Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Lockheed in Vermont: Sanders’ Corporate Conundrum

Progressive Eclipse – Chapter Ten

Sandia, Citizens United, and Smart Meters: December 2011

EVERYONE WAS TALKING about the one percent, the few with most of the wealth. The inequality that Bernie Sanders had railed against since his first campaign was becoming indisputable. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that he was one of the first elected officials to back the Occupy Wall Street movement. Sanders offered practical proposals to address some of its complaints and praised protesters for “shining a national spotlight on the most powerful, dangerous and secretive economic and political force in America.”

He was also leading the charge to have Congress consider a Constitutional Amendment to address a radical Supreme Court ruling. On Jan. 21, 2010, in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, the nation’s High Court said that corporations are “persons” with First Amendment rights and can’t be prevented from spending unlimited funds on political campaigns.

OWS Protest, October 2011
The case had begun in 2008 with a dispute over the right of a non-profit corporation to air a film critical of Hillary Clinton, and whether the group, Citizens United, could promote their film with ads featuring Clinton’s image – an apparent violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also known as McCain–Feingold. The Supreme Court struck down the McCain–Feingold provision that prohibited corporations – both for- and non-profit, as well as unions – from broadcasting “electioneering communications” within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary. It did allow for disclaimer requirements and disclosure by sponsors of advertisements.

The problem went back to the 1970s, when Congress amended the Federal Election Campaign Act in an attempt to regulate campaign contributions and spending. After that, in the controversial 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case, the Supreme Court ruled that spending money to influence elections is constitutionally protected speech and struck down parts of the law. It also ruled that candidates could give unlimited amounts of money to their own campaigns.

Prior to Citizens United, however, a century of US election laws prohibited corporate managers from spending general treasury funds in federal elections. Instead, they could expend on campaigns through separate segregated funds, known as corporate political action committees. Shareholders, officers and managers who wanted a corporation to advance a political agenda could contribute funds for that purpose. But the Supreme Court’s new ruling said that corporations had the same First Amendment rights to make independent expenditures as natural people, and restrictions prohibiting both corporations and unions from spending their general treasury funds on independent expenditures violated the First Amendment.

According to Robert Reich, a public policy expert and former Secretary of Labor, Citizens United would extent corporate control and drive up the cost of future presidential races. “All this money is drowning out the voices of average Americans,” he noted. “Most of us don’t have the dough to break through. Giving First Amendment rights to money and corporations has hobbled the First Amendment rights of the rest of us.”

The growing influence of corporations made the emerging relationship between Sandia Laboratories and Bernie Sanders somewhat perplexing. Sandia was managed by Lockheed Martin for the Department of Defense, had roots in the Manhattan Project and a history of turning nuclear research into weapons. Most of its revenue still came from maintaining and developing defense systems. Beyond that, as Sanders himself had frequently charged, Lockheed Martin ranked at the top of the heap in corporate misconduct. Between 1995 and 2010 it was charged with 50 violations and paid $577 million in fines and settlements. Sanders, an opponent of the Iraq war and wasteful military spending, had been a vocal congressional critic for more than a decade. It exemplified corporate power and the one percent.

In the mid-1990s, he’d led the charge against $92 billion in bonuses for Lockheed Martin executives – nearly $31 million of that received from the Department of Defense as "restructuring costs" – after the corporation laid off 17,000 workers. He called that “payoffs for layoffs.” In September 1995, after his amendment to stop the bonuses passed in the US House, Lockheed launched a campaign to kill the proposal. When the amendment came back to the floor, Sanders decided that it still contained too much for the military and opposed it himself.

In 2009, he was still going after Lockheed in the Senate, calling out its “systemic, illegal, and fraudulent behavior, while receiving hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.” By then, however, he had visited Sandia headquarters and come away eager to have a satellite lab in Vermont.

Learning to love Sandia

In January 2010, Sanders led a delegation to Sandia’s New Mexico lab for a closer look. The group included the CEO of Green Mountain Power, the state’s leading private utility; the vice president for research at the University of Vermont; the co-founder of successful alternative energy companies; and the head of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, which runs Efficiency Vermont.

