans, is an inveterate liar and a generational thief. God love Bobby Jindal, as Biden’s mom would say.

Jindal, right. Okay, kidding: Jindal actually left.

Pundits and snap polls were divided over which element of the response was the more cringe-inducing, the queasy jokes about Jindal’s own immigrant parents or the bold, do-nothing stance with regard to the economic melt-down.

Jindal very earnestly made the case that what we need most right now is for government to put power in the hands of regular Americans, like you and me — the idea being, VDB supposes, that once our taxes were cut and we had acquired our superpowers, then you and me would drive down to Citi Bank and tell them they’d best lend out $55 billion by Friday or kiss their sweet Armani-covered asses goodbye.

It was insanity, of course. And that’s not our word. That’s David Brooks, the conservative commentator who labeled Sarah Palin a “cancer on the Republican Party.”

This clip is pure gold, mostly because it’s glaringly obvious that Brooks is seconds away from erupting into profanity, but it’s PBS, after all, and F-bombs are frowned upon. Enjoy.

February 23rd, 2009

It’s Their Southern Regional Party And They’ll Cry Whether They Want To Or Not

by Philip Baruth

Still getting used to running across sentences like the following, not in hard-core left-wing blogs but in mainstream sources like the New York Times, because such sentences now represent not partisan aspirations but formidable realities: “The Republican governors’ divide reflects their party’s erosion to a mostly regional party that is based in the conservative South, after heavy election losses in the Northeast, Midwest and West.” A very lovely line.


February 22nd, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: William Shatner Sticks Full-Ironic Late-Career Dismount

by Philip Baruth

Consider the CIA’s highly intricate reverse-Manchurian plot, now in its final stages: William Shatner, once a sane, self-respecting Canadian, and now a crazed pop-culturized American camp icon, will return to the country of his birth to compete for the Prime Minister’s slot. Soon every Tim Hortons donut will be glazed with mind control drugs, and there’s not a damn thing Paul Martin can do about it.

February 20th, 2009

Free Press: Kiss Admin “Gone Rogue”

by Philip Baruth

You might want to put down the Wheaties, folks, and pick up your copy of the Burlington Free Press. Because there’s an editorial in this morning’s edition that will really singe your eyebrows: “Kiss Campaign Playing Dirty Tricks.” We won’t summarize it here; you need to read it yourself, because it’s tough and clear and probably the final word on the matter this cycle. But a teaser: Leopold deserves “the strongest condemnation,” Kiss has “failed the people of Burlington,” and the current administration has clearly “gone rogue.” VDB now has no more eyebrows. And we are loving it.

Late Update, Sunday, 12:28 pm:

And there’s the icing on the cake: Freeps endorse Montroll for Mayor, with Dan Smith their second-place pick. Which is to say that anybody who says they know where this race is going is a cast-iron liar.

February 20th, 2009

Yes, Yes, Virginia, Jim Does In Fact Equal Jobs, UNLESS There’s Some Sort of Extremely Cool Horsie Action Figure In Play

by Philip Baruth

Funny how we always overwrite political stories. For the longest time, we here at VDB have been watching the Douglas Administration fail in its long-stated mission to create jobs in Vermont, and we’ve tended to look for reasons based in ideology, or personal incompetence, or an inadequate response to globalization. So the Governor’s governing style — remaining almost completely inert for the bulk of each legislative session, and then stirring briefly to veto three or four Democratic initiatives — always seemed at least partially to explain lackluster job growth. Right.

But according to a confidential source, it turns out the whole thing is so very much simpler: about six years ago, Lucifer appeared to Douglas outside the McDonald’s in Rutland and offered to buy his soul, offering in exchange either robust job growth or a cool horse toy with its own plastic saddle.

And that, apparently, was all she wrote.

February 18th, 2009

What’s Conflict of Interest Cubed? (Now With New Winners and Losers Update!)

by Philip Baruth

The dust-up between Jonathan Leopold and Andy Montroll has obscured much of the mayoral campaign at this point, but one thing we can all agree upon, regardless of party: when the Board of Finance meets this afternoon to consider Leopold’s charge that Montroll’s work for Valley Net constitutes a conflict of interest, Montroll will be judged by a highly impartial body, given that the five-member Board of Finance currently includes the aforementioned Jonathan Leopold, his boss Bob Kiss, who happens to be Montroll’s Progressive opponent, and Kurt Wright, who happens to be Montroll’s hard-charging opponent on the Right. Now that’s what VDB calls a real working majority. Brilliant.

Late Update, Wednesday, 7:45 am:

Seems that the Board of Finance isn’t quite as tone-deaf as the symphony thus far might otherwise indicate: the five-member panel, made up primarily of Mayoral candidates, voted unanimously to delay discussion of the alleged conflict of interest.

Losers? Leopold and Kiss, especially given that John Briggs’s reporting on the story now contains this sequence: “Leopold initially criticized Montroll for not disclosing his work for Valley Net, but Montroll said he told Leopold of his work in May. Leopold later acknowledged that was true . . . ” And most everyone agrees that Leopold jumped for the Free Press hotline just a wee bit quicker than was seemly, with an election looming.

