Progressive icon Bernie Sanders to hold rally for Brandon Johnson

Thursday night UIC rally seeks to help Johnson boost turnout, particularly among young voters who supported Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns.

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U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters in September 2019.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is set to hold a rally for mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson in Chicago on Thursday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders will headline a preelection rally at the UIC Forum Thursday to help mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson energize his base and boost turnout among young people.

The 7 p.m. rally will also feature rapper Vic Mensa.

Johnson adviser Bill Neidhardt wouldn’t say if progressive political icon Elizabeth Warren also would attend — just that “more speakers” and musical acts would be announced over the next week.

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Posters promoting the rally — one version each in Chicago Cubs and White Sox colors — will go up across the city.

The UIC Forum has six meeting rooms and three halls with a total space of 30,200 square feet. The facility can “be enlarged to accommodate” up to 1,500 people or modified to fit “whatever sized crowd we get,” Neidhardt said.

When Sanders, I-Vt., endorsed Johnson last week, he tweeted the news to his 15.5 million Twitter followers. But his greatest value to Johnson has always been his potential to join Johnson at a rally in Chicago, rallying progressives and younger voters.

The overall turnout on Feb. 28 was just over 35%. It was 16.5% among voters between the ages of 18 and 24 and 22.6% for those 25 to 34.

Bernie Sanders and Brandon Johnson in election rally posters in Cubs and White Sox colors.

Neidhardt argued Sanders’ potential to help “energize the base” Johnson wants to build among Black, progressive white and young Latino voters cannot be overstated. The two-time presidential candidate “has a higher favorability rating than virtually any other Democrat,” he said.

“Young voters will hear the big musical name. They’ll hear a politician who is very popular with them” and they’ll come to the UIC Forum, said Neidhardt, deputy state director for Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign in Iowa.

“This is not progressive versus moderate. This is Democrat versus Republican. This will help show that. ... This is a city that votes for Democrats 85% and up. What we want to do is tell every Democrat, ‘We’re the Democrat in the race. Vote for the real Democrat.’ This will help do that. Paul Vallas can’t touch that.”

If history is any indication, the UIC Forum could be bursting at the seams.

In the run-up to last year’s midterm elections, Sanders headlined two Chicago rallies. One, at Teamsters City, drew more than 1,200 people. Another at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare included a crowd of roughly 2,000, Neidhardt said.

“Having worked for Bernie’s campaign in Iowa where our main voters were actually older union members, this isn’t just for young kids. Bernie Sanders has also shown in his presidential primaries that he is very popular with Latino voters, very popular across the board,” Neidhardt said.

“This is a big rally — something that [Paul] Vallas can’t do. Vallas can’t hold a rally with more than 300 people.”

Throughout the campaign, Vallas has been fending off charges that he is an anti-choice, anti-union, pro-voucher “Republican” masquerading as a Democrat.

The Vallas campaign was bracing for the possibility of a Sanders rally — and playing down the potential impact.

“If Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders come here, it probably helps the Vallas turnout more,” former Chicago Board of Education President Gery Chico, one of Vallas’ staunchest supporters, told the Sun-Times earlier this week. “People will wonder why two of the progressive national leaders are coming here to Chicago. We don’t need them to come here. We’ve already heard it in Brandon Johnson’s program.”

“Chicago has had a pretty good history of handling its own issues. We don’t need people from the outside coming in and telling us how to live and how to vote.”

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