U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont brought his progressive star power to town Thursday to bolster Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s congressional bid, telling the crowd at a Little Village rally he needs his ally in Washington to fight for working people and stand up to “pathological liar” President Donald Trump.
Garcia, who’s seeking to improve his already strong name recognition across the 4th Congressional District, nodded to Sanders’ popularity while introducing him at the historic Apollo’s 2000 theater. “The general who works in Washington, D.C., and lives in Burlington, Vt., decided to come review the troops,” Garcia said.
Sanders called on Garcia supporters to bring him not just a win but a resounding victory March 20.
“One of the important things we can do in the next few weeks is to make sure not only that Chuy Garcia wins, but that he wins big,” Sanders said to a crowd of several hundred people who cheered and chanted his name throughout his 30-minute speech. “And that he helps bring in a slate of younger people who are running for office as well.”
Sanders campaigned in Chicago for Garcia after the Cook County commissioner and former mayoral candidate served as a national Latino advocate for the senator’s 2016 presidential campaign. Many of Sanders’ talking points Thursday were familiar from his presidential stump speech, with Sanders adding Garcia’s name when talking about policies like universal health care, free college tuition and a $15 minimum wage.
Sanders also went after Trump at length as “someone who cannot be trusted because he says one thing on Monday and a very different thing on Tuesday.”
“All of which takes us to where we are this afternoon, and Chuy Garcia,” Sanders said. “Because we need members of Congress who are not only prepared to stand up to Trump and his racism and xenophobia, we need members of Congress who are prepared to take on the billionaire class.”
Sanders endorsed Garcia in late November, days after long-serving U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez announced he wouldn’t run for re-election.
Sanders’ backing could be particularly helpful to Garcia in the Northwest Side part of the earmuffs-shaped district, which also includes Garcia’s political base of power on the Southwest Side around Little Village. Northwest Side neighborhoods like Logan Square and Avondale are increasingly hotbeds for Sanders’ brand of progressive politics as more young people move to the hip areas.
Also on hand Thursday was Democratic governor candidate Chris Kennedy, who posed for pictures and stood in the crowd during Sanders’ remarks. Though Garcia acknowledged him from the stage, Kennedy did not join Sanders and other candidates to take a bow at the end of the senator’s remarks.
Afterward, Kennedy said he didn’t expect to get waved up. “I came at the last minute. I didn’t know whether I’d be able to make it,” he said.
With Sanders in town and Kennedy present at the event, Democratic governor candidates sought to proclaim their progressive credentials.
State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston touted his endorsement from the national Our Revolution organization, an offshoot of Sanders’ unsuccessful presidential bid. In January, Biss was backed by the group’s Illinois chapter. Biss has sought to reach out to Sanders’ supporters while trying to bill rival candidate J.B. Pritzker as part of the Democratic Party establishment.
Pritzker’s campaign issued a statement citing support from Citizen Action/Illinois, the abortion rights political advocacy group Personal PAC and Equality Illinois PAC.
Kennedy was asked to explain how he was able to attend the Thursday rally after skipping a Wednesday night governor debate in Springfield citing a back injury. “I can’t sit in a seat, I can’t sit in a car,” said Kennedy, who indicated he could stand.
Also in the contest with Garcia for the Democratic congressional nomination in the heavily Democratic district are Sol Flores, who runs a Logan Square nonprofit that provides services to homeless youths and families, and Chicago police Sgt. Richard Gonzalez. Republican Mark Lorch of Riverside is unopposed in the race for the GOP nomination.
Chicago Tribune’s Rick Pearson contributed.