serious contender or warm-up act?
Sanders with his son at a 1971 meeting of The Vermont Freeman in Burlington, Vt.
Bernie Sanders was born on September 8, 1941 in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, to Eli and Dorothy (Glassburg) Sanders. His father immigrated to the United States from Poland, and much of his family was killed in the Holocaust. His mother was born in New York.
Sanders attended elementary school at P.S. 197 in Brooklyn, where he won a state championship on the basketball team. Sanders's mother died in June 1959 at the age of 46 shortly after Sanders graduated from James Madison High School. Sanders went to Brooklyn College for a year before transferring to the University of Chicago. While there, he was active in the Civil Rights Movement, and a student organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. One of the actions he took was the coordination of sit-in protests against segregated campus housing. Sanders also participated in the 1963 March on Washington. He graduated from the University of Chicago with a bachelor of arts degree in political science in 1964.
Sanders began his political career in Vermont in 1971 by becoming a member of the Liberty Union Party, which originated in the anti-war and people's party movement. He ran as the Liberty Union candidate for governor in 1972 and 1976 and as a candidate for senator in 1972 and 1974. In the 1974 race, Sanders finished third (5,901; 4.1%) behind the victor, 33-year-old Chittenden County State’s Attorney Patrick Leahy (D, VI; 70,629; 49.4%), and two-term incumbent U.S. Representative Dick Mallary (R; 66,223; 46.3%). In 1979, Sanders resigned from the party and worked as a writer and the director of the nonprofit American People's Historical Society.
Mayor of Burlington
In 1981, at the suggestion of his friend Richard Sugarman, a professor of religion at the University of Vermont, Sanders ran for mayor of Burlington and defeated six-term Democratic incumbent Gordon Paquette by 10 votes in a four-way contest. Sanders won three more terms, defeating both Democratic and Republican candidates. In his final run for mayor in 1987, Sanders defeated a candidate endorsed by both major parties.
During Sanders's first term, his supporters, including the first Citizens Party City Councilor Terry Bouricius, formed the Progressive Coalition, the forerunner of the Vermont Progressive Party. The Progressives never held more than six seats on the 13-member city council but had enough votes to keep the council from overriding Sanders's vetoes. Under Sanders, Burlington became the first city in the country to fund community-trust housing.
Sanders's administration balanced the city budget, and drew a minor league baseball team, the Vermont Reds, to Burlington. The Sanders administration also "sued the local cable franchise and won reduced rates for customers."
As mayor, Sanders "undertook ambitious downtown revitalization projects"; one signature achievement was the improvement of Burlington's Lake Champlain waterfront. In 1981, Sanders campaigned against the unpopular plans by Tony Pomerleau, a Burlington developer, to convert the then-industrial waterfront property owned by the Central Vermont Railway into expensive condominiums, hotels, and offices. Sanders ran under the slogan "Burlington is not for sale" and successfully supported a plan that redeveloped the waterfront area into a mixed-use district featuring housing, parks, and public space. This was greatly assisted by a 1989 Vermont Supreme Court ruling that under a legal provision, Central Vermont Railroad could only use the land for "railroad, wharf, and storage purposes"; 35 acres of railroad land reverted to the city. Today, the waterfront area includes miles of public beach and bike paths, along with a boathouse, many parks and a science center. In 2015, Sanders announced his candidacy for president at Waterfront Park.
After serving four terms, Sanders chose not to seek reelection in 1989. He briefly taught political science at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government that year and at Hamilton College in 1991.
In 1990, Sanders became the first independent elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 40 years, since Frazier Reams of Ohio. Thereafter Sanders continually won reelection with high margins, with his closest bid in 1994 during the Republican Revolution, when he won by 3.3 percentage points with 49.8% of the vote.