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Bernie Sanders coming to Chicago but won’t endorse in mayoral race

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, who will not have the progressive presidential lane to himself in 2020, will be leading a rally at Navy Pier on Sunday. | AP photo

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bernie Sanders returns to the city on Sunday on the first swing of his second Democratic presidential primary bid, but he has no plans to jump into Chicago mayoral politics.

Although his visit comes on the heels of the city’s first mayoral vote, Sanders told me Thursday he won’t endorse a candidate in the upcoming runoff between Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle. Meanwhile, in regards to his repeat run for president, he pledged to release 10 years of income tax returns, despite years of declining to do so.

Sanders, a University of Chicago alum, is starting his campaign reminding voters about his biography.

The Vermont senator attended Brooklyn College — not far from where he was raised — and headlines a rally there on Saturday.

Sanders transferred to the U. of C. in October 1960 from Brooklyn College and earned an undergraduate degree in political science in June 1964. Sanders leads a rally at Navy Pier on Sunday to mark that it was in Chicago, at the height of civil rights battles in the city, that he started along the path of political activism.

He lived in Hyde Park the entire time, he told me, in a dorm or an apartment.

Sanders comes to Chicago as the political presidential turf is quite different than it was in 2016, locally and nationally.

In 2016, the Democratic primary contest was basically between the progressive Sanders and the “establishment” Hillary Clinton. Sanders almost won Illinois in March 2016.

In 2020, Sanders will not have the progressive presidential lane to himself.

While Illinois has turned more progressive since 2016, there are more major progressives either running or poised to make presidential bids.

Here’s the political ground Sanders and I covered in our interview:

On the Vermont Independent declining to become a “member” of the Democratic Party:

“Look, I have done as much to bring people into the Democratic Party as I think anybody in this country has done.”

On the mayoral runoff and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia: The Tuesday election yielded two progressives battling each other, Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle. I asked Sanders, “Are you going to endorse or get involved in the Chicago election?

“I don’t think I will. No. The answer is no,” Sanders said.

In 2016, Chicago’s leading progressives, including Garcia, backed Sanders over Clinton. Garcia was elected to Congress last November. Chuy was a national surrogate for the Sanders presidential campaign.

That came after Sanders jumped in the 2015 mayoral contest backing Garcia, who was defeated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Garcia told me in an interview he talked to Sanders and told him he is not making an early presidential endorsement.

“I told him I wanted the opportunity to think about 2020, as I usually do and talk to the people that I collaborate with here locally, to see what their thinking is and we would continue our conversion. We haven’t made a decision yet about what I am going to do. I will probably be in touch with him,” Garcia said.

I told Sanders about Garcia holding off for now.

“Chuy will do what he will do. Chuy and I are good friends,” Sanders said.

On tamping down Democratic calls to impeach President Donald Trump: “I think it would be premature to proceed with impeachment without hearing the Mueller report.”

On Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who may be Sanders’ main rival in the presidential progressive lane: “All I can say is that Elizabeth and I have been friends for 20 years. I am very fond of Elizabeth. She’s an excellent senator and she is going to make her case to the American people and I will make mine.”

On his refusal in 2016 and reluctance so far in 2020 race to release his tax returns: In our conversation, Sanders pledged to release 10 years of returns.

“We’ll release 10, but it’s not a big deal,” Sanders said. He did not set a deadline.

I asked him what his hang-up is on disclosing his taxes.

“You know who does my taxes?… My wife. So we are just getting it, making sure it is the way it is supposed to be.”

On “extreme” issues on the 2016 Sanders agenda, then and now: “Issues that four years ago were thought to be radical and extreme.” Sanders said, are today seen as in the Democratic mainstream because of him. He mentioned raising the minimum wage to $15-an-hour (which was just approved in Illinois), legalizing pot, Medicare for all, climate change and free undergraduate tuition at four-year public colleges and universities.

On Democrats not carving each other up in the primary: “I think Trump is a pathological liar, a fraud, a racist, sexist. … And I think it is absolutely imperative that he be defeated. …. I think that the Democratic candidates have got to run their campaigns based on their issues, on the differences. But this cannot be a campaign which descends into ugly personal attacks that will only benefit Trump.”