Ted Kenney, candidate for Chittenden County State’s Attorney who’s attempting the Philippe Petit-worthy feat of running as crimefighter and social justice warrior at the same time, might want to be more careful about the company he keeps. Especially in his own Facebook videos.
Kenney is the man at the back left of the group of supporters marching in the Essex Memorial Day parade. The man running point, in the green T-shirt and wide-brimmed hat, is Travis Trybulski, former officer in the Williston Police Department.
He’s a former officer because he and the town signed a “separation agreement” ending his employment. Why? Because Trybulski was the subject of a Brady Letter, a notification from a county prosecutor that an officer’s credibility is so tainted that the prosecutor will no longer use the officer’s testimony in criminal cases.
The reason given in the letter: Trybulski’s numerous “violations of the Fair and Impartial Policing policy through a clear pattern of profiling and bias.” (Information from the Vermont ACLU’s excellent Brady Letter database.)
The letter was signed by Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah Fair George, the person Kenney is trying to unseat in the August Democratic primary. In this endeavor, Kenney is more than happy to have the public support of a racist cop who basically lost his job because of Sarah Fair George.
If Kenney is asked about this and professes ignorance of Trybulski’s offenses, don’t buy it. Because Kenney is vice chair of the Williston Selectboard, and he must have been involved in (or at the very least aware of) Trybulski’s departure and why it happened.
He can’t weasel out of this one.
George has been responsible for more Brady Letters than any other State’s Attorney. She’s written 13 of them; Rutland County’s Rosemary Kennedy is second with 12; no other State’s Attorney has written more than six.
(That would be Washington County State’s Attorney and Democratic candidate for Vermont attorney general Rory Thibault, whose banned witnesses include one police chief, John Helfant of Northfield, last seen in these parts demagoguing the Orange Southwest School Board over a “Black Lives Matter” flag. See, I told you the ACLU database was excellent.)
Kenney’s candidacy appears to be our very own version of the broader backlash against reform-minded prosecutors. He can claim to be a champion of “Criminal Justice Reform and Safe Streets,” as his campaign website proclaims. But his willingness to march alongside Trybulski shows where his heart truly lies. And it ain’t reform.
If the national pattern is repeated here, we can expect some serious anti-crime drumbeating this summer — likely echoed by the media, who love themselves a good scare story.
Take, for example, the Brattleboro Reformer cranking out a piece about “Downtown ‘Lawnessness.'” The story leads with jewelry store owner Evan James, who’s suffered two recent burglaries.
Those two burglaries are the only concrete evidence provided for the claim that Brattleboro has turned into a crime-ridden hellscape. The one other quoted witness to the horror that is downtown Brattleboro is Select Board member (and state Senate candidate) Tim Wessel, who points to “an increase in the feeling of lawlessness.”
The feeling of lawlessness. The feeling that has Evan James slamming town leaders for leaving the police department “underbudgeted, undermanned and overworked.”
Yeah, let’s blame that vaguely defined bugaboo, the Defund the Police “movement.”
Meanwhile, Brattleboro Police Chief Norma Hardy indicated to the Reformer that “even if staffing of her department was at optimal levels, these issues would continue.” She said many of the crimes are committed by people who “have addiction issues or are struggling with mental illness and don’t have jobs or safe places to live.”
Sure enough, we’re suffering through a plague of overdose deaths and homelessness, and the mental health system is strained to the max. People’s lives have been disrupted by Covid-19 and the resultant economic upheavals. Many who lived on the margins have been pushed off by circumstances out of their control. And if you have more desperate people, you have more crime, no matter how many cops are patrolling Main Street.
Or Church Street. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has been pushing the “crime is out of control” narrative for months. That seems to tie directly into Kenney’s candidacy. I doubt that Weinberger will actually endorse the challenger because if George wins, the Mayor will have to have a civil relationship with her. Also, it’s bad form for a Democrat to take sides in a party primary.
But I’d be on the lookout for more anti-crime rhetoric from Mayor Tough Guy. And more “crime is out of control” stories from our media, especially television, where “if it bleeds, it leads.”.
And if, God forbid, Kenney should actually defeat George, we’ll hear about liberal reformers losing because they’re soft on crime. We’ve seen a flood of stories about the defeat of progressive San Francisco D.A. Chesa Boudin, who was recalled after a very expensive recall campaign and, per The Guardian, “despite a lack of evidence that Boudin’s reforms were causing an uptick in crime rates.”
The lack of evidence doesn’t stop the narrative, as it should. The story just shifts slightly to that “feeling of lawlessness,” the perception that crime is out of control even when the numbers don’t bear it out.
Of course, those stories fail to mention the thumping re-election of reformist Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner, or the easy primary victory of Kimberly Graham in Polk County, Iowa, who campaigned on “ending racial and income disparities in Polk County’s justice system,” or our old buddy Faisal Gill, who rode a reformist platform to a second-place finish in a very crowded race for Los Angeles City Attorney. (He appears headed to a runoff with the top finisher, although his margin over the third-place candidate is razor-thin).
It will be very interesting to see Ted Kenney’s next campaign finance report, due on July 15. If he’s riding the same hobbyhorse as Boudin’s foes, he will rack up a sizeable warchest from The Good People of Burlington.
He’ll need every penny. He’s still the underdog. You almost never see incumbents losing primary elections. And from here on, Kenney ought to be campaigning with Trybulski hanging around his neck like a dead albatross. That shouldn’t be a winning proposition.