Sen. Bernie Sanders sharply criticized President Trump while boosting local Democrats at an October 2018 rally in Oceanside. Photo by Chris Stone

Bernie Sanders is the best of libs. Bernie Sanders is a betrayer of libs.

When the 77-year-old Vermont senator announced a second run for president 10 days ago, he reignited many San Diego Berners, including one of his original gangsters — John Mattes, a backer even before 2016.

But Bay Park’s Jim Boydston, a San Diego Opera Chorus member, is no longer singing “I’m on a Journey With Bernie” — as he did at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Jim Boydston (second from left at 2016 delegate election) says: “The only issues I have with [Sanders] are: a. His lack of calling out the establishment on their election fraud in 2016. b. His choice to go back into the Democratic side of the duopoly.” Photo by Chris Stone

“Bernie rejoining the Democratic side of the duopoly will almost certainly be a repeat of the establishment election fraud that occurred in 2016,” says Boydston. “Kamala Harris will possibly be the DNC’s choice to lose again to Trump.”

Boydston, 58, was among the most visible local Sanders supporters three years ago, posting frequently on Facebook, attending rallies (and singing the Sanders ditty). But he was outraged when Sanders threw his support to Hillary Clinton at the Philadelphia convention.

“If he continues to run as a member of the Democratic side of the duopoly, I will not campaign for him,” he said. “I see a lot of other people getting sucked back into the corporate corruption of the duopoly, because they worship Bernie.”

Boydston says Sanders’ only chance of true success would have been to run outside the two-party system — what he calls the duopoly. “And if he had made that choice, I would do everything I can for him, once again. As it is, the only support he will get from me is a vote.”

Exactly three years ago, John Mattes was an organizer of a Bernie Sanders watch party. He now says: “Bernie’s support is dynamically strong here in California.” Photo by Ken Stone

To Mattes, a Pacific Beach resident who says he devoted 18 months almost full time to Sanders as an unpaid organizer, the left-leaning Independent remains the strongest bulwark against corporate influence in elections.

“What we proved in 2016 is you don’t need to take dirty money,” Mattes said the day of Sanders’ announcement. “You don’t need to take banking money. You can stand up against the corporations and still be a viable candidate.”

In a week where Sanders would raise $10 million from mostly small donors, Mattes said the challenge for all candidates would be to show their grass-roots clout, “and they don’t have to go to the billionaire class for support. They don’t have to go to Big Pharma. They don’t have to go to Wall Street.”

Boydston isn’t persuaded.

“Not just Berners, but EVERYONE needs to focus, first and foremost, on removing the corporate corruption from our government, something that Dwight Eisenhower told us back in 1960,” he said. “There are mountains of evidence that prove our government is working for corporate masters, and all of our resources — and lives — are being spent for corporate profits.”

Asked his favorite for the Democratic nod, Boydston points to Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard “so far.”

“It seems to me that she is a true progressive in all regards, and is doing everything she can to fight the corporate corruption of the government, including her own ‘party,’” he said via email.

How common is Boydston’s turnabout on Sanders?

Jose Caballero, a 32-year-old former candidate for San Diego City Council, considers Boydston an aberration.

“I love Jim … but he’s more of a one-off,” said Caballero, who four years ago helped found the San Diego Progressive Democratic Club. He said some Berniecrats were disillusioned after the primary: “If Bernie couldn’t win, nobody could. They kind of threw their hands up … and surrendered.”

Chrystal Nowakowski Coleman oversees the Facebook group San Diego for Bernie Sanders 2020, originally called San Diego for Bernie Sanders 2016. (After he ceded to Clinton, it became San Diego Berniecrats.)

At the end of 2016, the Vistan says, her group had around 3,000 members, “give or take a few hundred” — the same as now (3,234).

In the past 28 days, she said Friday, she approved 24 new members, declined 15 (over fake profiles) and removed one from the group as a potential troll.

“I look at each person’s Facebook profile and make a judgment call about whether or not I believe that they are 1. Real people (and) 2. Not a troll looking to cause trouble,” she said.

She calls Berners pretty loyal, “although it was hard for a few of us – including me – to hear him throw his weight behind Hillary Clinton. I think that ultimately we understood that it was part of a bigger political strategy to set the stage for the future.”

Coleman says Sanders is about thoughtful action and staying the course.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint – and ultimately, his goal was always to keep our current sociopathic president out of office,” she said.

Caballero, a resident of the Talmadge area, no longer sits on the Progressive Club executive board but thinks the group will weigh in on Sanders “as fast as they humanly can.” He expects a motion at the next meeting to seriously consider endorsing Sanders.

“The club will want to regenerate the Bernie energy that they had in 2016,” when it had 350 members at 2016 primary time, he said. (It’s about 200 now.) “I think [Sanders’] strength has never been stronger.”

Jose Caballero (right at 2016 primary watch party) says the San Diego Progressive Democratic Club has “created inroads within the political establishment and the activist communities.” Photo by Ken Stone

Chyann [like Cheyenne] Cox, a 24-year-old Cal State San Marcos political science student, manages that school’s Democratic Facebook page as well as one called San Diego Vegan Democrats.

