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Bernie’s First Political Revolution

In 1981, Bernie Sanders achieved the unthinkable — dethroning a deeply entrenched city establishment in Burlington, Vermont, with an upset victory in the city’s mayoral race that no one saw coming. His methods were familiar: a populist, working-class message, door-to-door grassroots organization, and a dogged refusal to bow to elite pressure.

Photo courtesy of the Bernie Sanders campaign.

“I think I’d make a good candidate.”

It had been a little over a week since Bernie Sanders decided to run for mayor of Burlington. Now, with these seven words, he was trying to ward off a rival challenger.

The man he was trying to persuade was Greg Guma, fellow left-wing activist and journalist whose own quiet plans to run had been unexpectedly outed by the Burlington Free Press a week before Sanders made his Halloween night decision to launch his own. The two had first crossed paths during Sanders’s 1972 Senate run, when Guma made the mistake of asking Sanders to tell him about himself. That meeting had concluded with Sanders brusquely telling Guma he didn’t want his vote.

Eight years later, upon learning of Guma’s plans to challenge five-term incumbent Gordon Paquette, Sanders phoned him and arranged a sit-down. The two met downtown in Burlington’s Fresh Ground Coffee House — long a place of interest in the FBI’s investigations into local “extremists.”

As Guma recalls, the meeting was less a conversation than a “test of wills.” Over the course of the meeting, Sanders made clear he would be going forward with his campaign no matter what. Guma could either step aside or split the progressive vote and likely sink them both.

For Guma, the choice was easy, if unpalatable. His highest priority was smashing the city’s staid political establishment, and he already had a job editing a weekly paper, one he was likely to lose if he ran for mayor. Sanders, by contrast, had no job and was a natural politician, a confident speaker able to connect with voters and adept at turning every question and topic to his stock talking points. And as Guma would later tell the Washington Post, “he’s six-two and I’m five-five, and that makes a difference.”

Guma officially bowed out on November 11, telling the Free Press he didn’t “really want to be in a position of dividing progressives looking for an alternative to Paquette.” But his frustration at letting Sanders head a movement he had played a leading role over the preceding years in building was clear. “I don’t think he represents what the majority of people want,” he told the paper.

Today, Guma says the episode encapsulates something about Sanders’s leadership style.

“He makes his own decisions, he only consults with a few advisors, he trusts his gut, and once he makes the decision, you’re not going to make him change it,” he says. “Ever.”

Sanders, for his part, made clear to the public he would be playing to win this time. “What I don’t want people to believe is that this is a similar effort” to his Liberty Union campaigns, he told the press. He saw his campaign as a mini version of the political revolution that would become a staple of his speeches.

“The goal must be to take political power away from the handful of millionaires who currently control it through Mayor Paquette, and place that power in the hands of the working people of the city,” he said.

And unlike his Liberty Union campaigns, Sanders would eschew talking about national issues and foreign policy, focusing instead on building a voter coalition through speaking to local needs and issues. Before he could do that, however, he would have to figure out exactly what those were.

A Left-Wing Tax Revolt

Sanders had always had his eye on the governor’s office, acknowledging privately that “national and state issues are more my thing.” Though he had gestured vaguely at a platform when he was still mulling running for mayor, telling the Free Press he wanted more housing for low- and middle-income Burlingtonians, he and many of his allies were unfamiliar with local politics.

“We were interested in the battle of rich versus poor, military imperialism, etcetera, etcetera,” says Terry Bouricius, a friend from their Liberty Union days who by then had joined the newly formed left-wing Citizens Party. “Running for local office was a stepping-stone. We wanted to build a movement.”

Some of the ideas Sanders would champion came from that November sit-down, as Guma, who been involved in battles against Paquette over development issues, outlined what would have been his own platform.

“If I was running, I would run on this and this and this,” he recalls telling Sanders.

Others came from the informal kitchen cabinet of advisors Sanders quickly assembled, several of them old friends and allies. Advising on strategy and tactics were two of the men who had convinced Sanders to run in the first place: University of Vermont (UVM) professor of religion Richard Sugarman, and public defender John Franco, who had known Sanders from the Liberty Union days. Dick Sartelle, the low-income advocate who had helped them persuade Sanders, would also feature. Others included friends like Bouricius, Michael Kupersmith, an attorney, and Stanley “Huck” Gutman, a UVM English professor who would later serve as Sanders’s chief of staff in the US Senate.