At the end of the same year, ten days after the mini-filibuster that jump-started the “draft Bernie” for president campaign, Mayor Bob Kiss announced the results of his own Lockheed negotiations, begun at billionaire Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room. It took the form of a “letter of cooperation” to address climate change by developing local green-energy solutions.

Lockheed’s proposal to the city focused on “the economic and strategic challenges posed by our dependence on foreign oil and the potential destabilizing effects of climate change.” Their partnership would “demonstrate a model for sustainability that can be replicated across the nation.” Meanwhile, the Vermont Sandia lab, simultaneously being developed at UVM with Sanders help, would focus on cyber security and “smart grid” technology. Yet Kiss and Sanders denied knowing about the partnership being negotiated by the other. Both Burlington’s Progressive mayor and its famous former mayor-turned-Senator apparently saw no need to consult. Yet somehow everyone was on the same page.

By 2011, Sanders was also supporting the Pentagon’s proposal to base Lockheed-built F-35 fight jets at the Burlington International Airport. Despite his past criticisms of the corporation’s serial misconduct and excess, he joined with Vermont’s most enthusiastic booster, Senator Patrick Leahy, signing on to a joint statement of support. If the fighter jet, widely considered a massive military boondoggle, was going to be built and deployed anyway, Sanders argued that some of the work ought to done by Vermonters, while Vermont National Guard jobs should certainly be protected. Noise impacts and neighborhood dislocation were minimized, while criticism of corporate exploitation had given way to pork barrel politics and a justification based on protecting military jobs.

Still, his position hadn’t changed that much. Sandia’s nuclear associations were never a major obstacle; Sanders had once been pro-nuclear power, and his criticisms were restrained. His stalwart alliance with labor had always outweighed his skepticism about military spending. And his corporate criticism, which focused on fairness and inequality, rarely prevented him from making an alliance that furthered “bold” initiatives or burnished his record of leadership. 

Pushing the partnership: Sandia's Rich Stulen presents, Powell, Shumlin and Sanders listen.
When Vermont’s partnership with Sandia was ultimately announced, Governor Peter Shumlin didn’t merely share the credit for bringing the Center for Energy Transformation and Innovation to Vermont. He joked that Sanders was “like a dog with a bone” on the issue. They had agreed to co-host a press conference on December 12 to outline the initiative, which now included Sandia, UVM, Green Mountain Power, several Vermont energy businesses and state government. The ambitious goal, announced the Senator, was to create “a revolution in the way we are using power.” At this point the “Draft Bernie” for president campaign was underway and running as a Democrat, most likely in 2016, was on the table.

For the next three years, Sandia’s new outpost would have up to $15 million to research energy efficiency, develop renewable and “localized sources” and, according to Sanders, make Vermont “the first state to have near-universal smart meter installations.” Shumlin meanwhile announced a Sandia pledge to invest $3 million a year, along with $1 million each from the Department of Energy and state coffers.

Several enthusiastic backers – Sandia VP Richard Stulen, GMP’s Mary Powell, and UVM’s Acting President John Bramley – joined the governor at Sanders’ Burlington office for the launch. For Sandia, it was “a way to understand all of the challenges that face all states,” Stulen explained. Vermont’s size simply made it more possible “to get something done,” especially since “integration” had already begun with the university, utilities and other stakeholders.

It didn’t hurt that Vermont’s reputation for energy innovation had also attracted $69.8 million in US Department of Energy funding to promote a rapid statewide conversion to smart grid technology. This would be matched by another $69 million from Vermont utilities. The goal was to “turn the grid from a one-way into a two-way street,” Stulen announced. Another focus would be to ensure reliable service. That meant “anticipating any cyber challenges that may be opened up, or vulnerabilities that may be opened up as we move to this new future,” he explained. “Sandia is very much in the forefront of cyber research.” 

Sanders’ statement stressed the more provincial point that although the US had 17 national labs doing “cutting edge research,” none of them were yet located in New England.  “It occurred to me,” he explained, “that we have the potential to establish a very strong and positive relationship with Sandia here in the State of Vermont.” Thus, his intention was to turn the three-year arrangement into “a long-term presence.” By implication, Lockheed Martin had gone from corporate scofflaw to valued research partner.

