The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bernie Sanders visits FDR’s grave in New York

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders looks at a statue of former U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt at Roosevelt's home and presidential library in Hyde Park, New York, on April 12, 2016. (Reuters/Brian Snyder)
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HYDE PARK, N.Y. -- Before rallying voters in the Hudson Valley, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) visited the home and final resting place of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Paul Sparrow, the director of FDR's on-site presidential library, walked Sanders across the grounds, pointing out architecture and history. The senator, hunched over in a pea coat, was an attentive student.

"It was the only presidential library that was actually used by the president," said Sparrow.

"Isn't that something?" said Sanders. "Now, correct me if I'm wrong -- this was, what, his mother's --"

"His mother's property," said Sparrow. "He dedicated it before she died."

"He was a nice guy, gave away his mother's property," joked Sanders.

Sanders's tone turned serious when he rounded a hedge and saw the white gravestone surrounded by grass and seeded plants.

"Can I walk up to it?" he asked.

He did so, circling the monument then pausing briefly with folded hands. He walked back to Sparrow and a posse of watching reporters.

"Can I just say a word here?" asked Sanders.

With permission, Sanders turned to the TV cameras and talked without notes.

"I happen to believe that Franklin Delano Roosevelt is one of the great, great presidents in the history of our country," he said. "He reminded the American people in 1933 in the midst of the worst depression in our country's history that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, he transformed government, he created a government which stood up for working people, the poor, the hungry and the sick and then in 1941 he helped bring the country together to fight Nazism and Japanese imperialism. And I think there is a lot that we can learn today from Roosevelt's life and courage, from his willingness to stand up to the most powerful special interests of his time – people he called the economic royalists, people I call the billionaire class today. In 1936, when he was re-nominated by the Democratic Party for another term as president, he proudly proclaimed that he welcomed the hatred of the economic royalists – that he stood with the working class and the oppressed people of this country. And that’s what he did. So it’s an honor for me to be here today.”

Sanders agreed to take questions, and one reporter started asking about the fight for Democratic superdelegates.

"Whoa, whoa – only on Roosevelt," said Sanders, waving his hands. "Anything on Roosevelt?"

Briefly, Sanders took questions about his childhood visit to Hyde Park, and the meaning of the day. He stopped the Q&A when Associate Press reporter Ken Thomas asked what FDR would make of America in 2016.

"We'll hold that off," said Sanders. "That's a great question. I'll answer it later."

With Sparrow leading, Sanders continued his tour, walking past the old Roosevelt residence and over to a sweeping view of a nearby valley. He strolled to the end of the property, then turned back.

"Is this beauty, or what?" he asked, walking to the residence itself. He paused at the small cannons near the door -- "were they always here?" -- and moved on, never heading inside.

Before entering his motorcade, Sanders paused at a marble bust of FDR. His eyes darted down to the inscription: "A gift of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union." Silently, he turned around, and he was off.