Winners? Montroll, who can and will claim that if Kiss and Leopold had a firm case they’d have made it yesterday. But Andy isn’t the only one whistling today: Kurt Wright made a smooth, implicit case to Montroll voters by defending his BOF colleague as “above reproach,” and Dan Smith will make Independent hay of the matter while the sun shines.

Generally speaking, Instant Runoff Voting cuts almost all ways, simultaneously and without mercy. That is all ye know, and all ye need to know.

February 17th, 2009

Best Two Sentences You’ll Read All Day

by Philip Baruth

From a cheery little article in this morning’s Burlington Free Press, on the latest snafu down in Vernon, this one involving the now-seven-week-old “Slightly” Radioactive Leak That Wouldn’t Die and Rob Williams’s use of the F-word:

vermont yankee

“Engineers at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant are still trying to stop a pipe from leaking slightly radioactive water. Vermont Yankee spokesman Rob Williams says there have been several attempts to fix the gasket in the 4-inch pipe in the reactor’s clean-out system, but all have failed.”

All have failed, indeed.

February 13th, 2009

Unnecessary Roughness: Burlington’s Leopold Launches The Most Brazen Political Hit of the Early Twenty-First Century

by Philip Baruth

During the last Burlington mayoral election cycle, Bob Kiss looked like an unlikely candidate: quiet, shy even, and not then on the Progressive Party’s A-list of political go-getters. But events conspired to make Kiss mayor. To take one strong example, just a couple of weeks out from the election, the Burlington Free Press put together one of the most negative candidate profiles I’ve ever seen on State Senator Hinda Miller, then Kiss’s main competitor. At issue were business dealings going back decades, but with sharply worded new quotes to flesh out the story. Very sharply worded.

Bob Kiss, left, and Jonathan Leopold, right

Fair or not, that widely-read Sunday profile drove Miller’s negatives sharply skyward — the worst thing that can happen to any candidate, but particularly under Instant Runoff Voting, where being an acceptable second-place candidate usually carries the day.

And of course, IRV turned out to be a very workable format for a quiet, inoffensive mayoral candidate like Bob Kiss.

But apparently this time out, the Kiss campaign wasn’t willing to wait for lightning to strike. So Jonathan Leopold, Kiss’s City Hall major domo, made his own lightning: yesterday the Free Press ran an astounding piece, in which Leopold directly accuses Andy Montroll — Kiss’s current competitor — of conflict of interest and ethical impropriety in his own business dealings with Valley Net, a telecommunications start-up in the White River area.

Leopold’s central point is that Montroll sits on Burlington’s Board of Finance, which oversees the work of city-owned Burlington Telecom, which might, in some hypothetical future, find itself in head-to-head competition with Valley Net.

But here’s the beauty part: Montroll says he properly disclosed his work for Valley Net, months ago, to the city official in charge of such matters, and was given to understand that the situation didn’t pose a problem.

And that official, of course, would be Jonathan Leopold.

Seriously: Montroll describes a meeting, in some real detail, at which he disclosed the key elements of the work for Valley Net, and adds that he and Jonathan then walked up Church Street chatting. He provided the Free Press with the email setting up the appointment, but as the article notes, that email doesn’t speak to the subject matter of the meeting.

And Montroll did not mince his own words: after stressing that there is no actual conflict at issue, he called Leopold “a liar,” and made it clear that he sees the accusation that launched the article as fundamentally dishonest, and politically motivated.

Read the piece for yourself. It’s John Briggs’s work, and it’s pretty carefully put together. Toward the end, you’ll notice, Leopold called Briggs back to walk his own story back a bit, following Montroll’s description of their meeting disclosing the Valley Net work. He admits the meeting now, and admits that some discussion of related potential conflicts took place, but still insists that Montroll never disclosed the actual connection to Valley Net.

“I have not lied about that meeting,” Leopold says in the article’s final quote, then adds a bit of verbal wiggle: “To the extent he feels that he disclosed this relationship [with Valley Net], I can understand his frustration.”

Now, to the extent that Jonathan Leopold stands to lose his well-paid and highly influential position in City Government if Montroll defeats Kiss, I can understand Leopold’s own frustration. But having read the Briggs piece, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that this is one of the most brazen political hits I’ve ever seen in Burlington politics.

The Montroll campaign says they received no call from Leopold, at any point, about a conflict. The first they heard of any of this came on the Free Press website, last night. Which begs the question: if there were no election currently in its endgame, how would the City’s Chief Financial Officer have handled a potential conflict of interest?

Contact the media, or contact the city councilor involved to discuss the matter?

And again, as in the case of the Hinda Miller profile several years back, Bob Kiss will say little about all of this, and smile shyly. But there’s no denying structural political reality: Leopold contacted the media, not Montroll, and two weeks out from an election a guy like Leopold would not launch an attack of this intensity without discussing the gambit first with Kiss, who, in addition to being a candidate locked in a very tough race, is of course the mayor and Leopold’s boss.

This is Kiss’s hit, in other words.

Until evidence surfaces to the contrary, that’s a conclusion that’s impossible to avoid. Which is to say that it didn’t take long for the shy, retiring unlikely mayor from the Old North End to start acting like a hardened big-city pol after all.

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