By Ken Stone
When CNN called Minnesota for Bernie Sanders at 7:27 p.m. Tuesday, cheers and applause erupted at Park & Rec, a University Heights bar.
It was a rare moment of triumph for gathered supporters of the Vermont senator on a night when pundits declared Hillary Clinton the de facto Democratic nominee for president.
John Mattes was unfazed.
Greeting arrivals at Park & Rec, the chief organizer of the Super Tuesday watch party predicted Sanders would wield major clout at the Democratic National Convention.Clinton can’t win in November without Sanders’ money and disciples, said Mattes, 65, of Pacific Beach. In exchange for his passionate fans’ support, he said, Clinton might be compelled to pledge Sen. Elizabeth Warren as treasury secretary and return Robert Reich to labor secretary.
The Sanders campaign is “turning everything upside down,” said Mattes, who hopes to be a Sanders delegate at the party’s late-July convention in Philadelphia.
“Bernie could come up short, but he has the energy and the grass roots that Hillary just does not have,” he said at an event attended by 60 people.
A former officeholder in Wisconsin and an award-winning investigative reporter, Mattes said he was among a group of 30 locals who held a Skype conference with Sanders a week before he entered the presidential race last April.
Mattes says the Progressive Democratic Club of San Diego has 650 volunteers signed up for Sanders — campaigning without national headquarters funding — and drawing from Green Party members and independents as well.
“This is the future of politics,” he said at Park & Rec, which let his group use a modest room for free.
Others freely gave their reasons for backing Bernie.
Mike Alex, 36, of University City watched one of the bar’s four wall TVs and called politics a “dirty business, but I’m hoping [Sanders] can change it.”
Ann Menasche, 65, of Golden Hill said she’s been a leftist and Socialist “my whole life” and was active in the antiwar movement during the Vietnam era as well as a marriage-equality advocate.
Brenda Hamilton, 62, of South Park said she has been a Sanders supporter since Day 1, but conceded time is short for Sanders to fend off the Clinton juggernaut.
“Now I’m just going to do everything I can to get him elected,” she said. “Things can change. I don’t think you should ever count [him] out” given the “following Bernie has.”
Wendy Thompson of La Mesa, who moved to the area Christmas Day from Columbia, South Carolina, said she believes in the Sanders message and doesn’t trust Clinton.
“I don’t think she’s honest, pandering to blacks,” said Thompson, 35, black herself, noting Clinton’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Josephine Piarulli stood behind a small table at the entrance, selling “Feel the Bern” candy spiced with Cayenne pepper. Also displayed were buttons, bumper stickers and T-shirts — raising money toward the $3,000-a-person cost of attending the Philadelphia convention.
Wearing a red Bernie shirt with “Not for Sale” on the back, Wendy Littleton-Kozma of Coronado said she was waiting for the arrival of another mail-order T-shirt — one showing Sanders’ glasses with the slogan “Talk Bernie to Me.”
Jose Caballero, a District 7 “Candidate for Bernie” running for City Council, said he would file papers to become a Sanders delegate. He’ll attend a congressional district meeting before the June 7 primary where delegates will be elected.
Caballero, a Democrat who recently won a Green party endorsement, said people are fed up with the political system. “They want to see change,” he said.
Mattes, the watch party organizer, said his group would continue holding Sanders fund-raisers three or four times a week (after more than 130 so far). Among them: “Beers for Bernie,” with the motto “Bernie can’t be bought. The least you can do is buy the man a beer” (with proceeds going to his campaign).
One slightly undecided party-goer was Bill Sawatzki, 69, a retired contractor from Spokane, Washington, now renting in Pacific Beach. He says he’ll support Clinton “only if she wins.”
“I’m all Bernie or all Hillary,” said the “yellow-dog Democrat,” nursing an IPA San Diego beer and carrying a “Drinking Liberally” notebook. (It’s a national network of meetups.)
Widowed in 2011, Sawatatzki had another reason for attending.
“Tried to meet some cute ladies,” he said.
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