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July 09, 2013

SoBu Council Supports F-35 Despite Strong Opposition at Noisy Meeting

SoBu Council

Updated below with comment from Pam Mackenzie explaining her vote.

South Burlington grandmother Carmine Sargent, an opponent of the plan to base F-35 fighter jets at the airport near her home, lamented recently that so few of her neighbors were speaking out against the plane.

Dozens of them spoke out on Monday night.

Well over half of the 80-plus South Burlington residents addressing a special city council meeting urged the five-member body to reaffirm its earlier stand against the F-35 "bed-down." Despite those occasionally emotional pleas, the council voted 3-2 in support of the basing plan at the chaotic conclusion of a three-and-a-half-hour meeting in the Chamberlin School gymnasium initially attended by about 250 local residents.

A few of the roughly 150 attendees still present in the uncomfortably warm gym at 9:30 p.m. shouted objections as council chair Pam Mackenzie refused to explain her decisive vote on the divisive issue. Mackenzie also would not explain why she alone among the councilors declined to state the reasons for her vote. 

Mackenzie sided with councilors Pat Nowak and Chris Shaw, both of whom had soundly defeated F-35 opponents in local elections in March. Council members Rosanne Greco and Helen Riehle opposed the basing plan.

Prior to voting "hell, no," Greco said she was "shocked" that her colleagues would want to bring the plane to South Burlington "after all we've heard tonight." Greco, a retired Air Force colonel, drew a standing ovation after declaring that "blind acceptance is not patriotism."

Continue reading "SoBu Council Supports F-35 Despite Strong Opposition at Noisy Meeting" »

July 08, 2013

After Heated Public Debate, Winooski City Council Still Undecided on F-35s


Jean Szilva, left, an F-35 opponent, in an animated discussion with supporter Tony Augostino. The Winooski residents were among the more than 50 who spoke before city council Monday.

After two hours of public discussion overwhelmingly opposed to basing F-35s in Vermont, it remained unclear how the Winooski City Council will vote on the issue — or whether it will submit additional comments to the Air Force before a July 15 deadline for public feedback.

The council delayed any action until Wednesday after hearing from more than 50 Winooski residents, only five of whom voiced explicit support for the basing. The vast majority said the warplanes, which would replace F-16s currently based at Vermont Air National Guard base at Burlington International Airport, threatens health and quality of life in the city.

Winooski resident and activist Eileen Andreoli spoke to the council alongside a sign she made using a quote from the Air Force's most recen Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Even as Winooski residents testified, the South Burlington City Council was voting Monday evening to reverse a previous vote and officially support basing F-35s at BTV, over the objections of many city residents.

Arica Bronz, who co-owns a duplex in Winooski and has children in JFK Elementary School, told the council she was extremely happy to have her children in the school system, but wouldn’t accept the change.

“If the F-35s come to Winooski,” she said, “I will find a way to leave.”

Another resident, Dan Treinis, also said he would leave Winooski if the jets were based at BTV.

Many others were vehemently against the F-35s and encouraged the City Council to send a strong message to the Air Force on their behalf.

Resident Greg Premo said he worried the value of his home would fall with the increased noise from the new jets.

“I urge you not to be a laissez-faire city council,” he said to a panel of three city councilors and Mayor Michael O’Brien.

Continue reading "After Heated Public Debate, Winooski City Council Still Undecided on F-35s" »

July 05, 2013

Morning Read: Vermont's F-35 Fight Lands in the Gray Lady

MorningreadThe New York Times on Friday became the latest national news outlet to cover Vermont's long-simmering fight over whether the state will host a squadron of F-35 fighter jets.

In an A13 story, Times freelancer Theo Emery doesn't break any new ground, but he captures the irresistible drama of the situation: A divided city fights over whether to support "our guys" — as pro-F-35er Nicole Citro puts it — or those who would be bombarded by the plane's noisy takeoffs. Vermont politicians line up in favor of the basing, while others decry undue political interference.

Etc., etc. 

While the themes of Emery's story may be familiar to anyone living in the Green Mountain state — or, at least, here in Chittenden County — it's surely news to many of the Times' 1.87 million subscribers. No doubt that will further elevate this local fight into a regional story with national legs.

You can read the story here.

June 25, 2013

F-35 Foes Amp Up Protest in City Hall Park


Passers-by cringed and covered their ears as opponents of the F-35 staged a noisy demonstration in Burlington's City Hall Park on Tuesday morning.

