PACKED INTO a cramped Senate hearing room, the crowd erupted into prolonged whistles and cheers. Bernie Sanders had just joined a “Hands Off Medicare” rally-cum-press conference on December 7, and the activists in attendance, mostly union members in matching T-shirts, were enthralled. When the headliners of the event, Democratic Party leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, took the podium, however, there was nothing more than polite applause.
This didn’t seem to faze Schumer, who had the unenviable task of following one of his colleague’s stem-winders on inequality and the greed of the “billionaire class.” After embracing Sanders on his way to the podium, Schumer opened his remarks by thanking “my friend and colleague and fellow James Madison High School of Brooklyn, New York, graduate.” Schumer is nine years younger, so the two didn’t overlap in school, but he likes to play up their shared Brooklyn roots. “Bernie was on the track team, and they won the city championship,” Schumer reminisced, his own Brooklyn accent more tempered than Sanders’s, despite the fact that the latter relocated to Vermont decades ago. “I was on the basketball team; we weren’t that good. Our motto was ‘We may be small, but we’re slow.’”