U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders endorses Johnson in April 4 mayoral runoff

Paul Vallas touted endorsements from the Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2, former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and five City Council members.

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Presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) takes selfies with supporters after speaking at a rally at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters on Sept. 24, 2019.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., takes selfies with supporters after speaking at a rally at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters when he was running for U.S. president in September 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Complete coverage of the local and national primary and general election, including results, analysis and voter resources to keep Chicago voters informed.

Mayoral challenger Paul Vallas continued to consolidate establishment Democratic support Thursday, while Brandon Johnson attracted another progressive political icon.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., joined Senate colleague Elizabeth Warren in endorsing Johnson in the April 4 mayoral runoff, calling the Cook County commissioner and Chicago Teachers Union organizer a “champion for working families in Chicago.”

“He is not afraid to stand up for strong unions and make big corporations and the rich pay their fair share to invest in affordable housing, quality health care, better schools and good jobs,” Sanders was quoted as saying in a news release.

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“Brandon understands the struggle[s] of working people and is prepared to address them, said Sanders.

Sanders also tweeted his endorsement to his 15.5 million Twitter followers. But just like Warren, his greatest value is in helping to consolidate Johnson’s progressive base and boosting turnout that was just over 35% on Feb. 28.

That’s particularly true among young voters who were so excited about both of Sanders’ presidential campaigns. U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the assistant Democratic leader in the U.S. House and former mayoral challenger Kam Buckner also endorsed Johnson.

If Sanders comes to Chicago to hold rallies for Johnson, helps raise money for him or tapes commercials or robocalls for him, that could make a significant difference in Johnson’s efforts to get out the vote.

Johnson’s campaign manager, Jason Lee, is talking with Sanders’ staff.

“Everything is on the table,” Lee said.

“We don’t have a firm date, but those conversations are maturing, and we hope to be able to release something soon. Sen. Sanders is definitely highly interested in this. Really supports Brandon. He’s open to a number of possibilities. There’s a world in which it makes a lot of sense for him to come to Chicago. That will set a lot of people in motion,” Lee told the Sun-Times.

When Sanders ran for president in 2016 and 2020, he did “very well” in Chicago, Lee said, noting that Sanders still has “a lot of volunteers who knock on doors and make calls” in the city. Johnson is “looking to capture some of that energy,” Lee said.

“Him coming here is definitely high on the priority list because we think we can mobilize a lot of people,” Lee said.

“Where we are already strong, he has a deep groundswell of support of people who, maybe, don’t always vote in municipal elections. If he can help us get some of those people into a municipal election because they know Bernie Sanders, that’s huge in shifting the electorate in our favor,” said Lee.

Vallas endorsed by firefighters union

Vallas countered with endorsements from the Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2, former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and five more establishment City Council members: 8th Ward Ald. Michelle Harris, 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale, 17th Ward Ald. David Moore, 18th Ward Ald. Derrick Curtis and 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts.

That makes roughly 20 alderpersons in the Vallas camp.

The Fraternal Order of Police has already endorsed Vallas, who served as its unpaid negotiator, helping to deliver an eight-year police contract that ended the longest labor stalemate in Chicago history.

Local 2 followed the FOP’s lead, convinced that Vallas will “put the needs of Chicago firefighters, paramedics and all first responders first,” according to union president Jim Tracy.

“He understands the challenges our firefighters and paramedics face, given his experience in government and as the proud father of a Chicago firefighter,” Tracy said of Vallas.

Johnson’s campaign is backed by the CTU, SEIU Local 1 and SEIU Healthcare and AFSCME Council 31. Besides the millions those unions have contributed, they’re also providing hundreds of campaign foot soldiers for Johnson.

That’s why Lee said he is not overly concerned about all the regular ward organizations that have shifted to Vallas’ camp.

“None of these ward organizations are what they once were, just by the nature of how they were built. We’ve seen these folks endorse all kinds of people and not deliver over time,” Lee said.

“These aldermen that endorsed [Vallas] today — we will win every single one of their wards, and we will win them convincingly. They know that themselves because they told us that when we talked to ’em,” said Lee.

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