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August 02, 2012

In Email Exchange, AG Candidates Call on Each Other to Debate More, Stop Hatin' & Release Poll

AGThere's really nothing more passive aggressive in politics than the old campaign-to-campaign email exchange — cc'ing the media, of course.

That tactic emerged in the Democratic race for attorney general Thursday as incumbent Bill Sorrell and challenger T.J. Donovan traded barbed requests through the press.

It started in the morning with an email from Donovan campaign manager Ryan Emerson to his counterpart on the Sorrell campaign, Mike Pieciak, calling for more debates before the Aug. 28 primary.The candidates have already taken part in two debates and are scheduled for seven more.

"What better way to inform the public than engaging in more debate?" Emerson wrote. "I know that both campaigns are very busy, but I'm sure we can work together to adjust our schedules accordingly. Will Bill Sorrell join T.J. Donovan by committing to three more debates?"

Rather than directly responding to the Donovan email, Sorrell's campaign issued its own requests by email later in the day. In a letter to Donovan, Sorrell called on his opponent to publicly release a script of the questions his campaign asked in a recent poll of 400 Vermonters. Two Sorrell supporters who participated in the poll characterized it to Seven Days as a "push poll" intended to influence voters, not gauge public opinion — though Donovan's campaign maintains it was a rigorous, scientific survey.

Citing Vermont's tradition of civility in politics, Sorrell also called on Donovan to sign a "positive campaign pledge," which he helpfully included as an attachment to the email. The four-part pledge would bar the candidates from engaging in or condoning "negative or defamatory attacks" on each other's character and issuing campaign materials that mislead or distort the other's record.

"Join me in signing the attached pledge to run a positive issue oriented campaign and to refrain from negative campaigning," Sorrell wrote. "Our party is made stronger by positive issue oriented debate, but can be torn apart by employing negative campaign tactics."

So, will each of the campaigns accede to their opponent's request?

Yes, yes and yes! (Well, kind of.)

Continue reading "In Email Exchange, AG Candidates Call on Each Other to Debate More, Stop Hatin' & Release Poll" »

Chief Schirling Says Pic 'Clearly' Shows Protester Reached for Cop's Baton, Photographer Disputes Chief's Version

Protest Photo 1

Updated below: Chief Schirling retracts statement, apologizes for mistake. 

Does this photograph show a protester from Sunday's clash with Burlington police grabbing a cop's baton?

Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling said on Vermont Public Radio's "Vermont Edition" today that the photo — snapped by Dylan Kelley and posted online at Seven Days — "clearly" shows the demonstrator in the black bandana grabbing the baton of police Lt. Art Cyr.

"What I see in the photograph, they have a hold of it," Schirling told VPR host Steve Zind. "They are clearly resisting and you can clearly see in the left of the photo, a man in a black bandana grabbed hold of Lt. Cyr's baton, and that is what precipated the first event."

Cropped-Photo in Question (Burlington, Dylan Kelley, 2012)Activists and cops have traded accusations about who's to blame for the incident in which police fired "stingball pellets" into a crowd of demonstrators blocking a bus of dignitaries from leaving a conference of New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers. The tension gave way to a moment of cooperation yesterday when demonstrators and their lawyer called for a dialogue with police about the events that led to the clash.

After hearing Schirling's remarks on VPR, the photographer who took the picture said he was "livid," calling Schirling's claim "an absolute lie."

"If you look at the picture, it clearly illustrates that that person's hand is not wrapped around the baton," said Dylan Kelley, who has photographed occupy protests around the country. "It is wrapped around a flag or banner or something else. If you zoom in on that lower left hand corner of the frame, and you look at that person's hand, it is not wrapped around the baton."

Kelley, who said he was at most four feet away from Cyr, sent Seven Days higher-resolution version of the photograph, which we zoomed in on and cropped to publish here. From the photograph, it's difficult to say what the bandana-clad protester is clutching, and Schirling was not immediately available Thursday afternoon to respond to Kelley's comments.

Update - 4 p.m.