She says Sanders’ fans now feel a greater sense of urgency, noting what she calls the climate crisis (“We’re actually seeing it”) and health care — “these policy things only Bernie [is] taking seriously.”

She scoffs at the notion Sanders is too old.

“If he is, then you have to have that criticism of everyone in that age cohort — Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden,” she said in a phone interview. “If it’s only directed at Bernie, it’s not valid.”

She is Caballero’s girlfriend (they met via the first Sanders campaign) and both hope to become 2020 national convention delegates for Sanders. Cox also is former president of CSUSM College Democrats, acting president of the San Diego Vegan Democrats and is vice president of North County Young Democrats.

Coleman, the Sanders 2020 majordomo, didn’t run as a delegate in 2016 for family logistical reasons (she has three kids). But will consider running in 2020.

She’s already making plans to fire up the Berners.

“We will make ourselves visible and spread information of Bernie’s platform by participating in parades, street fairs and farmers markets,” she said. “We will canvass door to door. We will hold planning meetings where we can brainstorm ideas. We will raise funds for Bernie. We will do Overpass Light Brigades.”

Also: “Advertise his policies and critical voting dates” and distribute pamphlets, fliers and Bernie gear. Organize meetups. Text for Sanders. Share articles and memes on social media “and anything else we can think of!”

And Coleman added: “We will normalize the word ‘socialism’ by educating people about what it really means.”

A possible wildcard in San Diego might be Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, the new county Democratic Party chairman.

Mattes notes that Rodriguez-Kennedy, president of California Young Democrats, was “front and center” on putting on Sanders’ California barnstorming tour in October, including a visit to MiraCosta College.

On the day Sanders announced for 2020, Rodriguez-Kennedy posted on Facebook: “With Bernie Sanders entering the race for president I think the field is set for all intents and purposes (with maybe an exception or two).”

But he told Times of San Diego he wouldn’t make an endorsement because the California Young Democrats are mulling this race at its biannual Lake Tahoe retreat in September.

On Friday, Rodriguez-Kennedy acknowledged he was a 2016 delegate for Clinton “and supported her all the way through. Nevertheless Sen. Sanders’ platform and his strong stances on a host of issues will weigh heavily on my decision” in 2020.

How is he assuring San Diego County Democrats that he’ll stay neutral on Sanders?

“My personal fondness of individual candidates are not endorsements,” he said, “and I will wait for the California Young Democrats process to play through before making any public endorsement, if at all.”

When and how will the county party take sides in the presidential race?

California Young Democrats President Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, MiraCosta College rally organizer, introduces Sanders in October 2018. Photo by Chris Stone

Rodriguez-Kennedy replied: “The county party will promote all viable presidential candidate events in San Diego to our members. The county party does not endorse in the presidential race, and we encourage all to vote for and engage with a … campaign in the primary and to support the eventual Democratic nominee.”

Caballero, who took third in the 2016 District 7 council election won by incumbent Scott Sherman, says he’s confident Rodriguez-Kennedy will know how to “traverse the stickiness” of Democratic presidential politics.

“He will be neutral,” he said. “He’ll let the discussion happen on both sides — which is different from before. Before, the Bernie [faction] was completely ostracized in the party. And wasn’t allowed to speak.”

Longtime local Democratic activist and blogger Doug Porter agrees on Rodriguez-Kennedy.

“Everything I’ve heard and seen tells me he’ll stay neutral,” Porter said Friday. “Now that there’s a Dem majority almost everywhere in local districts, there’s a strong movement afoot to eliminate pre-primary endorsements. Some of the impetus for that comes from Lorena’s [Gonzalez] aggressive stances in the last election.”

But Porter sees no Sanders path to victory in the March state primary “unless Kamala drops out or crashes and burns. Bernie and [Joe] Biden — if he runs — may pick up a few delegates, but Kamala has the $$$ and endorsements to carry a majority.”

Along with about two dozen others, Porter attended a watch party for the recent CNN Town Hall with Sanders.

How would Porter answer such concerns as: He’s too old? He can’t win minority or youth vote? He’s an opportunist — running as a Democrat after not being a party member outside of election cycles?

“I think he IS too old,” Porter said. “His best shot at overcoming that IMO would be to commit to being a one-term candidate with somebody younger as VP. If you look hard enough, you can find reasons to not support any of the big name folks. I’m anybody-but-Trump this year.”

But Porter is concerned that San Diego’s Sanders fervor is limited.

“The lack of organization amongst these folks locally is their biggest weakness,” he said. “Much of the ‘membership’ consists of Facebook likes.”

Mattes, 68, is keeping the faith, however, saying Sanders can prevail because he created the progressive base that mushroomed in the 2018 midterms.

“Let’s look at it philosophically,” Mattes said. “If Bernie wins the conversation, we’ve won for America. If Bernie can drive the narrative that provides hope for Americans, Bernie wins the conversation.”

With other candidates “coming on board to Bernie’s vision” on “Medicare for all,” free public college education, combating climate change and other issues, Sanders stands to benefit, Mattes said.

“It’s how well [his rivals] articulate [that] will … determine where support goes in the coming months,” Mattes said.

Updated at 2:45 a.m. March 4, 2019

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