For almost a year now, Seven Days’ political editor and columnist has been carrying the ball on Eternal General Bill Sorrell’s squicky-if-not-illegal campaign and fundraising activities, while the rest of Vermont media has been slow-playing the whole thing — either ignoring the story, or helping Sorrell paint it as a partisan witch-hunt. (Their reporting emphasizes VTGOP Vice Chair Brady Toensing’s role, while downplaying or omitting Heintz’ journalism, which provided the substance of Toensing’s complaint.)
And yesterday, Heintz dropped another toothsome tidbit — catching Sorrell’s duplicity regarding a 2014 campaign event that featured Sorrell and then-Lite Gov candidate Dean Corren.
I’m not going chapter-and-verse on that. You should read Heintz’ post for yourself. But I am going to highlight a tangential sidelight in the piece that exposes the seedy underbelly of Vermont politics. Or at least one crucial aspect, regarding the most quietly powerful man in Vermont politics, Dick Mazza.
He is not the most powerful, mind you. But he enjoys by far the highest ratio between official position (just another Senator, cough) and his actual influence.
Among a trove of Sorrell emails obtained by Seven Days was a juicy little number from Tom Torti, the well-connected president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, warning Sorrell that there might be consequences to his appearance with Corren.
“I’m sure you have heard about the level of displeasure Mazza feels about you standing with Corren,” Torti wrote, referring to Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle). “Just wanted to pass on what was mentioned to me.”
Before you chew and swallow, let that roll around on your tongue for a moment. Savor the essence: that Bill Sorrell, the politically untouchable Attorney General, should have reason to fear the wrath of a single State Senator.
Just in case you think that’s an overstatement, Sorrell’s response to Torti confirms my reading.
“I went out and talked with [Mazza] beforehand, before I committed to doing it,” Sorrell replied. “He said ‘you have to do what you have to do.’ I left on good terms.”
Got that? Bill Sorrell felt it necessary to clear it with Dick Mazza before attending an event that he describes as part of his official role as Attorney General.
If you were a complete outsider, you’d wonder what kind of political funhouse we live in. For those who need a crash course in Mazza 101, I recommend an article by Heintz’ predecessor Andy Bromage, written in January 2011, which depicts Mazza as “the most politically influential person in the state.”
“There’s a popular misconception that Vermont is run out of the fifth-floor governor’s office in Montpelier,” says Congressman Peter Welch, a Democrat, “when in reality, it’s run out of the deli section of Mazza’s store.”
Bromage describes Mazza as a “consigliere” to established politicos and a “kingmaker” who can make (or presumably unmake) the aspirations of the young and ambitious. And here’s the newly-elected Governor Peter Shumlin kissing the pinky ring:
“I’m always careful to get Mazza on board on key ideas and policy before I talk to others, because I’ve watched him stop things dead in the tracks,” Shumlin says. Asked for specifics, the governor replies, “There are too many examples to count. But those who underestimate his power to make things happen, or to make things not happen, do so at their own peril.”
I’ve been consistently critical of Dick Mazza’s dogged centrism and how the Democrats consistently enable him. I’ve met the man precisely once.
We were introduced by Heintz, who delights in putting me face-to-face with officials I’ve excoriated. Heintz asked Mazza if he knew who I was.
A confident smile suffused his face. “Oh, I know who he is,” he said, and continued working the room.
Not a care in the world.