February 22nd, 2006

Clavelle Downed by Cheetah

by Philip Baruth

As regular readers well know, VDB has little patience with statewide candidates — especially Democratic statewide candidates — who insist upon not campaigning.

Why? Because we think it is an excellent way to lose. A Rose Garden strategy works best, after all, when you already occupy the Rose Garden.

Consider the fledgling candidacy of John Tracy. Tracy is an impressive candidate in almost every way — excepting his insistence on not campaigning.

Tracy has said that he’ll be happy to campaign statewide, but in the sweet by and by, once the Legislative session has ground to a halt. This against a fairly popular incumbent, and a very amped-up primary challenger.

From a post several weeks back:

“Tracy’s bet is clearly that work in the legislature will translate into free media, and an air of statewide leadership. As VDB recalls, that was Bob Dole’s strategy in ‘96. Until the Democrats tied the Senate in knots.

“Bob Dole got angry. Bob Dole fought back. Bob Dole felt sorry for Bob Dole for a while, and then quit the Senate. But by then it was far too late.

“So you have to wonder about Tracy’s hole-up-in-Montpelier strategy.

“Because when you’re facing a primary against a candidate like Matt Dunne (D-Windsor) — who’s been up and running like a cheetah for months now, and who just happens to be hosting John Edwards this week in Burlington, Tracy’s own backyard — that may well be ballgame.”

Well, today the cheetah struck — and not for the last time. Dunne held a noontime press conference and announced a slew of endorsements, some national, some statewide, including Madeleine Kunin, whose support saved Hinda Miller in the Burlington Mayoral caucus some weeks back.

But the real news was the endorsement of the man standing beside Dunne in Conference Room 12, City Hall: Peter Clavelle, outgoing Mayor.

To put it in Arthur Miller’s terms, Clavelle is not only liked in Burlington, but well-liked: he’s currently in that slow sentimental victory lap that long-serving public officials are granted in America, once they announce retirement. The lap during which even your enemies admit that you’ve done well, that you’ve made life better for your people.

And that glow is something that can be shared with others, by proximity. It was Dunne, not Tracy — and incidentally not Pollina — that Clavelle chose to stand beside.

In response to the 64,000$ dollar question by the Free Press’s Sam Hemingway, Clavelle demurred: “This endorsement is about Matt; it’s not about John.” The mayor went on to express respect for Tracy, and then indicated that the endorsement was all but locked up by the time Tracy announced his firm intention to sort of run for Lieutenant Governor.

Imagine that.

Look, if you’re Tracy, you need massive Democratic primary turnout in Burlington, to have any hope of offsetting Dunne’s clear strength in the rest of the state. Without Madeleine Kunin, without Phil Hoff and other party icons, that starts to look less likely every day.

And without Progressive Pete, it starts to look like a pipe-dream.

VDB has said it before and we’ll no doubt say it again: these statewide offices are important — people should know they want to run, and they should then actually do so.

Hunger is the sort of thing no one has to explain to a cheetah.