The path to presidential primary victory for Sen. Elizabeth Warren probably goes through people like Will Glaser, who showed up early to listen carefully to the Massachusetts Democrat’s Washington Square Park rally on Monday night.
Glaser, a set builder and woodworker who recently moved from one lefty paradise to another (first Portland, Oregon, then Brooklyn), backed Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary but is now leaning toward Warren and what he called her careful articulation of policies. “Warren has a center,” he said.
Glaser’s route from Sanders to Warren was a common one in the park (rallies like this are not exactly Biden territory), and attendees had plenty of reasons for the preference. Warren is a policy wonk, people said. Her policies were more attainable. They just connected with her more (this from a 25-year-old who’d taken in Sen. Kamala Harris at her Howard graduation). Sanders is too old, or just no longer the best choice now that there were more left-leaning choices available.
The Sanders-Warren choice was particularly stark on Monday because hours earlier, Warren had gotten the nod from the Working Families Party, whose endorsement Sanders had enjoyed in 2016.
She did not, however, get the support of the Democratic Socialists of America, another resurgent progressive force in national politics these days, particularly in NYC.
DSA endorsed Sanders earlier this year and the city local started to work for his campaign in the spring, including voter registration, canvassing and outreach events.
That quick decision rankled some DSA members a bit, like Brooklynite Eclair Morton, 34, who showed up to the Monday night speech in a Warren T-shirt, waving a Warren fan. She predicted there wouldn’t be much of a public DSA presence for Warren in the primary: “They’re so hard-core Bernie.”
Will that be a problem going forward? Warren has done plenty to try to present herself as a sufficiently reliable version of her fellow progressive. Her rally might not have been as raucous as the one Sanders held here days before the New York primary in 2016, but it was certainly well attended, and well controlled. Volunteers handed out stickers to people heading into the park and signed them in.
While Sanders railed along for an hour with his usual one percent Old Testament prophet-style stump speech here three years ago, Warren offered a tight 40-minute history lesson starting with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. It was “one of the worst industrial disasters in American history,” she said, one that underscored the greed of industrialists who locked doors rather than risk someone stealing a strip of cloth. A disaster that showed what happens when government proves itself ignorant of workers’ concerns. This led into the need for all of her famous plans, against government corruption and lobbying and private prisons and climate change. Finally, she arrived at the conclusion that “America has made big structural change before,” after that fire, which marks a turning point toward labor rights and laws culminating in FDR’s presidency and the New Deal.
It was an effective delivery, and in person she has some of the apple pie American folksiness that is former Vice President Joe Biden’s calling card, though what she’s saying is often Sanders with a smile. That historic fire was on a “Saturdee” in March. She fondly drops her t’s in describing the way her wealth tax works: “yer first 50 million, don worry, yer in the clear.”
New York Democrats are already lining up to support this message and messenger, who maybe has the chance to reach deep into all wings of the party and is playing the long game well ahead of a New York primary.
But it would be unwise to discount the Sanders support that persists in New York, and the DSA members who undergird it.
See what happened to Queens Democratic City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who has tried to straddle the left and farther left in his borough and became an opponent of Amazon’s headquarters project. He recently got a personal cold shoulder from Jonathan Bailey, the co-chair of the DSA’s Queens branch, who said he wanted little to do with Van Bramer. In an open letter on Medium, the DSA member recently wrote: "Unfortunately, there has been a history of activists, mostly unintentionally, brokering power with Democrats, who are always trying to see how much they can hurt working-class communities and get away with it.”
Ahead of the Washington Square Park event, Van Bramer endorsed Warren.