Vermont as testing ground

“From an environmental, global warming and economic perspective, it is enormously important that we transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy,” Sanders argued at the launch. “And working with Sandia and their wide areas of knowledge – some of the best scientists in the country – we hope to take a state that is already a leader in some of these areas even further.”

For many activists and progressives, it sounded more like corporate “greenwashing” than a bold step forward.

Shumlin called it “a really exciting development” for the state. “We have an extraordinary opportunity to show the nation how to use smart grid, how to use energy efficiency to save money for businesses, and for consumers. And how to insure that Vermont is the leader in getting off our addiction to oil.” He noted that when people asked him how Vermont had snagged so much money for the project, his answer was the partnership the center would represent. “It’s a huge opportunity and a huge accomplishment.”

On the other hand, there was little dispute that having so many interactive devices on two-way networks would create new risks. In fact, Kenneth van Meter, Lockheed’s manager of energy and cyber services, admitted it, predicting that by 2015 there would be “440 million new hackable points on the grid. Nobody’s equipped to deal with that today.”

Asked about cyber threats, Stulen acknowledged that “more portals” certainly did create more potential threats, but countered that “we think this is a manageable situation. In fact, the benefits far outweigh the risks.” The main benefit was the potential for lower utilities bills by monitoring home energy use. But security would also be a focus. “We don’t see it as an overriding issue right now, but as a national laboratory our job is to anticipate the future,” he said.

Smart Meters, the basic unit of a smart grid, are digital, usually wireless utility meters with the ability to collect information and transmit it to a central location. Supporters claim their widespread use will improve energy efficiency, service reliability, and the environment. Critics counter that they also make the power grid more vulnerable to hacking, have potential radiation-related health effects, and don’t really reduce energy consumption. They also charge that “time-of-use” pricing penalizes people who can least afford it, while a centralized grid threatens privacy and gives corporations more access to private data.

Smart meters have also been linked to fires and other damage, but aren’t covered by homeowners insurance because the devices haven’t been industry-approved. Needless to say, such problems and potential side effects didn’t come up at Sanders’ press conference.

Instead, the Senator explained that “the federal government has invested $4 billion in smart grid technology, and they want to know that we’re going to work out some of the problems as other states follow us. So Vermont, in a sense, becomes a resource for other states to learn how to do it, how to overcome problems that may arise.” Another way to put that: Vermont would be a testing ground, Sandia’s smart grid guinea pig.

It was a good example of Sanders’ style and pragmatism, leveraging Vermont’s assets in a privately negotiated arrangement, a public-private partnership with PR value and short-term economic benefits – but unknown long-term consequences. And justifying the high-level deal on the grounds of leading the nation, a transparent appeal to state chauvinism.

“In many ways, we are a laboratory for the rest of this country in this area,” Sanders crowed. “With Sandia’s help, I think we are going to do that job very effectively.” But in another way, it suggested that being a corporate predator wasn’t always disqualifying, especially when weighed against the mainstream acclaim and leadership role such a partnership would confer.

Despite the confident presentation, however, the launch ended abruptly after a single question was asked about the city’s aborted partnership with Lockheed Martin. Before a TV reporter could even complete his query Sanders interrupted and challenged it. Lockheed is not “a parent company” of Sandia, he objected.

Then, as often the case when fielding unwelcome questions, he declined to say more – about Lockheed Martin or the climate change agreement Mayor Kiss had signed, the standards adopted by the City Council, the mayor’s veto, or Lockheed’s subsequent withdrawal from the deal. Instead, he turned the question over to Stulen, the man from Sandia, who offered what he called “some myth-busting.”

It was more like a clarification. All national laboratories are required to have “an oversight board provided by the private sector,” he said. “So, Lockheed Martin does provide oversight, but all of the work is done by Sandia National Laboratories and we’re careful to put firewalls in place between the laboratory and Lockheed Martin.”

In other words, trust us to respect the appropriate boundaries, do the right thing, and follow the rules. Moments later, the press conference was over.

