Why Bernie Sanders’ political soulmates lined up with Clinton

Photo: Associated Press
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaking at the 2016 Legislative Conference of North America’s Building Trades Unions.

Left-leaning city voters saw familiar names alongside Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders on their ballots Tuesday: the delegates aiming to represent New York at party conventions included a who’s who of the city’s progressive political establishment.

Office holders. Democratic Party officials. Union leaders.

Except they weren’t with the more progressive candidate, the self-described democratic socialist Sanders. Rather, they were with Clinton, who stands to the political right of Sanders on most issues and has described herself as a “moderate” (though at other times as a “progressive”).

It’s a reminder that the city’s progressive establishment is just that—the establishment. 

Politicians who aspire to be considered the city’s most progressive leaders, including Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, not to mention Mayor Bill de Blasio, have overwhelmingly backed Clinton. Only two of the City Council Progressive Caucus’ 19 members support Sanders.

Of course, Clinton is the front-runner, and is seen as more likely to have goodies to distribute come January 20, 2017: White House positions, ambassadorships, fundraising appearances, legislative favors and more.

But many politicians and labor leaders also share Clinton’s sense of “what’s involved in making change,” union leader Stuart Appelbaum said, unlike some of the younger voters he knows.

Sanders supporters “hear the vision—it resonates with them,” said Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and a Clinton delegate.  But “most of the other people I speak with who’ve been involved in politics on a day-to-day basis and trying to make change are more supportive of Hillary’s approach.”

There are other reasons, too. A strong majority of black voters favor Clinton, making her a safer choice for their elected officials to endorse. Sanders’ position on Israel—that the nation has at times reacted disproportionately to Palestinian attacks—is seen as politically risky for New York City politicians. Also, Sanders supports limits on lawsuits against gun shops that sell weapons later used to commit crimes.

But on a variety of other issues, such as a $15 minimum wage, taxation and hydrofracking, his positions reflect those of the city’s progressive forces more than Hillary’s do.

As a result, Sanders’ unexpected rise has poked a hole in the city’s cozy progressive tent, creating a gulf between many politicians and their Bernie-loving left-wing constituents. At massive rallies in Greenwich Village and Prospect Park, Sanders was flanked by movie stars and musicians rather than local political leaders. 

The Working Families Party, which suffered after an awkward endorsement of Gov. Andrew Cuomo over progressive insurgent Zephyr Teachout in 2014, stands with Sanders. That endorsement burnished the party’s liberal brand but alienated labor unions that support Clinton, the Daily News reported Monday.