September 8, 1941
New York, NY
- Known For:
United States Senator from Vermont
University of Chicago, Brooklyn College
About Bernie Sanders
Bernard (Bernie) Sanders was born September 8, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York, to Elias Ben Yehuda Sanders and Dorothy Glassberg Sanders. Elias Sanders was a paint salesman and a Jewish immigrant from Poland who came to the U.S. in 1921. The Sanders family had two children. Bernie was the younger of the two. His older brother, Larry Sanders, also became a politician after immigrating to England.
Sanders enjoyed sports as a child, playing basketball and running track. While attending James Madison High School, Sanders was the captain of the track team. While in high school, Sanders ran for class president, promising to raise money for children in Korea orphaned by the Korean War. Though his campaign was unsuccessful, his opponent implemented his idea, and the school ran a successful fundraiser.
After graduating high school, Sanders initially attended Brooklyn College before transferring to the University of Chicago. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
While in college, he became involved in multiple political activist movements. He organized sit-ins against segregation, was active in the Student Peace Union, protested police brutality, attended the 1963 March on Washington, and worked for the United Packinghouse Workers of America.
Sanders has been married twice. He married his first wife, Deborah Shiling Messing, in 1964 after the two spent several months volunteering together on an Israeli kibbutz. The marriage lasted just two years.
Sanders’ son, Levi, was born in 1969. At the time, Sanders was in a relationship with Levi’s mother, Susan Campbell Mott. Sanders and Mott’s relationship ended in 1971. Ten years later, Sanders met his future wife, Jane O’Meara Driscoll, who had three children of her own. The two married in 1988 and raised their children together.
After college, Sanders moved to Vermont and worked as a carpenter and freelance writer for various publications, including the alternative newspaper, The Vermont Freeman, where he wrote about political issues.
Sanders also became involved in politics during this time, running as a candidate for the Liberty Union Party in several Vermont elections, including for Governor of Vermont and U.S. Senate, but was unsuccessful. During this time, Sanders also worked as a filmmaker, producing several documentaries about labor and social issues.
Sanders ran for mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981 as an independent candidate. He won his first campaign by only 10 votes. He went on to serve four terms, winning by larger margins in later elections.
While Sanders was mayor, one of the key issues he focused on was affordable housing. He supported the Vermont Housing Authority’s efforts to provide rental assistance to low-income residents, and he worked to improve tenants’ rights.
Sanders’ platform also included making Burlington a more environmentally sustainable city. He created a public bike rental program, encouraged the use of public transportation, and advocated for clean energy sources. He also became known for promoting local businesses and supporting worker cooperatives.
U.S. House of Representatives
Sanders initially campaigned to represent Vermont in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1988. However, his campaign was unsuccessful, losing to Lieutenant Governor Peter P. Smith. Sanders ran against Smith again two years later, winning the election with 56% of the vote. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years.
During Sanders’ first year in Congress, he founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has since grown to over 100 members and represents the most left-leaning branch of the Democratic party.
While a member of the House of Representatives, Sanders sponsored several bills covering issues including single-payer health care, veteran benefits, and minimum wage.
Sanders ran for the United States Senate in 2006 as an Independent candidate. He won the Senate seat with 65% of the vote, becoming the first Independent elected to the Senate in 40 years. He has since been re-elected twice (2012 and 2018).
Sanders has introduced several bills during his time in the Senate, including the Medicare for All Act, which would establish a universal, single-payer health care system in the United States.
In addition to his legislative work, Sanders has been a vocal critic of big business and the political establishment. He has opposed trade deals that he believes hurt American workers and has spoken out against the influence of money in politics. Sanders has also been a consistent critic of military spending.
Since becoming a senator in 2007, Sanders has been a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) committee. In 2022, he became chair of the HELP committee. He is currently a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate Budget Committee, both of which he formerly chaired. He is also a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee.
After Joe Biden was elected president, many people speculated Bernie Sanders would be given the cabinet position of labor secretary. However, Biden and Sanders both agreed it would be best for Sanders to remain in the Senate so Democrats could maintain their majority.
Bernie Sanders has run for President of the United States twice, first in 2016 and then again in 2020. During his 2016 campaign, he gained a large following with his support of universal health care, free college education, and a $15 minimum wage. He lost the Democratic nomination to Hilary Clinton. In 2020, Sanders again campaigned for the Democratic Party nomination for president. Sanders withdrew from the race in April 2020, endorsing Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee.
During his 2020 presidential campaign, the topic of age came up many times, as multiple candidates were over the age of 75. Some voters expressed concern about Sanders’ age, as he was the oldest candidate in the race. If elected, Sanders would have been 79 at inauguration, breaking the record for the oldest U.S. president ever elected.
In 1997, Sanders co-authored a political memoir, Outsider in the House, with Huck Gutman. An updated edition was rereleased in 2015 as Outsider in the White House. Sanders’ second book, The Speech, was released in 2011. The book is a transcript of the eight-hour and 37-minute filibuster speech Sanders delivered in 2010 against the Tax Relief Act.
In 2016, Sanders wrote Our Revolution, which describes his experience during his 2016 presidential campaign. He later released Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution, a young adult adaption of Our Revolution.
In 2018, Sanders released Where We Go From Here, which details his leadership role in the Democratic Party, his efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and his campaigning for progressive candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.
Sanders’ latest book, It’s Okay to Be Angry About Capitalism, was published in February 2023. The book discusses income inequality, how money impacts democracy, and how corporations contribute to the climate crisis.
Throughout his political career, Sanders has attracted criticism from opponents. In a 2020 documentary, Hilary Clinton, who ran against Sanders during the 2016 presidential election, accused Sanders of being unproductive in Congress, saying, “He was in Congress for years. He had one senator support him. Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done.”
In a 2015 story published by Seven Days, several anonymous sources claimed Sanders was a difficult boss. One former campaign staffer stated, “As a supervisor, he was unbelievably abusive . . . He did things that, if he found out that another supervisor was doing in a workplace, he would go after them. You can’t treat employees that way.”
Sanders later responded to the accusation that he is a bad boss, telling Des Moines Register editor Lynn Hicks, “Where did you get that information from. You got it from one article written by one person, who quoted four anonymous people.”
Other Sanders critics say his proposals are not politically or economically feasible. In 2020, senior editor at MIT Technology Review James Temple wrote about how Sanders’ proposals to curtail climate change were far more expensive than other proposals. He wrote, “The scale and expense of Sanders’s proposals will make them extremely difficult to enact . . . And business interests are going to fight back hard on any bans and regulations that would ravage their bottom lines . . . Immediate prohibitions on the energy sources that fuel our vehicles, heat our homes, and power our businesses, before we’ve developed cleaner replacements, would almost certainly cause major economic disruptions.”
Bernie Sanders Today
Sanders continues to serve as a U.S. senator, his current term extending until 2024. During the 2023 legislative session, Sanders introduced legislation to raise teacher salaries, limit the price of insulin, and improve wages for airport workers. Sanders has also sponsored the Social Security Expansion Act, which aims to enhance social security benefits and ensure funds last through the twenty-first century.
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