NEXT: A Tale of Two Caucuses

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Pragmatic Populism: Making Things Happen

Progressive Eclipse - Chapter Nine

January 1999

WE MET AT the start of a mind-boggling week. President Bill Clinton was two days from launching a new round of Iraq bombings – on the eve of his own impeachment. As Vermont’s sole representative in the US House, Bernie Sanders had already made up his mind about Clinton: yes to censure, no to removal from office or resignation. But he was equivocating on the subject of intervention.

A critic of high defense spending who had voted against the first Gulf war, Sanders nevertheless thought that military action was sometimes appropriate, in Yugoslavia or to oust a dictator like Saddam Hussein. “I do not want to see a man like this develop biological or chemical weapons,” he explained. “So, it’s not an easy situation.”

President Clinton's impeachment photo op; Bernie Sanders stands behind Hillary Clinton
The real trouble wasn’t militarism. he asserted; it was education and public opinion. Unlike the broad opposition that emerged to the Vietnam War, Sanders explained, about “80 percent of the American people” were currently willing to support just about any decision to use force. “That makes it difficult for people in Congress to oppose it,” even though “the tactic often backfires.”
More sobering, he didn’t expect that situation to change in the near future, “until tens of millions of people say no.” And he didn’t think most peace activists were on the right track. “Winning credibility is the first step to building a broad-based movement,” he counseled, and the way to do that is to take on bread and butter issues. “I don’t think you can just look at the issue of war and peace,” Sanders said. “People have got to know you are on their side.”

“I have long been concerned that some ‘progressive activists’ do not stand up and fight effectively or pay enough attention to the needs of ordinary Americans,” he explained. “Right now, one of the issues I am terribly concerned about is what is being proposed for social security, which I think would be a disaster. It affects senior citizens today. It affects future generations. How much discussion is there of that issue among activists and intellectuals, who should understand it? I’ve heard very little.”

Before arriving in Congress, Sanders himself had little idea of how the legislative branch really operated. The same was true during his early days as Burlington mayor, when he learned hard lessons about dealing with an unsympathetic city council and entrenched bureaucracy. Being a congressman change his perspective; years later, he knew how the game was played. But it still galled him that “what we read in the textbooks about how a bill becomes a law just ain’t the case.”

As an example he pointed to conference committees, which are supposed to iron out legislative differences. “How many people know that when you have the House and Senate agreeing on a position, the ten people in that room can junk it completely – even when there is agreement?”

It was the kind of rhetorical question that peppered his speech, this one conveying an angry belief that the public is kept in the dark about routine abuses of power and corruption of democratic processes. “I get outraged at both the television and newspapers about their refusal to educate people about how the process works,” he complained.

A key lesson of his early years in Congress was that winning often involved working with people whose stands on other issues you abhorred. In fact, much of his legislative success came through forging deals with strange ideological bedfellows. An amendment to bar spending in support of defense contractor mergers, for example, was pushed through with the aid of Chris Smith, a prominent opponent of abortion. John Kasich, whose views of welfare, the minimum wage and foreign policy could hardly be more divergent from Sanders’, helped him phase out risk insurance for foreign investments. And a “left-right coalition” led by Sanders helped to derail “fast track” legislation on international agreements pushed by Bill Clinton.

Now at the mid-point of his US House career, Sanders had become skeptical about the urge to “moralize and be virtuous and not talk to anybody.” While acknowledging that it felt odd at times having ultra-conservatives as political allies, “the job is to pass legislation– and I say that in a positive sense – so you seize the opportunity to make things happen."

Still, closer to his heart was another role – provocateur. “I respect people who are in the political process,” he put it with a smile. He also obviously enjoyed flushing out political elites. “Issues affecting billions of people with the world not knowing what’s going on,” he complained. “I think, as a result of the role I and other have played, there may be more transparency. But obviously the issue goes beyond that.”

We were getting to the root of his worldview: international financial groups protecting the interests of speculators and banks, at the expense of the poor and working people behind a veil of secrecy. Governments reduced to the status of figureheads under international capitalist management. Both major political parties kowtowing to big money flaks. Media myopia fueling public ignorance. And himself, a truth-teller whose message changes history.

His task, Sanders had long ago decided, was to raise political consciousness and expose the real agendas of the powerful. 