Managing the campaign would be Linda Niedweske. Niedweske had moved from New Jersey to Vermont for college in 1973. Though she had known of Sanders through her cousin, who had worked for him making film strips, Sugarman, her former professor, suggested that she join the campaign.

“I thought it would be interesting, and I thought it was a time for a change in Burlington,” she says. “It was kind of the crossroads for Burlington as to how it was going to go, and the Democratic Party at that time had it all locked up.”

A latecomer was David Clavelle, the former city manager of neighboring Winooski, and a part-time researcher for and “close personal friend” of Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, whom Sanders had run against in 1974. In early 1981, Clavelle received a call from Franco, a friend, asking him to get involved.

“I came in and assisted Linda and Bernie in developing a strategy for the last few weeks,” he says.

One key member was Jennie Stoler, a thirty-four-year-old economics professor at St Michael’s College in nearby Colchester. Stoler had befriended Sanders while working at UVM, in whose library he had been a “fixture,” she said. Though members of Sanders’s inner circle remember little about Stoler today, the Free Press painted her at the time as integral to the campaign, reporting that she had “provided the theories for Sanders’ economic and taxation campaign issues.” (Stoler could not be reached for this article).

Through this brain trust, the Sanders campaign came up with a slate of issues that gradually unfurled over the course of the election.

Sanders’s major bugbear was the “regressive and unfair” property tax, which governments statewide had come overwhelmingly to rely on. He was hardly the first, nor the last, municipal politician to oppose property taxes; one of his 2020 Democratic rivals, Julián Castro, was proud of his ability to lower the property tax rate while mayor of San Antonio. But while politicians like Castro paired this policy with other forms of regressive revenue-raising, giveaways to businesses and austerity, Sanders sought to shift the tax burden away from the property tax paid by the majority of Burlingtonians and onto businesses and the city’s well-off.

Sanders pushed for a new real-estate assessment, charging it was “incredible and grossly unfair” that one hadn’t been carried out in more than two decades, and he floated a change to the property tax that would put higher rates on business and industry. The local New England Telephone Company, he said, whose parent company had earned record profits the year before, should pay more in tax than “a widow who owns a small house and lives on Social Security.”

He called for downtown businesses to repay the $1.5 million Church Street Marketplace bond, passed in 1979 to fund the construction of a shopping district downtown. If they refused, he would propose an “immediate reappraisal of business inventory and equipment,” which were subject to tax by the city. He insisted that tax-exempt institutions like UVM and its Medical Center Hospital chip in an annual contribution of $250,000. In the long term, he suggested a city income tax of 5 percent and 8 percent of federal rates for those earning more than $25,000 and $50,000, respectively (around $73,000 and $146,000 in today’s dollars).

In this way, Sanders tailored a left-wing version of the anti-tax message that had just taken Ronald Reagan to the presidency, the culmination of a growing sentiment that had swept the country in the late 1970s. But while Reagan would use the so-called Taxpayers Revolt as a way to start dismantling the New Deal welfare state, Sanders would use it as part of a political form of class warfare, to more heavily tax the city’s wealthiest and pour the proceeds into a more active city government. And though members of his team today say there was nothing conscious about this inversion of the Reagan agenda, it’s clear he himself recognized the dynamic.

“In Vermont, we’ve reversed the struggle over property taxes,” he would later tell the New York Times. “In California it was a right-wing revolt against property taxes, but here it’s the left that supports a cut in property taxes, to help the poor.”

Taxes weren’t the only issue that defined Sanders’ platform, however. At their November meeting, Guma had outlined several specific issues he had been planning to run on, a number of which made their way into Sanders’ campaign. One was opposition to a Southern Connector bypass, due to cut through a low-income community that looked to become another victim of the incumbent administration’s pursuit of “urban renewal.” Another was a waterfront development proposal along Lake Champlain put forward by local real estate maven Antonio Pomerleau, which Sanders labelled an “enclave for the wealthy.”

“The waterfront belongs to all of our citizens and not just a few who can pay enormous prices for their housing,” he said.

Demanding that the city’s growth “benefit the average worker and homeowner,” Sanders opposed new downtown malls and hotels “which would be used almost exclusively by the wealthy and which often pay their workers minimum wage.”