It wasn't the chanting and drum-banging typically heard at protests that was causing those within earshot to wince in pain. It was what organizers said was a replication of the roar the F-35 would produce over downtown Winooski at an altitude of 1000 feet after takeoff from the Vermont Air Guard base at Burlington International Airport.

"You're making my walls vibrate!" a nearby resident complained to protest leader Chris Hurd at the conclusion of the six-minute-long blast of sound. David Harrison, who lives at 141 Main Street, told Hurd, "You're disturbing businesses across the street."

A couple of the F-35 opponents gathered for the media event responded in unison, "That's exactly the point."

Continue reading "F-35 Foes Amp Up Protest in City Hall Park" »

June 07, 2013

Morning Read: Harper's Takes on Burlington F-35 Basing

HarpersFirst came the Boston Globe. Now comes Harper's

Writing on the magazine's new Heart of Empire blog, Harper's contributor Andrew Cockburn has a tough new assessment of the Air Force's proposed basing of F-35 fighter jets in Vermont, casting the cities of South Burlington and Winooski as victims of Eisenhower's famed "military-industrial-congressional complex." (In the final version of his farewell address, Cockburn explains, Ike took out the word "congressional" so as not to piss off his pals.)

Cockburn, it seems, is no fan of the F-35, writing that it "encapsulates in one airframe the full flowering of bloat, corruption and decay attendant to the defense system."

Nor does he think much of the liberal Vermont politicians who support it. 

"While Senators Leahy and Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch, Vermont governor Peter Shumlin, and Burlington mayor Miro Weinberger have belied their purportedly progressive principles in bringing in the F-35's, local citizens have fought back," he writes.

Unlike Brian Bender's piece in the Globe two months ago, Cockburn's piece doesn't include much in the way of new reporting, but if you want to get all riled up about the F-35 or the dreaded military-industrial-congressional complex, you should give it a read here.

May 19, 2013

'To Live the American Dream, Move to Denmark' — And Maybe Bring Along the F-35

Denmark 1Burlington might be one of the few places in the United States where a crowd would cram an auditorium on a sunny spring Saturday to listen to a lecture on the Danish social welfare system. 

The 200-plus audience members gathered in city hall auditorium got what they came for. In a 90-minute session sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Denmark's U.S. ambassador, Peter Taksoe-Jensen (pictured), laid out a lengthy list of benefits his country provides all its citizens.

He said Danes receive free health care; free education from pre-school through university; $40,000 annual pensions after age 65, "with no need to have any attachment to the labor market"; a full year of maternity benefits, including payment of the woman's full salary for the first six months after her baby is born; and guaranteed day care through age 5, with parents paying a maximum of 25 percent of its cost. The list also includes a $17-an-hour minimum wage (compared to the U.S. standard of $7.25) and two years of payments to unemployed Danes of 90 percent of the wages they had been earning.

Taksoe-Jensen also described Denmark's progressive energy policy, which aims to phase out all fossil fuels by 2050. Already, he said, renewable sources cover 40 percent of the country's energy consumption. In the U.S., it's 13 percent.

The ambassador pointed out that Danes rank as the happiest people in the world, according to a United Nations survey. And the Vermonters listening to his litany might in turn have qualified as the most envious people in the world.

Continue reading "'To Live the American Dream, Move to Denmark' — And Maybe Bring Along the F-35" »

April 24, 2013

Fudge, Ice Cream and Grandma Appear at Anti-F-35 Protest

DSC_0149With boxes of fudge and ice cream serving as props, opponents of the F-35 fighter jet staged a press conference/protest outside the Burlington office of Sen. Patrick Leahy on Wednesday.

The event wasn’t just desserts, however. The activists also enlisted a local grandmother who warned that basing the planes at the Burlington International Airport (BTV) could force her to move from the home she has occupied for the past 40 years.

The two boxes of fudge resting on top of the Democracy sculpture on Main Street were a reference to a recent Boston Globe story reporting that the Pentagon had “fudged” an assessment identifying BTV as the top choice for the F-35 bed-down. The Globe said the results of an evaluation process had been manipulated in order to ensure the plane would be based in Leahy’s state. The senator had pressed the Air Force to bring the F-35 to Burlington, the Globe also reported, citing anonymous officials as its sources for the account.

Continue reading "Fudge, Ice Cream and Grandma Appear at Anti-F-35 Protest" »

April 23, 2013

Ben & Jerry's Cofounder to Protest F-35 Basing Wednesday

LM-Ben-CohenOpponents of basing F-35 fighter jets in Burlington have scooped up a prominent new ally.

