During the long and sometimes fractious 2016 Democratic presidential nominating contest, many of Bernie Sanders’ passionate fans depicted themselves as fighting not just Hillary Clinton, but a Clintonian dynasty of corrupt centrists who had betrayed progressivism into the hands of its corporate enemies. One California Berniecrat said this to Politico after Sanders conceded defeat and endorsed Clinton:
When I see the Clintonian dynastic corruption which seems to compromise everything and everyone it touches, the Democratic Party is not a party I can support at this time.
Less than two years later, it’s not Chelsea Clinton who’s running for office to build on her family’s legacy, but two from Bernie’s clan. His son Levi has announced his candidacy for a congressional seat in New Hampshire. And his step-daughter (Jane Sanders’ daughter) is running for his old position as mayor of Burlington.
Levi Sanders has never held elected office (he ran unsuccessfully for city council in the small town where he lives), though he was identified as a “senior policy strategist” in his father’s presidential campaign. Carina Driscoll has been a state legislator and city councilmember in Vermont.
The problem Levi Sanders is immediately encountering (other than a large and more experienced field of rivals for the Democratic nomination) is a history of utterances on Twitter (curated this week by New Hampshire Democratic activist Dean Barker) that will not go over well with a lot of primary voters. There’s this:
And then there’s this tribute to Clive Bundy’s family:
And then this remark just before Obama left office:
Yeah, Levi Sanders will get a lot of attention for being the son of the man who has represented next-door Vermont in Congress for over a quarter of a century, and who won the 2016 New Hampshire primary by a 60/38 landslide. But it remains to be seen how he will handle that attention.
While Driscoll is a more conventional political figure than her step-brother (despite her independent status), and so far as we know is not in the habit of saying dumb things on Twitter, she raises another problem for herself and her family: she’s been linked to the controversy over her mother’s financial stewardship of Burlington College, which closed under a massive load of debt five years after the end of Jane Sanders’ presidency of the school, during which the small private college expanded its campus significantly.
Turns out Driscoll’s own Vermont Woodworking School formed a partnership with Burlington College during Jane Sanders’ presidency that funneled about a half a million dollars to the off-site facility where Burlington students took classes. Sanders’ successor as president at Burlington and chief critic of her tenure, Carol Moore called the partnership a “sweetheart deal” for Driscoll that ended up “gouging the college.”
It’s hard to imagine this not coming up early and often in Driscoll’s candidacy. And that in turn will likely increase the hostile attention to Jane Sanders’ conduct at Burlington College, which has already generated a lot of smoke but no legal fire.
Driscoll, who is considered an underdog to incumbent Democratic mayor Miro Weinberger, has been endorsed by her stepdad’s legacy Our Revolution organization. Levi Sanders isn’t so lucky, says the Boston Globe:
Levi got this brushback from his dad’s presidential campaign manager, Jeff Weaver: “Really doesn’t know much, to be honest with you.”
And the senator himself made it clear he wasn’t going to be involved, as Dave Wiegel reported:
“Levi will be running his own campaign, in his own way, with his own ideas,” the Vermont independent said in a statement. “The decision as to who to vote for will be determined by the people of New Hampshire’s first district, and nobody else.”
If Bernie Sanders does decide to run for president again in 2020, he may well hope his family stays in the background. The incumbent has certainly shown that family ties can ensnare you, even in a place like the Trump White House where nepotism is among the least important personnel problems.