Finally, Sanders took a strong stance on renters issues. He backed the idea of rent control, as Guma had planned to do, a measure aggressively fought for by the city’s neighborhood organizations who were then in the middle of a petition drive for a special election on the matter, and vehemently opposed by the city’s elite, even as 1975 City Report and a 1980 task force endorsed the idea. He also praised the mayor’s Housing Task Force’s decision to establish a fair housing commission to hear rental disputes — one that the mayor himself would soon drop his support for — and pledged to appoint citizens to it “who would vigorously represent the interests of tenants.”

Besides this, Sanders called for higher salaries for city workers, many of whom fumed at Paquette over years of austerity. And he criticized a $77 million redevelopment plan for the Medical Center Hospital, money he charged would be better spent on “preventative health care, housing, and the development of productive jobs.” As he would in his future campaigns, he tried to find a balance between pursuing his socialist politics and stitching together a potential coalition of support.

A Party of One

On the face of it, the emergence of the Citizens Party — formed in Vermont by disillusioned Democrats, former Liberty Unionists, and various left-wing activists —should have meant the arrival of a natural ally for Sanders, who would need not just the mayor’s office, but a cooperative council of aldermen to govern. Yet despite Bouricius’s presence in the campaign’s inner circle, Sanders would be waging this fight separate from the party.

Sanders and the Citizens Party had unspecified “tactical disagreements,” he told the press. He decided to organize his own “Independent Coalition” of aldermanic candidates, though he would only manage to recruit two, one of which was Sartelle. Though the Citizens Party would run three aldermanic candidates, it dutifully kept the mayoral lane clear for Sanders, to have the best chance to knock Paquette off. Yet party members were “miffed,” said one, at Sanders’s plan “to get a coalition of progressives and ignore our existence.”

“There was some concern raised as to him having unilaterally made that decision to run without any approval of others,” recalls Niedweske.

Sanders’s decision to forego the party started a pattern that has endured to today. For the rest of his political career, Sanders would stubbornly remain an independent, refusing to hitch himself to any party, even those with whom he was ostensibly allied. It was, says Bouricius, a product of Sanders’s deep mistrust of party activists, evident in his departure from Liberty Union three years earlier.

“He acknowledges the importance of building mass-base, independent political movement, and that it’s going to inevitably be a party,” he says. “But he’s always had the view that all of the political parties on the Left have been a bunch of self-selected, college-educated know-it-alls who feel like they have figured out the world and they have almost no real connection with the working class and labor unions.” Sanders, he says, didn’t want those self-selected types with the leisure time and income to attend and argue at party meetings to “tell him what positions he should take on issues,” nor be beholden to a steering committee that handcuffed him to any bad decisions it made.”

“I think Bernie always felt he wanted to be an independent,” says Clavelle. “He felt there was more flexibility at that time, particularly in the local elections.”

“Although emotionally he wanted to have a party, no party will ever meet the criteria of being the party that he wants it to be,” says Bouricius.

So Sanders and the Citizens Party ran parallel, uncoordinated campaigns, each in the service of the same broad goal, but stubbornly apart. An early sign of the kind of conflicts that could have developed between the two came in the party’s first caucus in January. While approving resolutions supporting a nuclear-weapons freeze and a delay in the Southern Connector highway, both positions Sanders agreed with, the party objected to a resolution on the need for better pay for police officers, charging that higher salaries wouldn’t improve neighborhood protection or the police department’s relationship with the community — and clashing with Sanders’s own call for higher pay for city workers.

Both campaigns were fighting an uphill battle. The Citizens Party had only just been formed in Vermont, and Sanders, despite his Liberty Union campaigns, was still an unknown with little name recognition and an under-resourced operation that couldn’t pay for advertising. Each embarked on campaigns of furious, sole-eroding door-knocking in the stinging cold of Vermont winter.

“I started knocking on doors in January and found lots of support,” Sanders reflected nine years later. “I figured either people were being very polite or I’m losing it.”

“The strategy was basically to knock on every door several times,” says Niedweske. “We had written pieces that we handed out to people, and it was mainly just on the ground, speaking to people, fielding phone calls, and just being out there and being visible. We were just out there constantly making his presence known and making his positions known.”

This scrappy, boots-on-the-ground approach had all but vanished from the political culture of a Burlington firmly under Democratic control for years, where it had long been the case that whoever was chosen as the candidate by the party caucus was the de facto winner.

“We printed up leaflets and went door to door. I knocked on every door in my district twice, and then would go back,” says Bouricius, who would leave Sanders’s fliers along with his own in homes that he visited.

