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'Diving' For Dirt On Dean

For hours on end, they camp out at the state archives housed in an 1890 mansion, scouring public records, documents and correspondences in a search of crucial details about former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the Democratic presidential front-runner.

State officials have dubbed them "Dean Divers."

With Dean's surge in the presidential race, an increasing number of representatives from rival campaigns, the news media and even Dean aides have descended upon the archives, wading through thousands of pages of material from the former governor's nearly 12 years in office.

"We've gotten requests for everything, every piece of paper," Vermont Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz said.

This effort to compile a dossier on Dean — either to use against him or to boost his candidacy — extends beyond the archives in the secretary of state's office. Some searchers have spent hours at Chittenden Community Television, watching public access television tapes of Dean's news conferences and debates.

Jess Wilson, channel director at the station, said one woman from rival Dick Gephardt's campaign spent the better part of a summer day watching tapes of news conferences in the 1990s, when Dean discussed budget cuts and Medicare. Since then, Gephardt has accused Dean of changing positions on some issues.

"Some of the flip-flop stuff Gephardt's been talking about sounds awfully familiar," Wilson said.

Those combing for material in Vermont can get copies of tapes from the television station. The Gephardt campaign searched the database and came up with 230 tapes on Dean, Wilson said.

The archives are a little tougher to look through. Located in the basement of the Redstone building, a brick home modeled after a Bavarian hunting lodge, the papers from Dean's governorship add up to 600,000 pages and fill 190 boxes, archivist Gregory Sanford said. They are stored among papers on the state constitutions and scattered correspondences from 18th century and 19th century governors.

Searching is not easy. The Dean documents were never catalogued and some have just recently been indexed.

The staff monitors researchers as they scour the material to ensure the information isn't tampered with or taken from the file.

The archives have not necessarily been overwhelmed with people, although there have been many more visitors.

"It's not like there's a lot of requests every day," Markowitz said. "It's that the (researchers) that come in spend a lot of time and request a lot of assistance. One spent 12 days."

Some researchers have asked to open records kept in 145 crates at a state warehouse in Middlesex, Vt., but Markowitz said she reached an agreement with Dean to keep those private for 10 years after the governor left office. Two of Dean's predecessors made similar arrangements, although the records were cracked open after just six years.

"What was new was the political aspirations of the person being negotiated with," Markowitz said of the length of time records will remain private.