No, it ain't Cherry Garcia — but perhaps the next best thing: Ben & Jerry's cofounder Ben Cohen.

"I think the F-35 is the poster child for all that's wrong with the Pentagon," Cohen says. "And I think it's a plane that doesn't have any purpose. Our enemies don't have air forces or fighter jets."

A press release issued Monday by South Burlington attorney Jimmy Leas and other local F-35 opponents said Cohen would join them for a press conference Wednesday outside Sen. Patrick Leahy's Main Street office in Burlington to speak out against the plane's proposed basing in Vermont. According to the release, Cohen would then march upstairs in an attempt to meet with Leahy, a strong supporter of bringing the planes to Burlington.

But Cohen says that's not quite the case. He says he'll meet with reporters, but doesn't plan to storm the castle. 

Leahy's office took exception to the group's press release.

"The group's publicity announcement itself is a trifecta of fallacies, distortions and innuendo. It's the very definition of a publicity stunt," Leahy spokesman David Carle said in a statement, noting that the senator is currently in Washington. "The group's first thought was a press release, and all else was afterthought, including requesting a conversation for Wednesday or even checking the Senate's very public schedule."

Carle added, "Sen. Leahy talked to Ben Cohen this afternoon and Ben told him he had not seen the release and did not write it. The two of them are longtime friends and, of course, Sen. Leahy takes Ben's word for it."

Cohen says he called Leahy earlier Wednesday to give him a heads-up about the action and had a "cordial" conversation with the senator.

Did Leahy sound like he would budge on the issue?

"No," Cohen reports. "He seems pretty locked in."

March 06, 2013

South Burlington Voters: 'We Ain't Marching Anymore to a Different Drummer'

South Burl CCTown Meeting Day in South Burlington presented voters with a clear choice on their city’s direction, and they delivered a decisive verdict: Out with the new, in with the old.

Incumbent city councilors Sandy Dooley and Paul Engels were buried in a landslide that swept challengers Pat Nowak and Chris Shaw onto the five-member panel. Dooley and especially Engels presented themselves as a new guard with progressive views, while painting Shaw and Nowak as exponents of an old, pro-development way of conducting the city’s affairs.

But the more than 2-1 rejection of the incumbents by voters does not necessarily signify a triumph of the right over the left. Council candidates in South Burlington don’t run with party labels. And Dooley and Engels were members of a body that made some broadly unpopular moves that had nothing to do with liberal or conservative attitudes. Those actions left them on the defensive throughout an intensely fought campaign.

“It was a combination of things — interim zoning, the F-35, Cairns Arena, the National Gardening Association” that accounted for the outcome, Engels said on the morning after.

Interim zoning refers to a two-year freeze the council imposed on most development in the city, with the aim of enabling four study groups to develop recommendations for South Burlington’s future. “The developers were against that from day one,” comments council chair Rosanne Greco, who remains in office but who will almost certainly have to surrender her gavel when the new council convenes.

“The development community bought this election,” Greco added, referring in part to the heavy advertising on behalf of Nowak and Shaw that ran in South Burlington’s weekly paper.

Continue reading "South Burlington Voters: 'We Ain't Marching Anymore to a Different Drummer'" »

March 05, 2013

Town Meeting Day 2013: South Burlington Incumbents Lose Big. Burlington Progs Pick Up Seat, Republicans Lose One

TMD 2013One-party rule in Burlington will have to wait.

One year after Mayor Miro Weinberger won a landslide election, ending Democrats' 30-year exile from Burlington City Hall, his party failed to win enough seats to claim a majority on the 14-member city council. Democrats picked up an open seat in the New North End, long a Republican stronghold, but Progressives recaptured a seat in the Old North End and an independent in Ward 1 hung onto her seat.

In the end, voters went for the better known candidates — and the result will be more divided government in the Queen City.

But the big story of the night was the drubbing of incumbent South Burlington city councilors Sandy Dooley and Paul Engels, who lost by two-to-one margins to challengers Chris Shaw and Patricia Nowak. The incumbents found themselves on the defensive about their vote against basing F-35 fighter jets at Burlington International Airport, and about the firing and $140,000 severance paid out to city manager Sandy Miller.

Continue reading "Town Meeting Day 2013: South Burlington Incumbents Lose Big. Burlington Progs Pick Up Seat, Republicans Lose One" »

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