By Ken Stone
He was old enough to be Bernie Sanders’ father — yet might not have voted for the Vermont senator in 2016.
But 100-year-old Sidney Walton, wearing his World War II veteran cap, was among thousands to hear the 77-year-old presidential candidate Friday evening in San Diego.
“He likes everybody,” said his son Paul, who cares for Sidney in Rancho Bernardo. “He finds good things in everybody” — including President Trump.So who did his father vote for in 2016? Paul says Dad won’t say.
“We try to be diplomatic and nice to everyone,” he said minutes before Sanders gripped a lectern and saluted Walton as a “special guest … a World War II veteran, 100 years old.”
Sanders began speaking about 6:10 p.m. after fiery remarks by Sandy Naranjo, talking about her battle for environmental justice in Barrio Logan; local Building and Trades Construction Council leader Tom Lemmon; and former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, co-chair of Sanders’ 2020 campaign.
Three years to the day after drawing 12,000 to the San Diego Convention Center, he looked over the crowd west of the County Administration Center and joked about it having “more people than there is in the state of Vermont.”
But the rest of his 50-minute talk was a serious critique of the current White House and culture — with his trademark slams against the billionaires and the 1 percent and frequent reminders that his once “radical” ideas were now commonplace.
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He also noted special counsel Robert Mueller’s hours-earlier submission of Russian-probe findings to Attorney General William Barr.
“It is absolutely imperative that the Trump administration make that report public as soon as possible,” he said. “Nobody, including the president of the United States, is above the law. The American people have a right to know.”
Trying out a sharpened stump speech in his first visit to the region since October, Sanders drew cheers from thousands (his campaign said 6,400) at a cordoned off Waterfront Park.
He vowed to carry California, win the Democratic nomination and defeat Trump — “the most dangerous president in … modern history.”
He ticked off his aims for justice — economic, racial, environmental and immigrant.“Economic rights are human rights,” he said (sounding like you-man rites), demanding universal health care, affordable housing, tuition-free public colleges and universities, a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage and immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.
The biggest cheer may have come for his promise to wipe out college-student debt or “at least lower it substantially.”
And despite his presence in a Navy town: “We don’t need to spend more [on the military] than the next 10 countries combined.”
Railing against insurance companies, Wall Street (with the six biggest financial institutions having assets equivalent to 54 percent of U.S. GDP, he said), Sanders said he would end “massive” tax breaks and loopholes.
Justice, he said, means “we will not sit idly by and allow this country to move toward an oligarchic form of society where a handful of billionaires control the economic and political life of this country.”
But he said his side had something the rich do not — the number of Americans.
“They are the 1 percent,” he said. “We are the 99 percent.”
Sanders said he was honored to speak on the same spot as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who came here July 17, 1938, to dedicate what was then called the Civic Center. FDR also had called for economic rights — at the time an atypical concept.
Twenty-four hours later, congressional candidate Jose Caballero announced on Facebook that he was engaged to marry Chyann Cox — the CSU San Marcos student he met via the 2016 Sanders campaign.
“Chyann and I told him and [Sanders’ wife, Jane] first that we are getting married,” Caballero said Saturday. “He said ‘congratulations’ and gave us a hug. Then I told him I’m running for Congress — he gave me a thumbs up and Jane asked for my name.”
It all happened over a period of 30 seconds before he spoke, he said.
Also present was Vista’s Jon Hansen, wearing a 3-foot-high papier-mâché Bernie head (with a view only of people’s feet).
Hansen, in his early 40s, is CFO of a business that makes honey wine, or mead — “which is what the Greek gods drink.”
The specially commissioned head has made the rounds, even the East Coast, but landed back with a La Jollan named Jerry Malamud before being picked up by Hansen a few days ago.
“I was really down with what (Sanders) was saying,” said Hansen, the focus of many selfies. “A good vibe. If he only can do a quarter of what he says, we’ll be in a very good place.”
Hansen’s girlfriend, Chrystal Coleman, is a real-estate agent (and sometimes a hairstylist and event planner). She said she was active in the 2011 Occupy movement, when she discovered Sanders.
“He’s my all-time favorite politician,” she said. “He’s my rock star.”
Back near the Padres-cap wearing candidate, Paul Walton reminded his newly famous dad where Sanders hails from: “He’s from Vermont, where you went on your honeymoon. Remember Vermont? Isn’t that one of your favorite states?”
“It certainly is,” said the centenarian, saluted Friday as a birthday boy even though he turned triple digits Feb. 11 (and has been featured on national TV for his “No Regrets” tour).
Asked what advice Walton would give Sanders as president, he got a little prompting from Paul.
“Try to keep up with me,” Sidney said.
Updated at 8 p.m. March 23, 2019
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