Left-leaning Clinton challenger tells local donors he’ll also need help from Tea Party supporters

By John Seeley

Venice activist Sylvia Aroth  met with Sanders during his Westside fundraiser

Venice activist Sylvia Aroth
met with Sanders during his Westside fundraiser

Prospects for a cake-walk Clinton coronation seemed a little less preordained after Hillary’s principal presidential primary opponent swung through L.A. on June 20, drawing hundreds of enthusiastic donors at gatherings in Brentwood and the Valley after appearing Friday night on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who declared his candidacy on April 29 with a promise to defend “the disappearing middle class,” is still an unknown quantity to almost half the country’s Democrats but is polling well in early-voting New Hampshire.

Following a breakfast appearance at the Van Nuys home of actress-activist Mimi Kennedy (where he was introduced by former Westside state Sen. Tom Hayden), Sanders appeared at the Brentwood home of Stanley and Betty Warner Sheinbaum, a frequent L.A. fundraising stop for Democratic campaigns.

“Bernie has the courage to speak the truth on concentration of wealth, health care for all and climate change. We need him now to prevent the demise of our democracy,” Venice Neighborhood Council outreach  officer and Venice Action Network organizer Sylvia Aroth said of the gathering.

“He says what he means and means what he says,” added Tom Camarella, former president of the Culver City Democratic Club. “He’s the best presidential candidate I’ve seen in 40 years.”

Sanders has set his sights well beyond West L.A. progressives, however. The central theme of his campaign is reversing economic inequality and elitism, a message he vowed to take to millions of low- and middle-income Tea Party supporters that he believes have been voting against their own economic interests.

“They understand the economic system is rigged,” concluded Sanders after saying that 99% of income gains over the past decade have gone to just the top 1% of earners.

Sanders told donors he wants corporations and wealthy Americans to pay a larger share of taxes and that he supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, guaranteeing pay equity for women and establishing trade policy “that works for workers, not just the CEOs.”

He said opposition to the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision would be his “litmus test” for court nominations and condemned the ruling as a message to fat cats that “you already own the economy; now we’re going to give you the opportunity to own the U.S. government.”

In an appeal to younger voters (who lean progressive but don’t show up in large numbers at the polls), Sanders also called for easier refinancing of student debt and, more radically, imposing federal mandates for tuition-free state universities.

Touching on foreign policy only briefly, Sanders said he had opposed both Iraq wars strongly and would not contemplate continuing “perpetual war” in the Middle East.

“Saudi Arabia had the nerve to tell President Obama he should send troops to Yemen,” Sanders complained, promising that he would have told the oil-rich kingdom to send their own people into harm’s way.

Kennedy said Sanders’ L.A. fundraising efforts produced in excess of $50,000 for his campaign.

After about an hour of speaking and mingling at the Westside event, Sanders dashed off for a flight to Colorado, where he spoke to nearly 6,000 people at the University of Denver.

“His agenda will take political will. I think the nation’s got it now; we’ve seen enough of plutocratic self-serving,” Kennedy said.