Yet when I asked whether he would consider a run for president he laughed. It would be fun, he admitted, and predicted that “we’d get a good response.” At that point, however, before his election to the Senate, the calculation was that staying in Congress gave him more influence than running an “educational” campaign.

Sanders said he considered it “imperative that people keep working on what is a very difficult task; that is, creating a third party in America.” But he had no plans to help develop one, in Vermont or elsewhere. “I am very much preoccupied and work very hard being Vermont’s congressman,” he pointed out, deflecting such a responsibility with customary bluntness: “I am not going to play an active role in building a third party.”

This sounded like a contradiction, but also reflected his experience and political predicament. He endorsed the idea of building a third party – in principle. But he had maintained an arms-length relationship with political parties since his races in the late 1970s. He seemed sincere when expressing the hope that the Progressive organization he’d helped to build would expand beyond Burlington – and he sometimes endorsed Progressive candidates. But he also backed Democrats, and sometimes discouraged Progressives from running, while generally avoiding involvement in party-building – especially since that could lead to calls to support Progressive candidates against Democrats.

Over time Sanders had made peace with the Democratic leadership. And he had never been embarrassed about playing to win. After all, he was making history, as he pointed out more than once. If the choice was between a “virtuous protest” and “popular appeal” he naturally went with the path to success – as long as it didn’t violate any core beliefs.

Meanwhile, he could justifiably claim that there were “not very many members of Congress who hold my views. The President does not hold my views. The corporate media does not hold my views. That is the reality I have to deal with every single day.” His job, as he had defined it, was to understand the constraints of politics and “do the best you can with the powers you have. You don’t just stand on a street corner giving a speech.”

The remark sounded almost ironic. After all, giving a speech – pretty much the same one – is what Sanders does best. Over the years it had already taken him from third party obscurity to the most private club in the world. And after the 2008 financial meltdown and election of Barack Obama, it was only a matter of time until his pungent mix of middle-class outrage and “flexible” populism went from C-SPAN to prime time.

NEXT: The Lockheed Conundrum

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bernie's Paper Trail: The Burlington Years (1981-1990)

Progressive Eclipse - Chapter Eight

UPON LEAVING THE mayor’s office after four terms, Bernie Sanders donated more than 50 boxes of official papers and files to the University of Vermont library. The index created by UVM's Special Collections listed around 1,400 separate files covering March 1981 to November 1988. According to Sanders aide George Thabault, much correspondence during the first few years had been lost. But what remained ran from Abenaki to Zoning. About 10 boxes covered areas like administrative meetings, speeches and statements, commissions, selected departments and people, proclamations and controversial topics.

To a supporter who thought, in 1988, that Sanders was a socialist candidate for Congress, he explained candidly, “Socialist is the political and economic philosophy I hold, not a party I run under.” And when two Californians asked in a letter, “What does Socialism really mean in the United States at the current state of conditions and confusion that exists at all levels?” he offered this characteristic reply:

Reading poetry at Maverick Bookstore, 1986
“That’s an excellent question which I really don’t have time to answer now. I will simply say that in Burlington we have a three-party system – Progressive, Republicans and Democrats, and that I think we are doing many good things for working people, poor people and elderly people in our community.”

People often urged him to run for one thing or another. They also offered advice, warnings and pats on the back. Author Gerard Colby, for example, noted in a November 1983 letter that interstate banking would hurt efforts to stop condominium development on the waterfront by giving entrepreneurs and developers “a valuable and powerful ally beyond Vermont’s borders.” Three years later, that became a hot statewide issue.

Around the same time, Montpelier attorney Richard Rubin expressed his concern that the city might be duped in dealings with developers of the waterfront. “I thought I would point out to you that the term ‘profit’ has little meaning in large-scale real estate developments,” he wrote. “These projects can operate as substantial balance-sheet losses but still be quite lucrative to the investors. I am sure there are good accountants who can explain this to you.”

