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July 2012

July 25, 2012

Leahy Casts 14,000th Senate Vote

As we reported last month, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has served in the Senate for a really, really, seriously long time. So long that when he was first elected in 1974, you weren't even born, son. So long that, late Wednesday afternoon, he cast his 14,000th vote in the esteemed legislative body.

Leahy's ceremonial 'yea' came during a close vote on a Democratic bill seeking to extend expiring tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 a year. With Vice President Joe Biden presiding over the Senate in case of a tie, the bill passed by a vote of 51 to 48. Leahy's 13,999th vote was a 'nay' cast against a Republican measure that would have extended the Bush-era tax cuts to all Americans — one percenters included.

"I have valued every single moment here," Leahy said during brief remarks on the Senate floor following congratulatory speeches by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Much of Leahy's remarks focused on the role his wife, Marcelle, has played during his nearly four decades on the Hill.

"I love the Senate. It's been a major part of my life. But I was glad to hear both leaders mention the true love of my life, my wife of nearly 50 years," Leahy said, wiping a tear from his eye. "There is nothing I've accomplished throughout my whole public career that I could have done without Marcelle's help."

Only six senators have cast more votes than Leahy, including such luminaries as Robert Byrd (18,689), Strom Thurmond (16,348) and Ted Kennedy (15,236). Sen Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii.) is the only sitting senator who outranks the Vermonter in both years and votes (16,265). Also feted Wednesday was Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana.), who cast his 13,000th vote at the same time as Leahy's — though his was a 'nay.' Lugar, the Senate's third-ranking member, was defeated in Indiana's Republican primary in May.

Click here to learn which votes Leahy's most and least proud of casting over the years.

Is the Gas Prices Debate About Economics or Politics?

250-skipIn this week's issue of Seven Days I wrote about Skip Vallee, the CEO of RL Vallee Inc. — one of Vermont's largest gas station chains. In the latest twist in the unfolding story about high gas prices in Vermont, Vallee purchased a former filing station in Plainfield, only to put it back on the market with restrictions on the deed that would forbid the property from being used as a gas station, convenience store or grocery store.

Some residents in Plainfield are crying foul, saying Vallee is just squashing potential competition for his other gas station up the road — and making it harder to attract a new owner in the process. Ask Vallee, and he'll tell you it's just business — a creative move to protect his company. 

The back story — to cut to the chase — is that ever since U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took up the drumbeat on higher-than-average gas prices in northwestern Vermont in early July, Vallee and some of his colleagues have faced tough scrutiny for their pricing policies. Sanders says the Burlington area has a "non-competitive market" in which a few companies, RL Vallee included, set the prices. Vallee contends his business is competitive in every market in which it operates. 

In the political undercurrents that pit Sanders against noted GOP player "Gasoline" Vallee, there's been some inevitable sniping back and forth. Sanders' office last week pushed out a press release that included information from superstore Costco saying that its Colchester warehouse, if allowed to build a gas station, would have offered gas at prices 19 cents lower than nearby competitors. (Vallee and another gas station owner are attempting to block the Costco gas station on largely environmental grounds.) From Sanders' press release:

“We applaud your efforts to promote competition in the gasoline business in northern Vermont, which will lead to more rational and competitive pricing for your constituents and our members,” [Costco  Executive Vice President Joe Portera] told Sanders.

Vallee's detractors are quick to point out the irony in the noted Republican's tactics of choice: Not only is he supposedly stifling competition, but he's using environmental regulations to do so.

“What Skip Vallee and his friends are supposed to believe in is the value of competition,” Sanders told me on Monday morning. He said he's not for or against Costco, but also noted that RL Vallee "isn't exactly a mom and pop" operation. 

Vallee can give as good as he gets: “With Costco, I am glad Bernie has finally found a multinational he likes," he quipped in an email to Seven Days.

You can read the whole story (including more details about Vallee's power play in Plainfield) here.

Illustration by Michael Tonn.

