No Middle Ground

Posted by Pasadena Weekly Staff | Jun 2, 2016

During the 2008 presidential election, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton held a fundraiser at Twin Palms Restaurant in Old Pasadena, just across the street from the Pasadena Weekly offices.

Clinton’s local appearance came a few months after Barack Obama — a former Pasadena resident — made his own attempt to drum up support at a fundraiser in Pasadena. 

But eight years later, neither of the candidates in the Democratic Primary, Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have plans to visit.

Despite the candidates essentially bypassing Pasadena, Democrats are still passionate about their candidates. And there appears to be little middle ground in how supporters feel about their respective favorites.

“I’m voting for Bernie Sanders because he represents what the Democrats used to be — progressive,” said Pasadena resident Allison Schermerhorn, a young television producer.

Pasadena City Council member John Kennedy didn’t dispute that contention, but “I think [Clinton] has the most experience,” said Kennedy, a member of the Clinton campaign’s National Finance Committee. 

Schermerhorn may be correct, at least inasmuch as Sanders being the better progressive. But Clinton possesses other important qualities, said Kennedy.

“She is known for being an advocate for bipartisanship,” Kennedy said. “Although of late you could not tell because of the national dialogue, but many of the same Republicans attacking her now were her greatest supporters at one point.”

Role Playing

In emails and interviews Tuesday afternoon, friends of the paper, past employees and regular contributors talked about what the two campaign means to the nation and efforts to defeat presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump.

Also on Tuesday, Clinton’s campaign continued rolling toward the Democratic nomination, picking up critical endorsements from the Los Angeles Times and Gov. Jerry Brown.

Meanwhile, Sanders, the anti-establishment candidate, spent his Memorial Day holiday at Oracle Arena in San Francisco where the Golden State Warriors — with Sanders courtside along with actor Danny Glover — came from three games behind in the best of seven playoff series to down the Oklahoma City Thunder and advance to the NBA finals. Over the weekend, Sanders filled Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland with some 60,000 supporters during a rally there for his campaign.

“I’m a lifelong Democrat and I feel that my party has been moving more and more to the right, and that needs to change. It’s hard to narrow down what I like about Bernie, but in terms of the issues, he’s pro Medicare for all, anti-fracking, anti-death penalty, supports campaign finance reform, and is 100 percent pro-choice. His Democratic opponent is not,” Schermerhorn said.

Author and columnist Ellen Snortland has been a longtime admirer of Clinton, traveling in 1995 with the then-first lady to China to attend the UN’s World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Clinton, Snortland said, was the only person on the world stage at that time fighting for women’s rights.

“She is well loved internationally and is a beacon of goodwill for people all over the world,” said Snortland, who writes the “Consider This” column for the Pasadena Weekly.

“I adore how left and progressive Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are. I want them to be in the Senate and push the progressive agenda forward. Much like FDR told his cabinet and Senate leaders, ‘I’m fighting on all sides and am in the middle. You’ve got to make me do the right thing.’ Hillary is a metaphorical FDR. Senators Warren and Sanders are needed in the Senate because that’s where our country’s future is going to be battled out.”

Clinton supporters were scheduled to take to the phones Wednesday in Alhambra, where Clinton’s mother attended high school.

That same day, Caltech students supporting Sanders were scheduled to knock on doors in the neighborhoods around the school. Similar events were scheduled to be held this Saturday in San Gabriel and Rosemead.

“I believe in democratic socialism,” said author Justin Chapman, an occasional contributor to the Pasadena Weekly. “The ideas that Bernie talks about — free college, universal single-payer health care, taxing the rich their fair share, getting corporate money out of politics — are things that I and millions of young Americans want our future to look like. Besides, I’d prefer a candidate that didn’t vote for the Iraq War.”

Of Kings and Queens

Clinton leads Sanders in the all-important delegate count 2,312 to 1,501 and is just 70 delegates short of capturing the Democratic nomination, according to A win or loss Tuesday is expected to give the former secretary of state the party’s nomination.

Things were never supposed to be this difficult for Clinton. Sanders was just supposed to be campaign fodder for the former first lady who waited eight years to become the first female president while Obama made history as the nation’s first African-American chief executive.

But while the mainstream media hyped Clinton as Obama’s heir apparent, young people on social media weren’t buying in and once again Clinton found herself facing a political movement helmed by an unlikely upstart, just as she did in 2008, when she lost to Obama.

