MONTPELIER — The Capital City is preparing for Bernie Sanders’ first political rally in the state as a 2020 presidential candidate, with crowds of 2,000 to 5,000 people expected on Saturday.
The event will include tributes to Sanders’ career in public service, and celebrate his impact in the state. There will also be music by singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, food vendors and other public services.
An earlier planned launch last fall on the Burlington waterfront, similar to the start of his campaign in 2016, was called off due to icy conditions and took place instead in Brooklyn, New York, where he grew up.
Saturday’s event will be confined to the State House lawn, with access via a number of entry points where campaign staff will “wand” people before entering, for security reasons, officials said.
Capitol Police Chief Matthew Romei said he had been working closely with the Montpelier Police Department, city officials and the campaign to coordinate the event.
“Fortunately, we have a wonderful working relationship down here at the Capital Complex with all of our public safety partners,” Romei said. “As soon as were notified this was happening, we’ve been in the planning cycle ever since, confident that we’ll be able to handle the expected crowd with very little difficulty.”
Romei said he did not expect any problems but was also keeping an eye on the weather, with the possibility of thunderstorms forecast.
“If it’s rain, it’s just miserable but if there’s thunderstorms, that’s definitely a dangerous environment,” Romei said. “But we have a (connection) with the National Weather Service and they’re very good at supporting these events for us on the public safety side and they’ll be giving us some forecast support as we get a little closer to the event.”
Romei and Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos said they were not expecting the large crowds during the Women’s March Vermont in January 2017, which drew record numbers and forced police to shut down interstate exits to the city because of traffic and crowd-control problems
“We don’t see that in the tea leaves right now,” Romei said. “But quite frankly, it’s always in the back of our minds.
“We could see a big ramp up in interest in the event in the next couple of days, but we can handle 3,000 to 5,000 people on the State House lawn, readily.”
Romei said he thought the Legislature might close the 2019 session by the end of the week but was still awaiting confirmation.
“We got a little worried that they might decide they want to work on Saturday, which would open our building up and complicate some things in dealing with the rally,” Romei said. “But it’s not something we can’t deal with, it’s just another complexity.”
“We’re putting some extra people on and ensuring that everything happens smoothly, and everyone has a good time and things remain safe and orderly,” Facos said.
“We’re not expecting anything of the 2017 magnitude,” Facos said, referring to the Women’s March Vermont. “Rough estimates were well in excess of 20,000, maybe even 25,000 people. That was overwhelming and even impacted traffic on the interstate.
“But we’re certainly being flexible and prepared for between 3,000 and 7,000 people and able to accommodate all the security needs, working with all our partners which includes Capitol City Police and Buildings and General Services,” Facos added.
Attendees are asked to park at the Department of Labor building on Memorial Drive, Montpelier High School on Bailey Avenue and at National Life (however, there will be no shuttle buses into town).
State Street will be closed between Governor Aiken Avenue and Taylor Street. People with disabilities and special needs will be allowed to access state parking lots off State Street, Facos said.
Shannon Jackson, Northeast regional director for the Sanders campaign, said Sanders and campaign staff were excited to kick off the campaign in Vermont.
“We start at 2 o’clock, entrance opens at 12:30 p.m. and we are praying for good weather, but the show goes on, rain or shine,” Jackson said.
“We’re going to have music by (singer songwriter) Brandi Carlile — she’s a great supporter. We’re going to have some speakers highlighting the senator’s career in politics and especially in Vermont,” Jackson added.
Jackson noted that Sanders has been fighting for the same issues his entire political career, which include education, the environment, health care, a livable wage and human rights.
“He has an incredibly strong moral compass and that’s what sets him apart from most other politicians,” Jackson added. “The movement and the revolution that began with the 2016 campaign continues to grow and people are just flocking to it. I’m very encouraged that the issues that we raised in 2016 are being talked about by everybody. We’re getting the issues across and it’s a very needed and beautiful thing.”