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Is Bernie Coming for Independence Day?

Courtesy of Montpelier Alive
Courtesy of Montpelier Alive

by Carla Occaso

MONTPELIER — This year might have been on track to be a typical nonelection year Independence Day celebration following last year’s last-minute weather cancellation, except for one thing. Vermont’s own presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, is an annual staple in the parade along with the tractors. But this year, according to Montpelier Alive Executive Director Ashley Witzenberger, people are asking if he will walk in front of the State House as usual considering his recent foray into the presidential race.

Courtesy of sanders.senate.gov
Courtesy of sanders.senate.gov

A quick call to Sanders’ Washington D.C., office yielded an optimistic “maybe.” Jacob Gillison, administrative director and scheduling coordinator in Sanders’ senate office said by phone to The Bridge, “I can’t answer that right now, but I know he is asking that I put all the parades that he normally goes to (into his schedule.)” And if he does come as usual, will it still be a typical event as far as local police are concerned?

Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos wrote on June 12 everything should appear to be the same as usual, and he didn’t detail if there would be heightened security due to the possibility that Sanders’ national attention might attract bigger crowds or unusual activity, but he did write this in an email to The Bridge:

“From a public perspective, everything should appear to be business as usual. We routinely work with our state and federal partners whenever special dignitaries are involved, and/or when there are natural or man-made concerns that may impact a high profile event. Our intelligence, tactical and security planning is not shared with the public unless there is a public need to know, based on appropriate circumstances.” Facos also wrote, “This year, there will be additional special event security staff hired by Montpelier Alive to assist with parade traffic control. This will relieve some pressure on our police officers, allowing us to focus more on crowd safety and call response — both inside and outside the venue area. The additional event staff is not related to Sen. Sanders’ participation in the parade. The decision for more parade crew members was just the outcome of a planning meeting with Montpelier Alive.”

From a state level, Vermont State Police report they have not received any requests from Sanders’ office for extra security for his typical parade participation anywhere in the state, said Scott Waterman, VSP public information officer for the by phone June 15. He said if asked, they will help if they can, but lately manpower has been stretched thin due to the New York prison escapee situation.

Ashley Witzenberger,  Director of Montpelier Alive
Ashley Witzenberger,
Director of Montpelier Alive

Witzenberger, during an interview with The Bridge, downplayed the question of whether or not Sanders will attend the parade, saying her parade coordinator is keeping in touch with the senator’s office. “He is usually always in our parade,” Witzenberger said. “It is supposedly one of his favorites.” Witzenberger also said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont and Gov. Peter Shumlin are expected to attend and march along with members of Montpelier City Council and the other usual participants. So this year is expected to be a fairly traditional celebration, with the exception of a few new additions, including the hiring of private security company Green Mountain Concert Services. Another first is that Bo Muller-Moore (of “Eat More Kale” fame) will be a new vendor selling shirts with the likeness of Bernie Sanders on them.

Because the actual Fourth of July falls on a Saturday this year, the July 3 celebration will also be a holiday for state workers. Activities will start at 3 p.m. on the State House lawn with family-focused activities that range from the ever-popular “bouncy house” to family yoga led by Chrissy of Grateful Yoga. Chris Robertson with the Flying Purple Guitar will also entertain. From 3 to 5:30 p.m. Contemporary Dance and Fitness will do interactive dance that includes benches and trees and then, at 6 p.m. the parade is scheduled to begin along with the 10th annual Montpelier Mile run that sets off the parade.

The Bridge’s own editor and publisher, Nat Frothingham, will serve as commentator this year and will livestream from ORCA. New in the parade this year will be Buddy the Clown with his bubbles train. He blows bubbles as he meanders along the parade route. The cutoff date for participation is June 20 and applications are available on the website montpelieralive.org.

After the parade, beginning at 7:15 p.m., Dave Keller will perform, and then, at 9:30 p.m., fireworks will be set off from the usual spot up at National Life.

Volunteer coordinator is Jessica Ball, vendor coordinator is Carolyn Grodinsky and parade coordinator is Rachelle Murphy. For more information, contact Witzenberger at director@montpelieralive.org or call 802-223-9604.