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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  1. on February 18th, 2009 at 1:19 am

    […] 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. Just brilliant. Now that’s what VDB calls a working majority. […]

  2. on February 1st, 2011 at 8:07 am

    […] https://vermontdailybriefing.com/?p=1194 […]