Bernie Sanders brought his brand of "political revolution" to Baltimore Saturday before an adoring crowd of thousands in the downtown civic center in the run-up to Tuesday's Maryland primary.
Bernie Sanders brought his brand of "political revolution" to Baltimore on Saturday before an adoring crowd at the downtown civic center in the run-up to Tuesday's Maryland primary.
The Vermont senator won an enthusiastic response from a diverse crowd for an hourlong jeremiad against the establishment, the status quo, warlike foreign policies and what he called the greed of Wall Street. He faces a showdown with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president.
Sanders sprinkled his speech with frequent references to Baltimore and its problems with poverty.
"How do we have money for tax breaks for billionaires but not money to feed hungry children in Baltimore?" he demanded.
The event came nearly a year after the rioting following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries he received in police custody. Sanders said that as mayor of Burlington, Vt., he came to know most police as honest and hard-working but demanded that they be held to a high standard.
"If a police officer breaks the law, that officer must be held accountable," he said.
Sanders faces a round of primaries Tuesday in Maryland and other Eastern states that threaten to leave him hopelessly behind in the quest for pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
In addition to Maryland, voters go to the polls in Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. In most of those states, Clinton holds solid leads in recent polls.
From the reaction of Saturday's crowd at the Royal Farms Arena, Sanders might as well have been leading by double-digits. They cheered lustily as he called for free tuition at public colleges and Medicare coverage for all, and they booed with gusto as he castigated the "billionaire class" he accused of buying elections.
When Sanders asked whether people knew what was the average gift from his 7 million individual contributors, he didn't have to supply the answer.
"Twenty-seven dollars!" roared the crowd estimated by the campaign at 6,600.
Sanders aimed much of his pitch at young voters, who have supported him heavily in the primaries and who turned out in droves Saturday. He decried high college loan debt and economic policies that he said are leaving them less well-off than their parents.
"We will not allow that beautiful American dream to die for this generation," he said. "Our job is to encourage people to get the best education possible, not punish people for getting that education."
The event brought out a mix of races and generations — many attended despite forebodings that Sanders' candidacy was not destined to succeed.
Malcolm Rubinstein of Baltimore said he is not optimistic about his candidate's chances but thinks he deserves to win.
"Hillary is the best candidate for the system we have," said Rubinstein, 64. "Bernie is the best candidate for the system we should have."
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun before the rally, Sanders said he would not let up on Clinton even if she sweeps the states that vote Tuesday. He said he and Clinton continue to have serious disagreements and contended that a vigorous debate would energize the party.
"I will continue to articulate these differences of opinion," Sanders said.
One difference that Sanders said is crucial to Maryland is climate change. Noting that Maryland has been identified as one of the states most at risk from rising sea levels, the senator said he has introduced legislation in Congress that includes a carbon tax on fossil fuels that Clinton opposes.
Sanders said his candidacy would be better for Baltimore than Clinton's because he is committed to taxing the rich and investing the revenue in the nation's cities.
Sanders supporters ringed the blocks surrounding the arena hours before his noon rally. The crowd began forming in the early morning despite rain that forced a move to the arena from Druid Hill Park.
Christopher Stewart, 33, came from Washington with his two daughters. With 5-month-old Nadya strapped to his chest and 21-month-old Saaniya in a stroller, Stewart said he thinks Sanders' chances are looking "pretty good."
"He's offering something that a future generation can grab hold of and really understand," Stewart said. "It's important to be consistent for justice, and that's what he does."