“The issues were there so it really became a question of turnout,” says Clavelle. “Everything from getting leaflets developed and distributed, to some voter registration, to some phone calls — traditional voter turnout efforts.” To this end, the campaign reached out to the community groups and organizations that had sprung up around issues like waterfront development or connector highway.

“We did a lot of voter registration,” says Bouricius, who recalls aggressively registering those whose doors he knocked on. “I wouldn’t even wait ‘til they got to the ‘Yes.’ I’d say, ‘So spell your first name.’ I would start filling in that part, and by asking them to spell their name, in the end I’d get their phone number, and then we would call them: ‘Tomorrow’s election day, you need a ride to the polls?’”

A Divided Establishment

Sanders and his allies may have taken the race seriously, but that didn’t carry over to local political observers. In January, two months before the election, Sanders wasn’t considered a serious contender, with the Free Press even calling for the GOP to run a candidate to ensure a true citywide debate happened. The Republicans decided, just as they had the previous three elections, not to run anyone, a sign of Paquette and the Democrats’ stranglehold on Burlington politics.

Nor was Sanders taken seriously by his opponent. Paquette regularly referred to him as “Saunders” and, like many firmly established incumbents, declined his challenge to a series of debates. He would be too busy campaigning and “selling issues” that were on the city ballot in March to do so, Paquette claimed. Sanders called it “arrogant and irresponsible.”

Yet several factors made Paquette extra vulnerable going into 1981. Having run for years on having “kept the taxes down,” Paquette would now be pushing a contentious 65-cent increase to the property tax rate, a hike of 30 percent. He had made himself an easy target of Sanders’s left-wing anti-tax campaign.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party had alienated the local Italian-American community. In theory, the Burlington Democrats were an alliance between the city’s three prevailing Catholic immigrant groups: the French, Irish, and Italians. But bitter memories lingered of an urban renewal project pushed by the party in 1963 that had bulldozed a working-class Italian neighborhood to make way for a mall, razing 300 buildings and displacing 157 households.

Then there was the fateful decision by fellow Democrat and restaurateur Richard Bove to launch his own challenge to Paquette. Bove, a member of a prominent political family, had earlier served as the city’s Fire Commissioner before being ousted in 1975 by a closed-door caucus of Democratic aldermen.

Upset by Paquette’s tax hike, feeling the mayor had “been there a long time,” and unhappy with the nonexistent benefits of his “urban renewal” projects, Bove first (unsuccessfully) challenged Paquette for the Democratic nomination before launching his own run. He thus created the three-way race that Burlington’s left had recognized as a precondition for defeating Paquette — one that by late February became a four-way race, when Joseph McGrath, a North End resident and distant relative of Paquette’s, threw his own hat in the ring.

As the campaign proceeded, Sanders hammered the vulnerable incumbent, particularly over taxes. He charged Paquette lacked the “vision and the guts” to fight for new city revenue. He called Paquette’s warnings that a failure to pass his proposed 65-cent tax increase on homeowners would put city workers’ jobs at risk a “repugnant” strategy of “divide and conquer.”

“The only idea he can come up with for raising new revenue is to increase the tax on homeowners,” said Sanders.

He accused Paquette of failing to see a crisis in kids turning to crime, in the elderly who had no voice in City Hall, and in people on low and medium incomes who were falling behind on taxes. The city should “tax those who can pay and get off the backs of the people who can’t,” he said.

Sanders proposed measures that signaled a more vigorous conception of what City Hall could do. He pledged to lead a delegation of city officials and citizens to the state legislature to protest the governor’s proposed gas tax hike. Favoring a “more human and less costly approach” to fighting crime, Sanders suggested setting up programs like an athletic league and opening gyms in the afternoon to keep kids occupied.

Perhaps most important was Sanders’s announcement in mid-February that he would make reorganizing the city’s police department his top priority. The police had long had a contentious relationship with Paquette, chafing at his budget cuts. Sanders called the resignation of a quarter of the force in the previous year a “catastrophe” and promised to fire Police Commission chairman Pomerleau — the same Pomerleau whose waterfront development he’d made a target of his campaign.

“This Is a Problem”

Sanders’s first victory came when Paquette was finally forced to properly acknowledge his existence. Paquette stopped mispronouncing his name and, under pressure from Sanders and the other two mayoral candidates, agreed to three candidates’ forums, the closest thing there would be to debates.

