Bernie Sanders has seen his political star skyrocket over the past six months. Every angle of his political stance has been analyzed, dissected and then debated. Now, the spotlight is on his family.
Sanders, who grew up in Brooklyn, has, perhaps, one of the most interesting families in the entire 2016 presidential campaign, a group that includes his wife, ex-wife, ex-girlfriend, children, step-children and parents he’d really rather not talk about.
So, who exactly makes up the Sanders family?
Here’s what you need to know about the Sanders’ family and Bernie’s own personal support system:
1. Sanders Has Been Married to Jane O’Meara Sanders For 27 Years
Sanders and O’Meara, 64, have been married for 27 years and her own resume is just as impressive as her husband’s. Jane briefly attended the University of Tennessee and went on to earn a Master’s from Goddard College, as well as a PhD in Leadership Studies in Politics an Education from Union Institute and University.
Jane first met Sanders when he was elected as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont and the pair have remained a political force for the last three decades. In fact, Jane is considered by many to be her husband’s most consistent advisor. Bernie told The New York Times in 1996:
Obviously Jane has played an important role in the congressional office. Yes, she is a soulmate, a sounding board.
Jane has also been at the core of controversy over the course of her career, with accusations surfacing that she played a major role in the eventual bankruptcy of Burlington College where she served as president from 2004 to 2011. Jane was involved in relocation the campus and expanding its overall size and rumors began to swirl that the school was in financial trouble.
She was never formally charged but did resign quietly.
2. O’Meara Sanders Has Three Children From a Previous Relationship
Jane was previously married to David Driscoll and after a year and a half of studying at the University of Tennesse, she decided to start a family. The pair moved to Brooklyn and had three children: Heather, Carina and David.
While raising her children, Jane worked as a bank teller and supermarket cashier in the city, splitting her time between her job, her home and staging demonstrations against the Vietnam War.
After a short stint in Virginia, the family moved to Vermont after Driscoll got a transfer from his employer, IBM. Jane quickly fell in love with the state, telling Bloomberg Politics:
I fell in love with it as soon as I stepped off the plane. The first winter I said, ‘I’m leaving!’ But the wonderful thing about Vermont is that spring follows winter, and you just forget it, and after four years, I don’t know, I guess your blood thickens or something.
She and Driscoll separated in the late 1970s and Jane took a job at the Burlington Police Department, working in the Juvenile Division and then as a community organizer at the King Street Area Youth Center.
3. Sanders Was Previously Married to Deborah Shilling Messing
Prior to jumpstarting his political career as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Sanders and his first wife Deborah Shilling Messing lived a relative quiet life in the Green Mountain state.
The pair married in September 1964 and, according to The Daily Mail, the ceremony was held at her parents’ home in Baltimore. Her father, Dr. Moses Shilling, was, at the time, the the chief of pulmonary diseases at Sinai Hospital.
“I really don’t want to say much,” she told the publication. “All I can say is I believe in Bernie Sanders and I am a strong supporter.”
Sanders and Deborah, who later remarried, first met while they were in both in college and moved to a sugar shack without electricity on 85 acres of land in Middlesex, Vermont, a small town just outside the state’s capital, Montpelier. The marriage, however, did not last long. The couple divorced in 1966 after just 18 months as husband and wife.
4. Sander’s Son, Levi, Has Largely Stayed Out of the Spotlight
As Sanders’ political star has continued to rise, so has the interest in his family life; particularly his role as a father to son, Levi.
The now-46-year-old Levi was born on March 21, 1969 at Brightlook Hospital in Johnsbury, Vermont to Sanders and his then-girlfriend Susan Mott. The pair moved in together shortly after Sanders divorced from his first wife, Deborah Shilling Messing.
Early media reports claimed that Levi was the result of Sanders’ first marriage, although that has now been deemed false.
Levi has stayed out of the public eye for much of his father’s presidential campaign, but there is still a good amount of information surrounding him. According to his LinkedIn profile, Levi currently works as a social security disability insurance senior analyst at Boston-based Cambridge & Somerville Legal Services and also worked as a consultant for his father’s 2006 Senate campaign.
Levi graduated from the University of Oregon in 1992 with a B.A. in history and has forayed into politics before; supporting Barack Obama’s campaign in 2012.
5. He & His Parents Lived in New York City While He Was Growing Up
While plenty of candidates – at every level of politics – are anxious to showcase their families and their salt-of-the-earth upbringing, Sanders has frequently shifted the focus away from his childhood and his parents.
Todd Devine, a top advisor to Sanders’ campaign told The Observer:
I think that’s part of the story, but I don’t see it being the mainframe. The mainframe is going to be Bernie’s message as he delivers it and that he’s prepared to fight on behalf of ordinary people. There’s a lot of rich biography. When Bernie went to visit his ancestral home in Poland years ago, it turned out a lot of his relatives were victims of the Holocaust. One of the reasons his father left Poland was the threat of dire economic circumstances. A guy like me who makes TV ads, those are powerful stories. But it’s not going to be as relevant for what we’re trying to do.
Sanders has spoken briefly about his parents on the campaign trail, noting that his father emigrated from Poland and worked as a paint salesman in Brooklyn, and that his mother died young. He added that he, his parents and his brother, lived in a small, rent-controlled apartment.
Instead of focusing on his own family’s struggles, Sanders has, instead, opted to use his own upbringing as a window into the current plight facing American families now.
“I grew up in Brooklyn. Many of the families were immigrants and they understood the importance of education,” he said in a recent web ad. “We don’t have a strong economy unless we have a very well-educated workforce.”
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