Some Sanders supporters are so unhappy with Clinton that they are vowing not to vote for her if or when she clinches the nomination — even if it means handing the general election to Trump. 

“Clinton does not get my vote if she wins the primary,” said Mykle Parker, an art teacher at Villa Parke Community Center.  “She lost that the evening when her SuperPac hired people that used child pornography to shut down her opponent’s main focus for communicating and said nothing, absolutely nothing about how wrong that was.”

According to the website, a number of pro-Sanders Facebook groups were closed in March after Clinton supporters reported them as pornography pages, triggering Facebook’s internal anti-spam/obscenity system to shut down those pages.

Moment or Movement

Sanders continues to draw large crowds. Along with attracting 60,000 supporters in Oakland last weekend, on May 23, roughly 6,700 people attended a Sanders speech at Santa Monica High School. 

According to Gary Walker, a reporter for The Argonaut, a sister paper of the Weekly, Sanders emphasized his campaign issues, which have resonated with young people, including closing the growing wealth gap between the rich and poor, criminal justice reform, providing universal health care and free public college tuition.

Sanders’ supporters say they are doing everything they can to help their candidate build momentum leading up to Tuesday’s primary and a possible push on the convention floor in Philadelphia in July.

“It’s a movement,” said Eagle Rock resident Kent Bancroft, a political Independent who previously worked as art director of this newspaper. “Sanders is spearheading this movement. It draws from all of the frustration with the current economic situation, as well as social equality.” 

Unlike Parker, Bancroft said he will vote for the Democratic nominee because the nation can’t afford to have billionaire Donald Trump serve as president.

“I’m fearful that if Sanders isn’t the nominee people won’t support Hillary, or will split the non-Trump vote,” he said. “I will vote for whoever is the Democratic Party nominee. Trump cannot be our president.”

Clinton, meanwhile, seems to have shifted her focus to Trump and is appealing to voters by promising to continue Obama’s legacy and pursue gender equality.

Instead of responding to calls by Sanders for a debate before the California primary, Clinton responds to Trump’s jabs and ignores Sanders completely.

Get Out

Clinton supporters and members of the Democratic establishment have called on Sanders to back out of the race and support Clinton, but the Vermont senator shows no signs of letting up.

“Bernie is not in it for Bernie,” Parker said. “If he were, he’d be playing by their rules, but he’s not. He did not build a political career with the intent to be [president]. This is a person that has been unwavering and consistent in his career to keep the health and well-being of humanity and the world at the center of his focus. That’s why the GOP and DNC are scared of him; they can’t control him because the end game is not about him It’s about all of us as a whole.”

Locally, Sanders supporters continue to believe their candidate is not just running for president but leading a revolution that could result in real change in America.

“I feel that I can trust Bernie Sanders, which I cannot say about Hillary Clinton,” said Schermerhorn. 

“I would like to hope that this is a movement. In this age of social media, I think it’s easier to coordinate with other grassroots activists via Twitter and Facebook. Our overall goal needs to be getting more progressives into Congress,” she said.

“Bernie Sanders has … gone toe to toe with the Wall Street interests that contaminate both political parties. He has asked the public to support his efforts to restore balance between a ruling class gone wild and regular working Americans,” said retired JPL scientist and local political activist Robert Nelson. 

“It is incredible to hear his Democratic opponent oppose reasonable proposals, like a $15 per hour national minimum wage, tuition-free higher education at public colleges and universities, Medicare for all —  just like they have everywhere else in the world,” said Nelson, who also occasionally contributes columns to the Weekly.

“I can understand that the Republicans will oppose such ideas. That is who the Republicans are — a party of the rich that protects the interests of the rich. What is remarkable about this year’s election is that the Democratic Wall Street establishment opposes these reasonable ideas. What is remarkable even further is that Sanders’ Democratic Party primary opponent runs so poorly in polls against the likely Republican nominee. Sanders wins these matchups by a landslide. By supporting Wall Street interests I fear my party is about to become complicit in electing a fascist like Donald Trump. We should be putting our most popular candidate. Bernie Sanders, against Trump.”

Snortland agrees that the best candidate should face Trump, but to her the best candidate is Clinton, not Sanders.

“Winning the California primary is important because that will be the pivotal point for all the Democrats to stop the damned fighting with each other and align behind Hillary,” Snortland said. 

Reporter Carl Kozlowski contributed to this story.