July 24, 2012

WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey Breaks Bad

WhistlepigBBWho knew that a high-end whiskey crafted in Addison County was the drink of choice for DEA agents? It happened on last Sunday's episode of AMC's "Breaking Bad."

Alerted by this screenshot tweeted by Tom Fratamico of Stowe (@ElGuaposGhost), one obsessive local "Breaking Bad" fan (yours truly) decided to get to the bottom of WhistlePig's cameo on the kitchen-sink-noir drama.

Mild spoilers for the episode "Madrigal" (5.2) follow:

George Merkert, Asst. Special Agent in Charge at the Albuquerque office of the DEA, pours WhistlePig for Agents Hank Schrader and Steven Gomez as they discuss his taking the fall for the DEA's failure to bring down meth kingpin Gus Fring. They sip the rye (which lists at $79.99 a bottle) from coffee mugs as Merkert reminisces about socializing with Fring, who seemed like such a nice, mild-mannered fellow. The camera pushes significantly in on Hank.

But first, it offers a distinct shot of the WhistlePig label (pictured).

Continue reading "WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey Breaks Bad" »

Alice Eats: Wilaiwan's Kitchen

IMG_444134 State St., Montpelier, no phone

Some restaurateurs try to make an impact with the size of their menus. Others are confident enough to know that it's the motion in the kitchen that counts.

With only two items on its menu, Wilaiwan's Kitchen is one of the latter. When I visited the tiny Montpelier storefront last week, the line snaked out the door. With only a few tables inside and out, several diners brought plastic containers or plates from home to take some food and get out of the way.

Wilaiwan's had made a name for itself over the years as a street cart, and it was clear that Montpelierites liked it just as much as a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, even if the two choices didn't include a vegetarian option. Perhaps the restaurant's abbreviated hours also contributed to the rush I encountered. Wilaiwan's is open only from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: Wilaiwan's Kitchen" »

July 20, 2012

Grazing: Froyo In The 'Hood

Soyo_2For one of the healthiest cities in America, Burlington suffers from a curious lack of soft-serve frozen yogurt. There's Dakin Farm in Ferrisburgh, with its heavenly frozen maple yogurt, but I can't think of another place nearby to grab a swirl of the light stuff.

So the late June opening of SoYo on Pine Street is a big deal. The owners, Sabrina Gibson and Hans Manske, committed to using local cream, maple and berries for their suite of flavors, which they based on recipes purchased from GoBerry, the bustling, minimalist yogurt place in Northhampton, Mass. 

A yogurt-head, I've visited GoBerry a lot, though I initially walked out when told that vanilla yogurt doth not flow into my cup. What the hell was a frozen yogurt place without vanilla? That was archaic and rigid froyo thinking, it turns out. GoBerry is all about fresh, local and imaginative (think green tea and strawberry-basil yogurt) with a minimum of flavor choice but a surfeit of toppings. Now I hit GoBerry whenever I drive through the Pioneer Valley.

So on a muggy day early this week, I was eager to visit SoYo for a comparative taste. I slipped in through the back hallway (painted magenta) into a Euro-style space — both neon and spare — with cinder-block walls, polished cement floors, lime green counters and a corrugated metal ceiling. Giant photos of raspberries and kiwis adorn the back wall; an enormous mural of a blue cow fills another. Bubblegum electronica played over the speakers. A pair of high tables and a long metal counter were filled with others trying to cool down.

Continue reading "Grazing: Froyo In The 'Hood" »

Movies You Missed 48: 4:44 Last Day on Earth

4-44This week in movies you missed: If the world were ending, where would you want to be?

(a) Roaming a palatial estate with a smug Kirsten Dunst?

(b) On a road trip with Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, a dog and her vinyl collection?

(c) In a Manhattan loft with two arty types who are none too articulate and spend most of their last hours painting gigantic canvases and getting busy with each other?

(d) With Bruce Willis in a spaceship somewhere, quipping and trying to save the day?

What You Missed

If you picked (d), too bad. This movie concerns option (c).