After having physically avoided Sanders at an event the two had appeared at only weeks earlier, Paquette took the fight to his challenger. Paquette charged Sanders with talking like “Robin Hood” (“It didn’t work for Robin Hood,” he added), accused him of wanting to be “elected dictator,” and pitched himself as an insider with the clout to get things done, while Sanders and the rest would need to be “trained.” He also took exception to Sanders’s characterization of him as cozy with business and the wealthy. “I’m not a money man,” Paquette complained. (For good measure, Paquette also accused Bove of having been too “busy making spaghetti” to attend city meetings).

Sanders fired back. He thundered that people were being squeezed by rising costs and taxes, and said that “the thrust of who I am as a human being is totally different” from Paquette. Reagan’s election briefly made its way into the race, with Sanders declaring he was “extremely concerned” with the budget the president was soon to pass with the help of Congressional Democrats.

“In virtually every area that has received help since the time of FDR there will be cuts,” warned Sanders. “There are people out there buying cat food and they don’t have cats.” Paquette denied the budget would have much impact on the city.

One of the key turning points came in late February, when Sanders received the Burlington Patrolmen’s Association’s endorsement, not long after granting Paquette a hostile reception at a private meeting. Sanders was the only candidate “in a long time” to show interest in the police, said its president, Joseph Crepeau, and had “constructive ideas for cutting down juvenile crime.” At a time when police around the country had rallied around a hard-right ideologue in the form of Reagan, they were backing an avowed socialist in Burlington.

More endorsements trickled in shortly before the election, such as the University of Vermont faculty. By March, even the Citizens Party threw their backing behind Sanders, saying they supported his positions “just about down the line.”

Meanwhile, the forums did not go well for Paquette. At a February 25 event sponsored by seven Burlington neighborhood groups and broadcast on the radio, Paquette opened by immediately insulting the hosts, saying, “some of these organizations I didn’t know existed until three weeks ago”; he quickly apologized after being chided by Sanders. (In fairness to Paquette, some really had only been active for a few months). Paquette charged that Sanders would turn Burlington into his hometown of Brooklyn, which he disparaged as rundown and unsafe; the audience hissed back and the line received an angry rebuke in the letters section of the Free Press. Several audience members lobbed criticisms at him.

Sanders, by contrast, was applauded at the forum for calling for more public participation in city affairs. “Listeners heard Paquette booed and Sanders cheered by more than one hundred people,” wrote the Free Press. He received praise in its letters section from one enamored reader. Former Vermont governor Philip Hoff, whose 1962 election had heralded the state’s leftward shift and who backed Paquette, commended Sanders for saying “significant things” and fulfilling a “valuable educational function” by raising the issues he had.

“We had learned, if you create the opportunity, we’ll bring the audience,” says Guma. “A debate can be a dog-and-pony show if there’s no debate. But if you’re prepared to really compete for the audience, then you can change the playing field.”

“It was filled with low-income renters, and the place was solidly pro-Bernie,” says Bouricius. “And Paquette, you could see a look of amazement, and, not quite terror, but ‘This is a problem.’”

Still, there was no way Sanders could win. The sixty-four-year-old Paquette hadn’t lost an election in twenty-three years. He’d never received less than 54 percent of the vote. He’d never even lost a single ward since his first race in 1958. “The consensus from a variety of sources,” reported the Free Press‘ Alan Abbey shortly before the election, “is Paquette will receive 56 percent, Sanders 24 percent.” And it didn’t help that the first Tuesday of March, voting day, would be bitterly cold.

“That day may have been below zero,” Clavelle recalls. “I remember standing outside holding signs at intersections encouraging people to vote, and it was really cold out.”

“By election day, I felt one of two things would happen,” Sanders said years later. “Either I was going to win by a landslide or I’m going to get killed. I actually did not expect a cliffhanger.”

“Sanders Stuns”

Bernie Sanders raising a fist at an election night celebration.
Photo courtesy of the Bernie Sanders campaign.

The result on March 3 was not just stunning; for many in Burlington, it was unimaginable.

“Bernard Sanders sent Burlington’s political establishment reeling,” opened the March 4 cover story in the Free Press, next to a photo of a triumphant, grinning Sanders, arms raised above his head in victory.