Upon viewing the close-up of the photograph, Chief Schirling has retracted his earlier statement made on Vermont Public Radio. In a statement emailed to Seven Days and VPR Thursday afternoon, Schirling said:

"On the show earlier today I described a photograph from the 7 Days website that was given to us this morning as showing a man grabbing an officer's baton. A few moments ago 7 Days emailed us a much higher resolution enhanced version of the photograph. Upon examination of this new photograph we realize it is not the baton. We will work during our investigation and 'after action' review to try to determine what it is. Our assessment of this portion of the event was based solely on the photograph available earlier in the day. I want to be sure we set the record straight as quickly as possible as new information comes to light. I apologize for the error. We continue to ask that anyone with information about this incident, video, photographic, or otherwise, contact us so we may be as thorough as possible."

Slamming Shumlin on FEMA Funding, Brock Makes Irene a Campaign Issue

Brock1If you thought Tropical Storm Irene wouldn't become a political football this campaign season, think again.

At a hastily-called press conference Wednesday morning on the flood-damaged campus of the Waterbury State Office Complex, Sen. Randy Brock (pictured) took a direct shot at the crowning achievement of Gov. Peter Shumlin's first term: his administration's response to last August's devastating storm.

Clutching a stack of emails he requested from the Shumlin administration, the Franklin County Republican said the correspondence proved the governor misled the legislature and the public into believing the Federal Emergency Management Agency had promised more recovery funding than it had.

"Governors and governments can't withhold facts and information from the public they serve. Vermont taxpayers are not going to be satisfied with vague statements and reassurances that we have from the governor. They demand facts. They demand and deserve answers," Brock said, listing warning signs he gleaned from FEMA's emails to the administration. "These warnings weren't told to the legislature. And the question is: Why weren't we told? Why weren't Vermonters told?"

Brock's charge comes nearly two weeks after the Shumlin administration revealed to legislators new worries about how much money FEMA would provide to help rebuild the Waterbury complex and the Vermont State Hospital. In recent meetings with legislative leaders, administration officials claimed that FEMA had backtracked from earlier guarantees, potentially leaving taxpayers liable for tens of millions of dollars.

Continue reading "Slamming Shumlin on FEMA Funding, Brock Makes Irene a Campaign Issue" »

August 01, 2012

After Sunday's Tumult, Activists and Authorities Agree on Need for 'Conversation'

Jonathan LeavittThe confrontation that occurred on Sunday between some protesters and authorities is now giving way to expressions of cooperation by both sides.

Jonathan Leavitt (pictured at left in photo), who says he received 19 bruises from police pellets fired during Sunday's demonstration on College Street, called for a public dialogue with police and city officials. Reading a prepared statement at a City Hall Park press conference on Wednesday, Leavitt said, "Hopefully today will mark the beginning of an important conversation."

In an interview a half-hour later, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said he welcomes a meeting with the activists and their representatives. He agreed there should be a "community conversation" about Sunday's events and about the general topic of policing at protests. An internal police investigation of officers' actions is getting underway, with results expected to be made available in about a month, the mayor added. A public meeting on the same concerns will be held sooner than that — in two or three weeks, Weinberger indicated.

Asked whether there could be a problem with the police investigating themselves, the mayor said "That thought has crossed my mind." But he expressed confidence in the integrity of such an inquiry and noted that there is considerable videotape evidence of what occurred when some demonstrators sought to block a bus carrying governors and Canadian provincial premiers who were taking part in a conference at the Burlington Hilton.

Continue reading "After Sunday's Tumult, Activists and Authorities Agree on Need for 'Conversation' " »

July 31, 2012

An Anti-Climactic Protest Bids Govs and Canadian Premiers Adieu from Burlington

Protest 1

Corrected below regarding the Burlington police presence.

What one Occupy agitator had billed earlier in the day as "an awesome action" turned out to be an anti-climactic fizzle on Monday evening. About 30 demonstrators briefly jeered a convoy of New England governors and Canadian premiers exiting the U.S. Coast Guard station on the Burlington waterfront following a cruise on Lake Champlain.

The protest would have been a bit bigger, and perhaps more militant, if the dignitaries had not engaged their detractors in a semi-successful game of hide-and-seek. Even so, Monday's demo would probably not have replicated the commotion on College Street the previous day when Burlington police fired non-lethal projectiles. Their target: a few civil disobeyers among an outpouring of 500 law-abiding protesters. The confrontational cadre was trying to block buses carrying the govs and their Canadian counterparts to a dinner reception in Shelburne.

