POLITICS

Bernie Sanders Adds New York Endorsements Ahead Of Comeback Rally In Queens

Eight Empire State lawmakers now back the Vermont senator’s Democratic presidential bid.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is aiming for a show of force with a rally at Queensbridge Park in Queens, New York, on Saturday.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is aiming for a show of force with a rally at Queensbridge Park in Queens, New York, on Saturday. It's his first campaign event since suffering a heart attack.

The presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) secured the endorsements of three additional New York lawmakers ahead of his comeback rally in Queens on Saturday: state Sens. Michael Gianaris and Jessica Ramos of Queens, and state Sen. Luis Sepúlveda of the Bronx.

“Bernie is the best candidate to fight back against the deep-pocketed corporate interests that weaken our democracy and exploit our economy,” Ramos, who unseated a Queens Democrat aligned with state Republicans in September 2018, said in a statement announcing her endorsement. “In Senator Sanders we have a leader who will protect all members of our society, especially those seeking human rights and better working conditions free from unethical practices.” 

Gianaris, who as deputy state Senate majority leader is one of the most powerful Democrats in New York, echoed Ramos’ sentiments. “Bernie Sanders is the best choice to reduce this growing chasm between the ultra-rich and working people,” he said in a statement.

The trio joins a group of five New York lawmakers who had already endorsed Sanders’ bid: New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal, state Assemblymen Ron Kim and Phil Steck, and state Sens. Julia Salazar and James Sanders. (James Sanders is not related to the Vermont senator.)

Although New Yorkers cast ballots in the Democratic presidential primary in April, well after the crucial early states, some presidential contenders have already sought endorsements from the state’s robust bench of young, progressive lawmakers. Sanders still has fewer endorsements from New York state and New York City elected officials than Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who announced that she had secured the backing of 14 lawmakers at a mid-September rally in Manhattan.

Sanders, 78, is hoping to regain momentum after suffering a heart attack on Oct. 1 that polling indicates raised doubts in the minds of many Democrats about his fitness to serve in the White House.

Sanders, seeking to reassure the public of his health and vitality, delivered a strong debate performance on Tuesday and hours later announced he’d secured endorsements from Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, two of the Democratic Party’s young, progressive stars.

Saturday’s rally in Queensbridge Park, chosen in part for its proximity to the country’s largest public housing development, is Sanders’ first major campaign event since his hospitalization.

He will be joined onstage at the rally by Ocasio-Cortez, who is expected to formally announce her endorsement there. Sanders courted Ocasio-Cortez in conversations over the course of a month, culminating in a visit she paid to Burlington, Vermont, at the end of September. She met with Sanders and his wife, as well as a group of aides, over two meals, where they developed a rapport, according to someone familiar with Ocasio-Cortez’s thinking.

Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement of Sanders is not altogether surprising. Ocasio-Cortez got her start in politics volunteering for Sanders’ 2016 bid; the pair are both self-described democratic socialists and have collaborated on, among other things, legislation limiting interest rates on credit card debt.

But prior to announcing her endorsement of Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez had spoken positively about Warren, too. And Warren had apparently made efforts to develop a relationship with her.

Ocasio-Cortez was drawn to Sanders’ vision of a rejuvenated democracy where ordinary Americans take a more active role in the political process, according to the person with knowledge of her thinking.

“They’re ideologically aligned, but they’re mission-aligned as well,” the person said. “They get along really well. They brighten each other up.”

Saturday’s rally will give Ocasio-Cortez an opportunity to show if her star power is a major draw for aspiring national leaders.

“If he gets enough of the young, left-wing demo out, the age issue disappears, the health issue is softened and Bernie gets new life. It makes him young again,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran New York City Democratic strategist. “If he doesn’t get a big crowd, then those two issues remain in place.”

Michael Ceraso, a Democratic campaign consultant who worked on Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, expressed doubt that Ocasio-Cortez’s blessing would help him broaden his appeal “in the areas where he has deficits,” such as older voters.

But it is likely to help him maximize turnout among the young voters Sanders is relying on to carve a path to the Democratic nomination, according to Ceraso.

Ocasio-Cortez “resonates with those young voters who are looking for a reason to vote,” he said.

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