Bernie Sanders tells packed crowd at Hopkins to focus on important issues

Senator Bernie Sanders, former Democratic presidential candidate, speaks at Johns Hopkins University's Shriver Hall. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun video)

Sen. Bernie Sanders, speaking Thursday evening at the Johns Hopkins University, decried what he sees as a shift from democracy to an America controlled by moneyed interests.

But the independent from Vermont, who lost to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary for president, said little about President-elect Donald Trump before a crowd of his fans still smarting from last week's election defeat.


Trump, the real estate developer and reality television star, lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College and the White House.

"Is that a problem? I think it's a problem," Sanders said. "Maryland is totally irrelevant. ... Republican candidates are not going to go there. Democratic candidates are not going to go there. What does that mean for the people of Maryland?"


Sanders is promoting his new book "Our Revolution: A Future To Believe In." The free lecture was completely booked minutes after reservations opened. Fans waited in line as long as six hours to hear Sanders speak.

Sanders was at Hopkins as part of the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium, a lecture series to present issues of local, national and global importance.

"This is definitely the most interest we've received in years," said Teddy Kupfer, a Hopkins senior and lecture organizer. He said the crowd showed that Sanders' popularity endures.

"If you can draw a conclusion from the 2016 election, it was there was not a lot of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton."

An estimated 2,000 people filled the auditorium and overflow rooms. Joshan Bajaj, a Hopkins junior who campaigned for Sanders back home in Princeton, N.J., was first in line; he showed up at 1 p.m. for the 7 p.m. appearance.

"He is definitely looking out for the common man," Bajaj said. "I like his message of social equality. It's not socialism, but I like his more socialist ideas, like how he wants free college and how he wants a $15 minimum wage."

Reading from his book, Sanders compared his campaign against "the Clinton machine" to the fight of David against Goliath.

The self-described Democratic socialist also blasted the news media for ignoring issues like climate change and poverty.

"You heard 1,000 times more about Mr. Trump's sexual life and Mrs. Clinton's emails," he said.

The Johns Hopkins Foreign Affairs Symposium co-sponsored the event with Sanders, its second high-profile speaker this year. In February, the symposium arranged a live video conference with Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor from Maryland who leaked documents that revealed the National Security Agency's massive telephone- and internet-surveillance program.

Sanders, like Trump, campaigned on a populist message. He sharply criticized the Democratic establishment, militaristic foreign policy and Wall Street greed. He decried burdensome college-loan debt and economic policies that he said would leave today's students less well-off than their parents.

He captured the support of young progressives. After losing the Democratic nomination, he campaigned for Clinton against Trump.


Sanders was introduced Thursday as a "rock star in a rumpled suit." The crowd hooted at the catchphrase, "Feel the Bern."

Conor McKenna, a junior who is majoring in film, described himself as a "rabid Bernie fan."

"In a weird way, I think it's the same impulse that made Bernie so popular that elected Donald Trump ... they're absolutely both populists," McKenna said.

He said the political analysts who predicted Trump would lose failed to appreciate how dissatisfied voters were with the status quo.

"I do think the deck is stacked unfairly," he said.

Sanders held a rally days before the April primary at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore. Nearly 310,000 Marylanders voted for him in April. But the state's Democrats favored Hillary Clinton, 62.5 to 33.8 percent.

Sanders has said he will continue to serve in the Senate as an independent, not as a Democrat. A student asked if he would run again for president in 2020.

"This is not what we should be discussing," Sanders replied. He urged the crowd to focus instead on important issues of the day.

Fans noted, with hope, that he didn't answer the question.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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