By Spring 1984, Sanders had statewide visibility and growing political power. With George Thabault’s victory in solidly Democratic Ward 5, the Progressives had gained a sixth seat on the City Council. Sanders considered briefly, but then rejected the idea of a run for governor that year. Many people offered opinions on what he should do. Among them was Democrat Peter Welch, himself a potential statewide candidate. Welch wrote, “Congratulations on your recent victories. Perhaps your opponents have come to the reluctant conclusion that the politics of obstruction doesn’t work. While I understand your decision, many have looked forward to your campaign. Perhaps another day.”

In 1990, Sanders did the convincing. He persuaded Welch to run for governor instead of the US House of Representatives, while he made his successful bid for Congress. Welch lost. But the two remained political allies, and when Sanders became a US Senator in 2006 Welch replaced him in the House.

Occasionally Sanders offered advice to presidents. To Ronald Reagan, on the occasion of declaring October 24-31, 1981 Disarmament Week in Burlington, he wrote:

“I urge you, in the strongest possible way, to stop doing ‘business as usual.’ International conflicts can no longer be solved by war. It has no worked in the past, and it may well destroy the world in the future.”

Several years later, he made a proposal to former President Carter: that Carter visit Nicaragua and help build some housing. “Your presence there,” he urged in August 1985, “would send a powerful message to the citizens of the United States, challenging them by the model of your own efforts to provide material aid to help the people of Nicaragua in constructive ways."

Despite his stated desire to change military and foreign policies, however, there wasn’t much in his papers about local support for these goals. His coolness to economic conversion of Burlington’s armaments plant was evidenced by the absence of any file on the subject. In 1987, he did note to activist Robin Lloyd that opposition to any peace initiatives that "cost jobs" would be enormous.

Still, he did add, “I believe that a rational conversion policy will not only result in more employment opportunities for Americans but in a radical improvement in the quality of life in our country.” It was more support for changing basic military spending priorities than he ever gave in public.

On the Rise

By 1983 the Sanders administration and local progressive movement were in high gear. The minutes of the April 6 administrative meeting show a broad and systematic approach. Personnel Director Peter Clavelle and Treasurer Jonathan Leopold were at the center of things. Clavelle ended up succeeding Sanders as mayor. Leopold, although leaving city government after a succession rivalry with Clavelle, returned as the City’s Chief Financial and Operating Officer under Clavelle’s successor Bob Kiss. In 1983, they were pushing plans to expand health insurance for city employees, streamline Council meetings, bring more women into the Police Department, and push through interim zoning.

An April memo listed more than 40 actual and proposed projects, including a rental housing clearinghouse, alternative school, emergency shelter, office of arts and culture, international work camp, taxi subsidies, park improvements, youth center and self-defense classes. Each month the list got longer.

Among Sanders’ frustrations about Burlington’s form of government, commissions were at the top of the list. Commissioners, a majority of them aligned with the Democrats and Republicans, controlled most city departments. Attempts to unify and streamline were resisted until Clavelle, a decade later, succeeded in pushing through charter revisions favoring a strong chief executive. Prior to Sanders’ election the vast majority of commission appointments were made with only one candidate in the running. In 1980, only two out of 25 appointments were contested. Two years later, all but two involved competition.

In a March 1983 letter to the City Council Sanders focuses on one area of concern. “Of the 103 citizens currently serving on Burlington’s commissions,” he reminded them, “only 21 are women. Clearly, the City of Burlington wants to address this serious inequality of representation.” But he wanted more than that, changes in the city charter and shorter terms for commissioners. The current structure, he said, relies on Council members “for handling many routine administrative matters more properly the responsibility of an executive. The Mayor competes with a variety of independent boards, commissioners, committees, and individuals.”

Representation on commissions remains a problem
When the Council asked for a clarification, the city attorney wrote back, “Some commissions are subject to orders issued by the City Council while other are not.” In fact, at least eight commissions, including traffic, police, planning, parks and recreation, light and the library, were not subject to the council’s orders in areas delegated to them by the charter. Determined to unify administration, Sanders and his staff turned to departmental mergers, starting with the Department of Public Works. Others were considered during the 1980s.

Although leaning toward the fan mail variety, correspondence files were not short on criticisms. One example came from Antonio Pomerleau, the influential developer who had been excoriated by Sanders during his initial run for mayor, yet remained the key man on the Police Commission. In 1987, he finally resigned, confident that he and the mayor had come to an understanding. But less than a year later he was upset to learn that the police force wouldn’t get five more men.

