A who’s who of New York’s leading liberal elected officials paraded across the stage at tonight’s Working Families Party gala, where Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders served as the marquee speaker. And each one ladled praise on the self-described democratic socialist’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, which the labor-backed third party supported in New York’s April 19 primary—but not one of the Empire State pols did.
“My homeboy, and dear friend, and fellow Madison High School graduate, who you will hear from soon, Bernie Sanders,” was how Schumer alluded to his fellow native Brooklynite-gone-to-Washington, whose agenda he vowed to advance if the Democrats wrest control of the Senate in November. “Bernie’s an amazing guy. And he has changed America permanently.”
“He has changed America, he has changed the Democratic Party and we’re all going to be better, we’re all going to be better, because Bernie is there and he will be, god willing I become majority leader, he will be one of the main people running our Senate,” continued Schumer, who is set to succeed Nevada Sen. Harry Reid as head of the Democratic conference.
The senior senator from New York was echoing comments DiNapoli made just a short while before. The state comptroller, a supporter of Clinton’s presidential ambitions since 2008, highlighted the historical resonance of the gala’s venue: Cooper Union’s Great Hall.
“Here we are, in the Great Hall of Cooper Union, where in 1860, Abraham Lincoln, running for president, changed American politics,” he said, recalling the Republican’s famed campaign speech at the arts institute. “In a few moments, we’re going to be hearing from Senator Bernie Sanders, who in 2016, again, changed American politics.”
DiNapoli spun the parallel into a fundraising pitch for the WFP, suggesting Lincoln would want them to donate to the left-leaning organization, which usually lends its ballot line and political consulting services to liberal Democrats like himself. Stringer, by contrast, used Sanders’ name to promote his own work locally.
“I just want to say, to the Working Families Party, to the Bernie Sanders movement—” Stringer began, the mention of the senator’s name provoking applause. “And to fellow progressives, we also have some good news to share about the future of this city.”
Before the program began, the screens above the stage flashed photos of Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who dismissed the independent underdog as a “gun-loving socialist.” And several of those who addressed the audience praised Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who attacked the leftist lawmaker “an ally of the anti-immigrant right wing.”
Only de Blasio, in his typically hapless fashion, seemed to try to reconcile his belated endorsement of Clinton and his occasional jabs at Sanders during the primary with his apparent enthusiasm for the Vermont pol’s views now that he has dropped out of presidential contention. Given the final 20-minute speaking slot before the senator was to assume the stage, he insisted Sanders had led the country to the brink of a “new progressive era”—but that both Democratic candidates had promoted the cause of the left.
“In the Democratic Party at least, the debate was about who was ready to tax the wealthy more. Who was ready to rein in Wall Street more. Who was ready—no wait, listen, this is not a comment on one candidate or another, two candidates, they were vying. They were vying. Listen, listen,” de Blasio said, trying to calm the crowd as it began to chant Sanders’ name. “It doesn’t matter who you supported. For all of us, it’s our time. For all of us, a revolution has begun.”
“I think it is because he is such a grounded person, because he spent his entire life struggling for social change when it was easy and when it was hard, because he had such clear integrity that he was able to transform this country. Nothing less than that. He was able to transform this country. This nation will never be the same again in the best sense of the word,” the mayor continued.
Sanders, for his part, praised de Blasio and his universal pre-Kindergarten initiative. Otherwise, much of his speech rehashed his usual talking points: the undue influence of the “billionaire class,” the crisis of climate change, the need to defeat Donald Trump and—of course—the nefarious machinations of the “establishment.”
“Our major crisis is not poverty, it’s not inequality, it’s not climate change, it’s not racism, or sexism. Our major crisis is the establishment and all of the systems of the establishment have told us to think small, to limit our imagination as to what we can accomplish. That’s the major crisis that we have got to overcome,” he said.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.