President Hillary nixes Pardon for Sanders/The Burlington College Thing

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Babyface Bernie

Now that Hillary has schlonged him by hook and crook, Bernie needs to fear for his future. Sure, Hillary will be forced to do a reach-out. Bernie will get the star treatment at the Dem Convention. Progressive promises will be made. The party platform will be symbolically tweaked. Little Debbie may even go down. But if Hillary is elected president, vengeance will be hers.

Bill Clinton has already said Bernie’s supporters will be “toast” come election day. Can Bernie’s burn be far behind? The strength of Bernie’s challenge has been a humiliation for Hillary. And she doesn’t do forgive and forget. Not for Hill that Godfather distinction between personal and business. Political opponents aren’t reps of valid difference; they’re agents of the perpetually churning vast conspiracy (launched by the right, swollen by the left) out to get the Clintons.

First, they came for Bill.

Then they came for Hill.

Trying to cheat her of the throne she’s earned by being married to him.

O to be a fly in the mind of potential President Hillary as she plots Senator Sanders’ future

“I’ll show that socialist nobody. How dare he manspread all over MY party. I’ll put his office in the Senate basement bathroom. Committees? Don’t make me laugh. (Cackle cackle.) Funding? That– and a nickel! As for those ‘rumors’ of a federal investigation into the Burlington College thing– lawyer up, Bernie and Jane! I’ll be hands-on at the Justice Department.”

The Burlington College Thing

Burlington is Vermont’s biggest city (pop 42,452) and the home turf of Bernie and Jane Sanders. From 2004 till 2011, Jane was president of Burlington College, a private, non-profit liberal arts college. Burlington College was very small and very progressive. Official slogan: “Start a fire”. (Presumably a socially transformative one, not just a wienie roaster.) The college closed this May after staggering along financially for years. The killing burden was a $10 million mortgage loan engineered by Jane Sanders in 2010. Jane’s goal was to expand Burlington College via relocation to a more impressive setting. At the time, the college was operating out of a former supermarket which served a surrounding blue collar neighborhood.

Until a few decades ago, Burlington was primarily a working and middle class town with naturally occurring affordable housing. Though there were certainly social divisions, it was a pretty laid back place. Teens called it “Borington”. Thanks to progressive planning by local pols (including former Mayor Bernie Sanders) and assorted public and private real estate players, Burlington has been transformed into a hip happening city blessed with stacks of cookie cutter condos attractive to wealthy folks with a taste for views of Lake Champlain. Not that affordable housing doesn’t exist– subsidized digs are available for the qualified. Social divisions? Considerably more pronounced.

Jane Sanders’ aim was to move Burlington College out of the supermarket and into a former Catholic orphanage set on thirty-some wooded acres overlooking Lake Champlain. The lake front land was traditionally treated as public parkland by locals. In its day, the orphanage had a sinister reputation; the building eventually transitioned into headquarters for the Burlington Catholic Diocese. It was/is a mound of Victorian stone. A big place for a student body of roughly 200 (130 full time) but Jane reasoned that if you buy it, they will come. And while the acreage was extensive much of the building was unusable due to disrepair, keeping the actual learning space cozy.

Jane arranged for the college to purchase the building and surrounding acreage from the Burlington Catholic Diocese. They were eager to sell. Their coffers had been depleted by $17 million in settlements paid to litigants claiming diocese leaders covered up for predatory priests.

The deal Jane Sanders engineered was a private/public combo platter. The Vermont Educational and Health Buildings Finance Agency issued $6.5 million in tax free revenue bonds. People’s United Bank bought the bonds; Vermont College was on the hook to People’s for principle and interest. Also in play– a $3.5 million loan from the Catholic Diocese (guess those litigants didn’t totally strip the coffers) and a “bridge loan” of $500,000 from local developer Tony Pomerleau, a vintage Sanders supporter.

Long story short: Burlington College wasn’t able to meet its obligations and this spring, People’s United Bank lowered the boom.

Attempts had been made to save the college. But fund raising efforts were inconsistent and the results disappointing. Student body growth never met projected numbers. In 2011, Jane Sanders was ousted/retired as president– with a $200,000 parachute. The next president was the college’s former chief financial officer and a friend-of-Jane. She quit a few years later after receiving a no-confidence vote from students, faculty and staff. Eventually, the acres of lake front land surrounding the college were sold to a developer. (More condos coming soon, affordable slots included!) The money from the sale was helpful but insufficient. And the college’s accreditation was set to be canceled, due to its long running financial woes.

The announcement that Burlington College was closing was made the day after this year’s graduation ceremonies. No warning was given, students and faculty were left scrambling. Many are still twisting in the wind over things such as financial arrangements, transcripts, and pension plans.

Whether recent rumors of a federal investigation played a part in the suddenness of the endgame are unknown.

The issue said to be of federal interest? Jane Sanders allegedly misrepresented the college’s assets and projected income to the tune of $2 million when engineering her purchase deal. (Among other things, a future death bequest was painted as money in hand.) And as we all know post housing-bubble collapse, fudging assets and income to obtain mortgage loans qualifies as bank fraud, a federal crime.

Of course, in her eagerness to “start a fire” Jane may have just made mistakes. Ones the college board of directors didn’t spot. And Jane still has the support of the Burlington Catholic Diocese; its leaders say proceeds from the sale of the college property (the college building was recently purchased by the same developer who bought the surrounding land) covered what they were owed. However, some parishioners are not so sanguine and want legal action.

Meanwhile, the last few Republican Party animals in Vermont have been writing letters to Washington, requesting a federal investigation. Their most recent missive even targeted Bernie; claiming they have credible info that Senator Sanders improperly pressed People’s United Bank to do Jane’s deal. Bernie’s spokespeople characterize the charges as political lies.

In normal times, I’d say Bernie and Jane have nothing to worry about. Questionable real estate deals involving politicians on their home turf are a dime a gazillion. Intent to defraud is hard to prove. And as we all know post housing-bubble collapse, mortgage shenanigans are rarely prosecuted. But these aren’t normal times. Hillary could become president. And with her, any stick will do to beat an enemy.

I like Bernie– even if he did help turn Burlington into one more Bobo Paradise. I admire his grit. His run has been inspirational in many ways. I voted for him in the New York State Democratic primary.

For his sake– and Jane’s– I’m praying Trump wins in November.

 

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