As a followup, a group of 50 or so dissenters had initially gathered at Perkins Pier under a hot sun late Monday afternoon. They waited about an hour, expecting the VIPs to set sail from the ferry dock, as had been indicated in publicity material for the conference taking place at the Hilton on Battery Street. The patient remnant then walked or cycled to a small park adjoining the Burlington Community Boathouse. The Spirit of Ethan Allen cruise ship had docked alongside, leading the protesters to assume that the govs and premiers would actually be setting sail from there.

Continue reading "An Anti-Climactic Protest Bids Govs and Canadian Premiers Adieu from Burlington" »

July 30, 2012

Video: Police Clash With Protesters Outside Governors Conference in Burlington

ProtestPolice fired pepper balls and sting balls at protesters outside the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers Conference in Burlington yesterday.

Activists from New England and Quebec converged on the Queen City for a day of protests outside the conference, which took place at the Hilton Burlington. The protests centered on Canada's mining of tar sands oil and what environmentalists believe is a plan to ship tar sands oil through the Northeast Kingdom. Protesters also rallied in solidarity with Quebec's student demonstrations and representatives from the Innu First Nation denounced Hydro Quebec.

The rallies were peaceful and non-violent all day long, with protesters numbering in the hundreds. But late in the afternoon, a small group of protesters attempted to block buses believed to be carrying the governors and premiers from leaving the Hilton's side driveway on College Street. It was then that protesters and police clashed and some protesters were shot with "less-lethal" munitions.

From a Burlington Police Department press release:

[Protesters] were warned several more times before a crowd control team of officers with plastic shields and helmets was deployed to walk ahead of the bus following standard procedure to ensure that protestors were not struck and to assist the bus in leaving. As the officers walked forward they were physically confronted by the crowd. Some began pushing back toward the officers, others sat on the ground while at least two others laid down locking arms. 

Click here to read the full account of the incident from the police department.

Below are some videos and photos shot by protesters and onlookers.

Continue reading "Video: Police Clash With Protesters Outside Governors Conference in Burlington" »

July 27, 2012

Congressman Allen West, GOP Provocateur, to Hold Vermont Fundraiser

Allen-westVermont Republicans can't seem to get enough of national GOP figures with a propensity to drop — um, there's no other way to say this — Nazi references on a fairly regular basis.

First came Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who touched down in Vermont two weeks ago to bring in the dough for Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock. During his time in the Green Mountain State, the Maine gov managed to reignite and escalate a national uproar over comments he made comparing the IRS to the Gestapo.

Next up? Florida Congressman Allen West, a rising star in the national Republican scene with a reputation for politically incorrect zingers. The Vermont Republican Party on Friday announced in an email that West will host a fundraiser for his campaign August 5 at Waterbury's Country Club of Vermont. Vermont GOP chairman Jack Lindley said that while his party is helping to spread the word about the event, it's being hosted by "a conglomeration of Tea Party activists and people who are concerned about the direction of the world."

Not familiar with Rep. West? Here's a quick highlight reel of some of his more controversial utterances:

  • "Well, you know what, it is about time that we end this Gestapo-like intimidation tactics that we see coming from Nancy Pelosi and also from the president as well," West told Sirius/XM radio in August 2010.
  • "If Joseph Goebbels was around, he'd be very proud of the Democrat Party, because they have an incredible propaganda machine," West told reporters in the U.S. Capitol in December 2011, according to Politico.
  • "You have this 21st century plantation that has been out there where the Democrat Party has forever taken the black vote for granted. And you have established certain black leaders who are nothing more than the overseers of that plantation, and now the people on that plantation are upset because they've been disregarded, disrespected and their concerns are not cared about," he told Fox News in August 2011. "So I'm here as the modern-day Harriet Tubman to kinda lead people on the underground railroad away from that plantation and to a sense of sensibility."
  • In an e-mail to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also chairs the Democratic National Committee, West wrote in July 2011, "You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the US House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise shut the heck up," according to the Palm Beach Post. "You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!"
  • And, lastly, West said during an April town hall meeting that there are "78 to 81 [U.S. House] members of the Democrat party that are members of the communist party."

If you can't get enough of this stuff, be sure to check out "What West Said," a website set up by West's Democratic opponent, Patrick Murphy.

Continue reading "Congressman Allen West, GOP Provocateur, to Hold Vermont Fundraiser" »

Adrian Drops Out of Chittenden County Senate Race

Local-adrian2With just a month to go before the Democratic primary, Burlington City Councilor Ed Adrian said Friday he's dropping his bid to represent Chittenden County in the state senate.