The unofficial tally was 4,035 to Sanders vs. Paquette’s 4,023; Sanders had won by only twelve votes, adjusted later to twenty-two. He’d won half the city’s six wards, winning easily in Wards Two and Three, the city center and Old North End. In the heavily Democratic Ward One, he won by two votes. In the rest, he came remarkably close.

“Neighborhood activists, renters and the poor — for years the traditional Democratic constituency — bolted the party to vote for Sanders,” the Free Press‘ Scott Mackay later wrote.

These margins weren’t an accident. Wards Two and Three were filled with precisely the kind of forgotten Burlingtonians Sanders had spoken about, and his campaign had worked hard pounding the pavement in those districts. His campaign also appeared to have boosted voter turnout: Sanders and Paquette’s tallies alone outnumbered the 6,594 Burlingtonians who had voted two years earlier. The turnout in Ward Three, declining for years, had suddenly spiked. Sanders’ campaign had succeeded in bringing out non-voters.

“A lot people had never voted in local elections,” says Clavelle.

Paquette’s support, meanwhile, had rested mostly on the city’s Republicans, with his biggest margins coming from the mostly Republican Wards Four and Six. Yet even in Ward Four, Paquette’s home ward, his margin fell short of previous elections. Sanders, it appeared, had won over a substantial number of GOP voters. And crucially, Bove and McGrath had sapped away 1,090 and 138 votes, respectively, from the mayor.

“I was the dark horse who put Bernie Sanders in office,” Bove said a decade later, with Sanders agreeing.

The next morning, a sleepless and conciliatory Sanders held a press conference. “I want to see a rebirth of the human spirit in the largest city in the most beautiful state,” he said, warning that he would make mistakes from inexperience. He warned, too, that “it will be impossible for me single-handedly to bring about change,” and pledged to involve “people who have not felt a part of government.” He proposed creating a mayor’s advisory council to give voice to the groups that had put him in office.

Yet the incoming mayor was starting from a precarious position. Voters had soundly rejected Paquette’s 65-cent tax hike, dumping a fiscal crisis on Sanders’s desk a month before he’d even have a chance to occupy it. The following month, they would reject several rent review proposals Sanders had backed. This, together with the narrow victory margin, didn’t suggest across-the-board enthusiasm for the new mayor and his vision.

What’s more, Sanders’s Independent Coalition candidates, or what few of them he ultimately cobbled together, had been obliterated by their incumbent opponents. Only one prospective ally won a seat on the thirteen-person board of aldermen: Bouricius, who upset the Democrat in Ward 2 to become the first ever Citizens Party candidate elected to office.

“I extend the olive branch,” Sanders said at his press conference. “I do not want to go to war with anybody. I do not want to fight every step of the way, and hope we will work in cooperation.” While affirming that city decisions would “not be made in the offices of banks and big businesses anymore,” he insisted he would work in “as cordial a relationship” as possible.

Whatever surprise Sanders may have felt about winning was nothing compared to the city establishment, which was left stupefied and dismayed. Herluf Olsen, president of the Medical Center Hospital whose expansion Sanders had campaigned against, said he nearly drove off the road upon hearing the news over the radio. Sanders had little chance of having a “significant, rapid effect” on life in Burlington, insisted Hilton Wick, president of the Chittenden Trust Co., the city’s largest commercial bank. “A lot of people downtown are alarmed,” said one downtown merchant.

The city’s Democrats were particularly devastated. Their victory celebration was described as more akin to a wake than a party. “I’m a little numb, I guess,” said Joyce Desautels, the Democratic alderman for Ward 1, and lifelong friend of Paquette. “I’m still depressed,” she added two days later. A pall blanketed City Hall as workers tried to adjust to the new reality. A despondent Paquette answered calls from apologetic friends and issued terse answers to the press.

“I know what it means,” he said. “I’m probably the only guy who does.”

Yet even as Sanders extended his hand in cooperation, the response from defiant Democrats hinted at what was to come. Aldermen, who had generally granted Paquette their full support, now talked about asserting their independence and authority. They predicted Sanders would find it tough to keep his promises, such as giving the police a raise. “If this guy is for real, and he wins, I’ll run against him two years from now,” Democratic state senator Thomas Crowley had vowed.

“If they want a state of siege, they might pull it off,” Franco told the Free Press.

The campaign had, as Sanders put it, “pulled off something no one thought we could do.” He had shocked Burlington by challenging its political establishment and beating an unbeatable mayor. He was about to find out that was the easy part.