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June 27, 2012

In Email to Board, VPIRG Head Slams Shumlin Over Lite Gov Candidate


**Update below with reaction from Gov. Peter Shumlin at Wednesday's press conference**

In an email to the Vermont Public Interest Research Group's board of directors, executive director Paul Burns slammed longtime ally Gov. Peter Shumlin, saying the gov "should be ashamed of himself" for encouraging a VPIRG employee to run for lieutenant governor.

As reported in this week's Fair Game, Democratic lite gov candidate Cassandra Gekas (pictured) says she was fired on the spot by Paul Burns when she informed him of her candidacy. Burns maintains that Gekas resigned her position as VPIRG's health care advocate.

After Seven Days went to press, we obtained a copy of an email Burns sent his board two weeks ago — shortly after his conversation with Gekas and the day she filed to run for office. In the email, Burns says he was "sickened" by Gekas' move, which he calls "utterly unprofessional and dishonest."

Far more notably, Burns rips Shumlin a new one and suggests that members of the board — which includes a number of prominent Shumlin supporters and donors — let the gov know their displeasure.

"I believe Cass was talked into this by the governor and others," Burns writes. "He should be ashamed of himself. I hope he has a nice job waiting for her after she loses a race for which she is completely unprepared, but it's no excuse. He deserves to hear from others who don't appreciate this self-serving political move."

(Complete text of email after the jump).

Shumlin and VPIRG have a history of close relations. When the former ran for governor in 2010, the latter shared with him results of polling the group had conducted about Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, drawing the ire of Shumlin's primary opponents. VPIRG also drew criticism when Shumlin hopped aboard the group's Mardi Gras parade float that spring.

Burns did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday. His email is copied below:

---------- Forwarded message ----------

From: <[email protected]>

Date: Thu, Jun 14, 2012 at 3:57 PM

Subject: Cass is leaving VPIRG

To: [email protected]
Cc: [email protected]


I’m sending you this quick note to tell you that Cassandra Gekas just informed me that she’s quitting VPIRG to run for Lt. Gov.  I know it sounds absurd but it’s true.

I’m sorry that by the time you read this you may already have heard it elsewhere.  As I said, she did not have the courtesy to provide any notice to me whatsoever (she mentioned the idea in passing a week or two ago but assured me that she had thought better of it).

This was an utterly unprofessional and dishonest move, doing great damage to VPIRG and to a lesser extent the movement for health care reform in Vermont.  I am sickened by it.  She had given me her word that we could count on her to be here just before we gave her a big raise last year.  I let her know how important her leadership was in the office and I meant it.  I put my trust in her just as each of her colleagues did.

I believe that Cass was talked into this by the governor and others.  He should be ashamed of himself.  I hope he has a nice job waiting for her after she loses a race for which she is completely unprepared, but it’s no excuse.  He deserves to hear from others who don’t appreciate this self-serving political move.
If you speak with Cass, all I ask is that you please refrain from giving her the impression that what she’s done to VPIRG is in any way acceptable behavior.  It’s not.  And it will cause great pain and headache to those whom she has so thoughtlessly left behind to pick up the pieces of her program. 
Let me know if you have any questions.
Paul Burns
Executive Director
141 Main Street, Suite 6
Montpelier, VT 05602
802-223-5221 ext.12

Stay tuned for reaction from the governor after his 1:30 p.m. press conference today.

**Update - 3:45 p.m.**

At his weekly press conference Wednesday afternoon, Shumlin declined to directly comment on the contents of Burns’ email, noting that, “If I responded to every email about me, we’d be having long, long press conferences.”

He did, however, push back on Burns’ contention that he had talked Gekas into running for lieutenant governor. He said that while Sen. Anthony Pollina (D/P-Washington) mentioned the idea to him at a June 6 press event, he had directed the senator to discuss the notion with his staff — not him.

Shumlin said the next he heard of Gekas’ candidacy was when aide Alex MacLean told him the candidate had filed her papers to get on the ballot. At that point, Shumlin said, he called Burns and left him a phone message — evidently after Gekas was fired.

The governor also declined to reveal exactly what he said in that message, though he said, “I know as an employer that when you have an employee that moves on to do other things, you often wish that it was different. And I was taking the point that I think it’s important that we all support young people running for office in the state.”

As for whether he feels it’s appropriate for an organization to fire an employee who runs for statewide office, Shumlin said, “I really believe that we should be doing everything as communities and employers to encourage young people and young women to run for office. I couldn’t feel more strongly about that. It really is — statewide office in Vermont is — an old boys’ club, and that’s gotta change.”

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