CHICAGO — Bernie Sanders doesn’t whisper.
He yells and he yells effusively, gripping any nearby lectern like a vise almost as if to keep him from toppling over from the fire in his belly.
During a quick visit to the Windy City on Wednesday, the candidate hit all the crowd-pleasing marks in a speech about criminal justice reform. Addressing a crowd of less than a hundred, Sanders spoke the language of a city filled with targeted rage.
He took the unassuming stage at the Village Leadership Academy, a K-8 school near the University of Illinois, around 20 minutes later than his scheduled start time.
For this reason, and the fact that the senator was eager to get back to Vermont for the holidays, he blustered through a 20-minute riff on the inequities of the criminal justice system in the United States. Flanked by members of the Communications Workers for America, a union that has already endorsed him; academic Cornel West; and rapper Killer Mike, Sanders sped through a list of criminal justice reform proposals that have become synonymous with his by-the-people, for-the-people campaign. This was a speech especially catered to Chicago but evocative of the national movement of justice crusaders he hopes to lead.
Sanders wants to eliminate for-profit prisons, end mandatory minimum sentencing, and remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances.
“Too many lives have been destroyed because people have police records,” Sanders said to raucous applause in the tiny auditorium, which looked like a place where elementary school talent shows would take place.
This is all within Sanders’s typical target range: the sweeping talk of economic change and social justice, a kind of antithetical populist response to the equally effusive chest-thumping of Donald Trump.
It is significant, though, that the speech was delivered in a city where 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot and killed by police.
A young man standing behind Sanders on the right wore a shirt that read “Rahm failed us,” echoing the calls of many for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign after intentionally withholding the release of the graphic video depicting the shooting death of the teenager. Sanders, who met earlier in the day with Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the man who narrowly lost to Emanuel in this year’s election, has had no qualms about sharing his position on the mayor’s apparent indiscretions.
“Any elected official with knowledge that the tape was being suppressed or improperly withheld should resign. No one should be shielded by power or position,” Sanders said in a statement about Emanuel earlier in the month.
On Wednesday evening, the candidate further solidified his lack of interest in making nice with the public enemy mayor.
“If the question is do I want or need Rahm Emanuel’s support for president,” Sanders said when asked, “with all due respect to the mayor, no, I don’t.”
Emanuel, of course, is a Democratic establishment fixture who formerly served in the Obama administration and was a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton. And despite the mayor’s critical mishandling of one of the most graphic police shootings in recent years, he thinks he will still have Hillary Clinton’s support.
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask her,” Emanuel said last week when asked if the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination would still support him given the circumstances. “The question of whether I continue to have her support is up to her, but I feel pretty confident that I do.”
Clinton, who like many others called for a Department of Justice investigation into Chicago’s policing practices, balked at the opportunity to formally denounce the mayor and his involvement.
“He loves Chicago, and I’m confident that he’s going to do everything he can to get to the bottom of these issues and take whatever measures are necessary to remedy them,” Clinton told The New York Times.
The rift—albeit minor—between Sanders and Clinton has only been exacerbated by a lawsuit between the Sanders campaign and the Democratic National Committee over a data breach in which Sanders staffers accessed confidential voter data belonging to Clinton’s campaign. And while Sanders apologized for this mishap, he is willing to strike a much more defiant tone against the Clinton-Emanuel establishment ties.
A spokesperson for his campaign did not respond when asked if Sanders would consider an independent run if his tiffs with the DNC continue.
As he departed the stage to catch a flight back to Vermont, leaving a slew of gold streamers emblazoned on the curtain behind him, Sanders did make it clear that Emanuel did not represent his particular interests or goals.
“People can draw their own conclusions,” press secretary Symone Sanders told me when I asked if the scruffy presidential candidate would formally call for the Chicago mayor’s resignation. She pointed to the candidate’s previous statement about the circumstances surrounding the release of the video of McDonald’s death. But she assured The Daily Beast that Sanders didn’t come to Chicago just to pick a fight.
“We didn’t come to Chicago to call for Rahm’s head,” she said.
While there was no blood on the stage, it kind of seemed like they did.