Cloverdale, Sonoma County’s northernmost city, was abuzz with excitement Thursday over presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ planned rally Friday at the town’s airport. But just how he will arrive was the subject of rampant speculation.
Jimmy Halliday, president and jumpmaster at NorCal Skydiving, an airport-based business, said he had been told by Sanders staffers Thursday that they would offer the 74-year-old Vermont senator the option of parachuting into the rally site.
“I’ve been told they will run the idea by Bernie,” Halliday said. “I can’t confirm that’s the plan. I know that’s a possibility.”
The Sanders campaign did not immediately return a call requesting comment.
Halliday said his sport skydiving company has provided tandem parachute jumps for plenty of people in their 70s and even a handful of folks in their 80s.
“If he feels like going skydiving, I will personally take him,” Halliday said.
Halliday said he was initially approached on Wednesday by a Sanders staffer inquiring about the possible use of his skydiving facility. Later Thursday, Halliday said he had done a tandem jump with a Sanders campaign team member and all went well. But the campaign had made no decision and Halliday, still hopeful for the exposure of skydiving with Sanders, said it may not come about.
Michael Morrissey, the Cloverdale airport manager, said he was up all night Wednesday making arrangements for the rally.
“He’s supposed to make a grand entrance,” Morrissey said of Sanders, but declined to say how.
The municipal airport, used for private planes and medical and firefighting efforts, is a hub for Sonoma County skydiving operations.
Cloverdale Mayor Mary Ann Brigham, who was at the airport Thursday, dismissed the parachute possibility as a rumor. “If he (Sanders) did it, I would be surprised,” she said.
At political rallies, major candidates typically “come in, they speak, they go,” she said.
But Sanders, the white-haired lawmaker and longtime social activist, will be welcome in Cloverdale, the mayor said.
“This is Sanders country,” she said.
Cloverdale, with a population of 8,825 — 2 percent of the county’s population — is more liberal than many outsiders may imagine, Brigham said.
A resident for 30 years, Brigham said she could not recall a previous visit by a presidential candidate. The airport was bustling Thursday with Sanders campaign officials, Secret Service agents and more, scrambling to arrange the rally along with city officials.
“This is insanity right now; just trying to figure out the logistics,” Brigham said.
Other Sanders rallies in the Bay Area have drawn thousands, including 20,000 at an Oakland event Monday. Brigham said she had heard no estimates for the crowd expected in the county’s northernmost city, 32 miles north of Santa Rosa.
News of the Sanders rally was released by his campaign late Wednesday night, noting that it will include Susan Sarandon, an Oscar-winning actress and activist.
Hilary Utecht-Miller of Mendocino, who plans to attend the rally, said she was a “lifelong, card-carrying Republican until Bernie.”
Sanders’ honesty and independence from big campaign donors won her over, Utecht-Miller said. If his name is not on the November general election ballot, Utecht-Miller said she will either write in Sanders or skip the presidential race.