"I had too many balls in the air at the same time and I wanted to make sure I didn't drop one, so I guess last in, first out," Adrian says. "As things have sort of accelerated and other obligations have accelerated, it became apparent to me that I wouldn't be able to give it 100 percent."

Because primary ballots have already been printed and distributed to town and city clerks, Adrian says, his name will still appear on the ballot — though he says he would decline the Democratic nomination if he were to win it.

One of nine Democrats and 17 candidates total seeking to fill six seats in the Chittenden County delegation, Adrian was one of the first challengers to float his name as a contender back in March. With four incumbent Democrats seeking reelection, Adrian was principally competing with four other Democratic challengers for the remaining two slots on the party's ballot: Williston selectboard member Debbie Ingram, former state representative Peter Hunt of Essex, dog walker and filmmaker Loyal Ploof of Burlington and former state representative David Zuckerman of Hinesburg.

Adrian, who recently reported raising $6052 for his campaign, says he's confident he had "a good shot at winning" had he stayed in the race, but made the decision to drop out because he was overstretched. While he says he was aware when he entered the race that it would take a lot of time, he didn't realize "how it was going to be received at home."

"Sometimes you don't quite grasp the entire situation until you're in it," he says. "It's weird timing, but I wanted to do it enough in advance of the primary to give people enough notice."

Adrian had previously said he planned to leave the city council when his term expires in March 2014 and on Friday said that plan remained unchanged.

Photo credit: Matthew Thorsen, Seven Days

July 26, 2012

Activists From Québec's Innu First Nation To Protest This Weekend's New England Governors' Conference in Burlington

Innu photo #1More than a dozen protesters from Quebec's Innu First Nation are due to arrive in Vermont this weekend to protest the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, being held in Burlington. They are protesting against the construction of a new hydroelectric dam on the Romaine River by Hydro-Québec, which they say would destroy their entire way of life. Vermont purchases the vast majority of its power from the Canadian utility giant and Gov. Peter Shumlin currently chairs the New England Governors' Conference.

This new dam is but one aspect of a much larger development project in the region known as Plan Nord. According to the Québec government's official website, Plan Nord is "one of the biggest economic, social and environmental projects in our time." The 25-year, $80 billion project will create or consolidate an average of 20,000 jobs per year, the Québec government says.

The Innu people — not to be confused with Canada's Inuit people — come from the community of Mani-Utenam, near the city of Sept Iles.  They are an indigenous population from northeastern Quebec and Labrador who claim they have never ceded their rights to the land to the Québec or Canadian governments.

In March of 2012, members of the Mani-Utenam community, which numbers roughly 4000 people, erected a blockade along Québec's Highway 138, the main artery along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. The blockade was a protest against Plan Nord and dams being built along the Romaine River, about two to three hours northeast of their community. Highway 138 is the only way, except by boat, to access the inland areas along the north shore. It's also the only road into this part of Québec, and facilitates most of the industrial development that happens in this region.

Among the activists coming to Vermont is Elyse Vollant, an Innu grandmother who in June was arrested at the blockade, along with several others from the community. After the blockade was removed by dozens of riot police and Surete du Québec (Quebec state police), the Innu erected an encampment alongside 138.

Many Innu feel that the Charest government has ignored their concerns and traditional right to the land.  While some tribal councils have signed on to the Romaine project, other Innu view these councils as colonial forms of government that were set up by the Québec government without much consent from Innu decades ago.

According to Vermont activists working with the Innu, Mani-Utenam has not signed any agreements around the Romaine project.  However, Hydro-Québec has started clear cutting swaths of forest near their community for the transmission lines that will will carry power from the dams. For more on the Innu protests from earlier this year, check out this piece by Alexis Lathem in Toward Freedom.

Seven Days spoke with Vollant last weekend by phone in advance of her trip to Burlington. (French interpretation courtesy of Andrew Simon.)

SEVEN DAYS: Under Canadian law, do the Innu people have any legal rights or say over how this land will be used?

ELYSE VOLLANT: In general, First Nations have the right to a say over what happens in their territory. The communities affected held two referenda and said no to the dam being constructed. Hydro-Quebec, even after the referenda, has continued their construction work, putting in pylons for the dam... We have a right to determine what goes on in our territory and Hydro-Québec is not really listening to us when they continue the construction. 

Continue reading "Activists From Québec's Innu First Nation To Protest This Weekend's New England Governors' Conference in Burlington" »

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.

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