“Remember Bernie at your last re-election,” he wrote heatedly, “you promised the people of Burlington you would put on an additional 20 officers over the next four years…Bernie, this was an absolute definite commitment to the people of Burlington. Let’s get together on this as I am extremely disappointed.”

But was he actually surprised? Hadn’t he heard, from Sanders’ most bitter opponents, that the “Sanderistas” couldn’t be trusted? Perhaps he had missed the Paul Revere-like warning issued several years earlier by state Senator Tom Crowley. Writing to Rutland Mayor John Daley in 1982, Crowley offered a bizarre conspiracy theory.

Daley apparently harbored hopes that, if Burlington’s Southern Connector project was terminated, some of the funds might be freed up for a road in his area. Not likely, responded Crowley. But he went much farther. “Watch this group from Burlington,” he warned. “They are the exact same group that ‘sprouted the seed’ which is flourishing in Burlington now. They started under the guise of the connector as a front. Their program worked so well in Burlington that they have apparently targeted Rutland as Bernie Sandersville number 2.”

Despite such dire warnings, Pomerleau and Sanders did ultimately declare a truce and develop an alliance. Decades later, Pomerleau provided crucial help to Jane Sanders, then President of Burlington College, when the school purchased 33 acres of land owned by the Catholic diocese, even providing a loan of $500,000 to close the deal.

By 1988, midway through his fourth mayoral term, Sanders clearly had his eye on Congress. “While it is true,” he wrote to a supporter in Newport, “that a Congressman is only one of 435, a strong Congressman saying things that few others have the courage to say could have a national impact. Ultimately, the most important questions facing the nation are being dealt with in Washington. It would be very interesting being there.”

Management of day-to-day affairs was now in the hands of Clavelle and Leopold, but the broad vision emanated from his office. When the University Health Center decided to restructure its board of directors, for instance, he was quick to suggest that UHC, the most powerful association of doctors in the state, put a consumer representative on the board. Or, when word filtered back about a conflict between the Public Works Department and city workers, he warned the commission supervising the department that he would “not tolerate any department in this city attempting to subvert the legal contract that we have with the union.”

Sanders’ papers also reveal concern about how his marriage to Jane Driscoll, who had become Sanders’ second wife, would affect her employment as director of the city’s youth office. She had created the office and her job in 1981, beginning as a volunteer, and developed it into a well-paid contract position. William Aswad, a longtime opponent of the mayor who had become a member of the City Council, made not-so-subtle inquiries about her salary and status.

Power Couple: Jane and Bernie with Lance Armstrong
In May 1988, Sanders asked City Attorney Joe McNeil if the city’s “anti-nepotism” rules would preclude his new wife from continuing her work. The answer was a clear no. Personnel regulations were intended to limit the hiring of a relative, not to prevent existing employees from becoming relatives or forcing them to lose their jobs if they did so. “In conclusion, this office wishes you and Jane a very happy marriage,” wrote McNeil. “This is the first time in nearly 20 years as City Attorney that I have been able to close a legal opinion in this fashion.”

Like watching his administration, reviewing Sanders papers revealed a few blind spots. Environmental matters, local control, participatory management and alternatives in areas like development rarely received more than lip service. Researchers will have trouble finding any Sanders thoughts during this period on nuclear power, growth or pollution. On the other hand, his eight years in local office represented an ambitious attempt to change the rules and scope of local government. Just holding the reins of an unruly, often resistant power structure often took all the effort he and the Progressives could muster.

Maybe the strain was on his mind when he issued one of his more personal comments on the radio.

“It’s all so confusing,” he told listeners one summer day. “And then – life goes on back at home – in the real world. Another farm disappears. Another parking lot is built.” Family breadwinners are afraid to speak out on the job for fear of being fired, he lamented. They have phone and electric bills to pay and car repairs to think about. “And it’s summer time, and maybe we’ll get to the beach, if the lake’s not polluted."

“I’m Bernie Sanders,” he finished. “It’s been a very long day at the office. Thanks for listening.”

NEXT: The Pragmatic Populist