What Kind Of Mayor Was Bernie Sanders?
“Bernie pounded his fist on the conference table in his office and told the owners, ‘Over my dead body are you going to displace 336 working families. You are not going to convert Northgate into luxury housing,’” recalled Davis, who was Sanders’s key housing aide.
Under Sanders’s leadership, the city adopted a number of laws to stifle the owners’ plans. One ordinance required apartment owners to give residents two years’ notice before a condo conversion. Others gave residents a pre-emptive right to buy the units and prohibited landlords from bulldozing buildings unless they replaced them with the same number of affordable units. (These measures lowered the selling price of the property.) Sanders then worked with the state government and Senator Patrick Leahy to get the $12 million needed to purchase and rehabilitate the buildings. The city allocated funds to help the tenants hire an organizer, form the Northgate Residents Association, and start the process of converting the complex to resident ownership. Today, Northgate Apartments is owned by the tenants and has long-term restrictions to keep the buildings affordable for working families.
The battle over Northgate Apartments illustrates Sanders’s general approach to governing. In addressing this and many other issues, he encouraged grassroots organizing, adopted local laws to protect the vulnerable, challenged the city’s business power brokers, and worked collaboratively with other politicians to create a more livable city.
Now that Sanders is running for president, the eight years he spent as Burlington’s chief executive (1981–89) will be under close scrutiny. Although President Obama recently joked at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner that Sanders is a “pot-smoking socialist,” he was actually a hardworking, pragmatic, effective mayor who helped transform Vermont’s largest city (population: 38,000) into a thriving town.
The Radical Education of Bernie Sanders
“For Sanders, who maintains he is running to win, pushing Clinton to the left would be fitting capstone to a lifetime spent agitating from the sidelines of powerful American institutions. As a teenager, he read Karl Marx, and as a college student he organized sit-ins against segregation, worked for a union, protested police brutality and attended the 1963 March on Washington. Throughout that time, the central theme of his life has never wavered. “We were concerned obviously about economic injustice,” says Sanders of his college days. “And we were concerned with the question, ‘How do you make change?’”
Sanders’ education in socialism began at home, in a three-and-a-half room apartment in Flatbush, Brooklyn. His father was a paint salesman from Poland and a high school dropout, and the family lived paycheck-to-paycheck. When Sanders’ father went with his wife to see the play The Death of a Salesman, his father so identified with the underemployed Willy Loman that he broke down in tears. “The lack of money caused stress in my family and fights between my mother and father,” Sanders explained to TIME in an interview this month. “That is a reality I have never forgotten: today, there are many millions of families who are living under the circumstances that we lived under.”
Bernie’s older brother, Larry, was a student at Brooklyn College who would come home and discuss Marx and Freud with the high school kid. They talked about democracy in ancient Greece, and Larry took the young Bernie to local Democratic Party meetings. Bernie followed his older brother to Brooklyn College, but when his mother died unexpectedly young, he left Brooklyn and transferred to the University of Chicago.
In Chicago, Sanders threw himself into activism—civil rights, economic justice, volunteering, organizing. “I received more of an education off campus than I did in the classroom,” Sanders says. By his 23rd birthday, Sanders had worked for a meatpackers union, marched for civil rights in Washington D.C., joined the university socialists and been arrested at a civil rights demonstration. He delivered jeremiads to young crowds. The police called him an outside agitator, Sanders said.”
Posted to Bernie Sanders’ Facebook August 24, 2014