Levi Sanders praises Democratic field in 1st Congressional District

  • Levi Sanders PAUL STEINHAUSER / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Saturday, March 10, 2018

Levi Sanders says the seven Democrats already running to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter are “good folks.”

But in an interview with the Monitor, Sanders said he feels he’s a “better candidate” and that’s one reason why he launched a congressional campaign for the open seat in the state’s First District.

“I feel deeply and strongly that the people are hurting very, very deeply in New Hampshire and I feel like I had the issues, I had the passion,” Sanders explained.

“I just feel basically in terms of when I talk to people, I connect with people on a certain visceral level, that other people don’t,” he said.

As the son of U.S. senator and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, it was natural that the younger Sanders’s announcement would grab lots of national attention. But in the Granite State, Levi Sanders’s bid also sparked criticism – because he lives in Claremont, near the Vermont border and far from the First District, which covers the eastern part of the state.

While it’s uncommon for candidates to live outside the district in which they’re running, it is legal. The U.S. Constitution mandates only that House members reside in the state they serve.

“I’ve lived in New Hampshire for 15 years. That’s an important point,” Sanders said. “Let’s make it very clear. I have lived in New Hampshire for 15 years. My children go to the public school system. I pay property taxes.”

Sanders emphasized a couple of times that not living in the district isn’t important.

“This is really not about the First District and the Second District. This is about the people of New Hampshire, and when I talk to people they don’t say, ‘Are you from the first or the second?’ ” he said.

Two strong supporters of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 White House bid were already running when Levi Sanders jumped into the race.

One of them is state Rep. Mark MacKenzie of Manchester, who served 25 years as head of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO. MacKenzie helped set up Bernie Sanders’s steering committee in the Granite State and served as a Sanders delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. The other is Rye state Rep. Mindi Messmer, who helped knock on doors and canvass for the Sen. Sanders campaign during the 2016 first-in-the-nation primary.

The younger Sanders praised them.

“I really appreciate Mark. I know Mark well. And Mindi’s doing a really, really, good job in the Legislature,” he said.

State Rep. Renny Cushing, a longtime progressive advocate who’s backing Messmer’s congressional bid, told the Monitor last week, “I was surprised to find out that Levi Sanders was going to come over from Claremont and run for Congress for the First CD.”

“It’s kind of ironic that we’re in a district where we’ve had people who’ve been working for decades for social change here in the First CD who are running for office, and it’s interesting that he decides to parachute in on the top and try to organize from the top down. That’s kind of contradictory to what his father’s campaign was,” said Cushing, who was another top Granite State backer of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.

Levis Sanders pushed back against Cushing’s criticism.

“I understand the concern about the perception that I’m going into somebody else’s (district) and intruding,” he said.

But he disagreed that he’s running a top-down campaign.

“I’m talking to people. They’re excited about my energy. They’re excited about the fact of who I am. They believe in me,” he said. “They believe that I am really there to help them out and do what I can to change their lives for the better.”

Sanders said he would soon open a campaign headquarters in Manchester.

Sanders, 48, also highlighted his nearly two decades of work as a legal services analyst in Massachusetts as a reason he’s running.

“I was thinking about it. I looked, and there were some really good candidates. But I basically decided that I worked at legal services for 17 years. I understand folks’ needs. I understand the pain and anxiety,” he said.

“They get beaten up every day by the system, and I felt I’m the best person to address those issues. I understand the issues. I represent people in different administrative areas. And so I really feel very clearly that I’m somebody who can address those needs,” Sanders added.

Other critics of Sanders’s bid in the First District have asked why he didn’t run in New Hampshire’s Second District, where he lives, and challenge three-term Democratic state Rep. Annie Kuster in the primary.

“I think that Annie’s doing a pretty good job,” Sanders said. “I think she’s actually doing a really good job.”

Sanders recalled that when Shea-Porter announced last October that she wouldn’t run for re-election, he received a lot of encouragement to run.

“People just called me and contacted me and said, ‘Listen, Levi, this is an open seat. The reality is you’ve got some really good skills and you’ve been in New Hampshire for quite some time,’ ” he said.

“I just thought it was just a great opportunity,” Sanders explained.

Sanders is a Vermont native and a 1992 graduate of the University of Oregon. He’s never served in elected office, but was often been seen at his father’s side during his political career, including the marathon 2016 primary run.

The elder Sanders said in a statement last week that he was “very proud of Levi’s commitment to public service and his years of work on behalf of low-income and working people.”

“Levi will be running his own campaign, in his own way, with his own ideas. The decision as to who to vote for will be determined by the people of New Hampshire’s 1st district, and nobody else,” the Vermont senator said.