Director Abel Ferrara (best known for the one and only original Bad Lieutenant) tries his hand at the apocalypse art film with 4:44 Last Day on Earth, set almost entirely inside the loft where lovers Cisco (Willem Dafoe) and Skye (Shanyn Leigh) are spending their last night alive.

Continue reading "Movies You Missed 48: 4:44 Last Day on Earth" »

F-35 Protestors Loudly Confront Democrats' Intervale Fundraising Soiree

Protest 204Burlington's Intervale was the setting Thursday evening for an exceptionally dramatic piece of political theater. Close to 100 protestors denouncing the F-35 stealth fighter jet loudly confronted a smaller set of Democratic Party politicians, staffers and donors who had gathered nearby for an outdoor fundraising soiree.

The fired-up demonstrators had chosen this venue because every member of Vermont's elected Democratic hierarchy supports bringing the supersonic war plane to the Air Guard station at Burlington International Airport. So does Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who consistently votes in concert with Democratic liberals. None of the big-dog backers of the F-35 attended the fundraiser in person, although Sen. Patrick Leahy, Rep. Peter Welch, Gov. Peter Shumlin and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger all dispatched aides to the event, as did Sanders.

At one point, the two groups — one casually dressed and shouting slogans; the other outfitted in summertime finery and nibbling hors d'ouvres — were separated by only about 20 yards in an open field. Chants of "money for jobs and education, not for community decimation!" drowned out the amplified voices of Democratic speakers warning of the horrors to come if Mitt Romney is elected president.

It was an awkward as well as tense juxtaposition.

Continue reading "F-35 Protestors Loudly Confront Democrats' Intervale Fundraising Soiree" »

July 19, 2012

At Burlington City Hall, Dean Re-Endorses Sorrell for Attorney General

Sorrell and DeanIn case you missed it, former governor Howard Dean totes backs Attorney General Bill Sorrell's bid for reelection.

Back in March, Dean told Seven Days' Andy Bromage he's, "all in for Bill."

"I'm going to campaign for him. I'm going to raise money for him," Dean said of his former Secretary of Administration, who he appointed to the AG post in 1997. "I don't see any reason to change horses."

But earlier this month, for a story about former governor Phil Hoff endorsing Sorrell's opponent — Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan — the AG apparently told Burlington Free Press reporter Terri Hallenbeck that Dean hadn't yet endorsed him. Two days later, a postcard featuring Dean endorsing him (see below) landed in mailboxes around the state.

Continue reading "At Burlington City Hall, Dean Re-Endorses Sorrell for Attorney General" »

Don Pedro's Taqueria Closes to Winooski to take the El Diablo Challenge? Better make other plans. It's been dark inside Don Pedro's Taqueria since Saturday.

A sign apparently dashed off in pencil warns potential guests, "Closed until further notice!"

But other signs indicate there will be no further notice. The restaurant's phone line has been disconnected, and owner Pierre Mesa has not answered phone calls or emails.

The restaurant survived just less than a year after its August 11, 2011 opening. At the time, Mesa reported that he served about 550 people a night in the quick-service Mexican eatery's first week.

In recent months, business appeared to have slowed drastically from the original mania, despite attempts at new gimmicks such as a weekly salsa dance night.

R.I.P. to the Don.


Holy Slamming-Leahy's-Ties-To-Hollywood-and-Batman, Batman!

Leahy Comic

Updated below with statement from Leahy

Quick, Robin! To the Patmobile!

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's cameo in the forthcoming The Dark Knight Rises is shining a bat-signal-sized spotlight on the senator's coziness with Hollywood. Seven Days' Paul Heintz broke down the senator's Tinseltown ties in his Fair Game column two weeks ago.

Now a bunch of jokers from the internet group Demand Progress have launched a website called devoted to highlighting Leahy's fondness for Hollywood-friendly legislation (and Warner Bros. fondness for casting Leahy in its Batman films), and featuring a Batman-style comic strip mocking Vermont's senior senator.

Continue reading "Holy Slamming-Leahy's-Ties-To-Hollywood-and-Batman, Batman!" »

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