Will Bernie Sanders parachute in to Cloverdale rally?

Cloverdale, Sonoma County’s northernmost city, was abuzz with excitement Thursday over presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ planned rally today 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.

“I can’t vote for either of the other two,” she said, referring to Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

Bob Gardiner and his wife, Cheryl Gostisha, of Annapolis also plan to attend today’s rally.

“We are all in for Bernie,” he said. “I want my grandkids to enjoy the advantages and sense of equality of opportunity I experienced in California in the ‘50s and ’60s. ”

“We see little space between the Clinton dynasty plans and the Republican agenda,” said Gardiner, a Point Arena school board member.

Hannah Maffia of Windsor said she will wear her 2016 Miss Sonoma County sash and crown to the rally. “I figured it was a great opportunity to hear what a presidential candidate has to say,” she said.

A registered Democrat, Maffia, 19, said this will be her first vote and she hasn’t determined who will get it. Maffia said she wants to motivate her fellow millennials to vote.

Sanders and Hillary Clinton are running neck-and-neck in California on the eve of Tuesday’s primary election, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll issued Thursday. But Clinton is the clear front-runner where it matters, with 2,312 delegates, just 71 shy of the number needed to clinch the Democratic nomination. Sanders has 1,545 delegates, according to an Associated Press tally.

If the California vote is close, the two Democrats will split the state’s 475 pledged delegates.

The Cloverdale rally is free and open to the public, with entry to the Cloverdale Municipal Airport, 220 Airport Road, starting at 4:30 p.m. The rally program will start at 7:30 p.m., after Sanders arrives from an afternoon rally in Fairfield.

Assistant City Manager David Kelley said Friday would be an especially busy night in Cloverdale with the opening of the Friday Night Live concert season downtown. Three blocks of North Cloverdale Boulevard will be closed to traffic for the concerts, which typically draw crowds of 2,000 to 5,000 people, he said.

Chelsea Judith, an organizer of the concert program, said she hoped some people attending the rally might make it to the concert, at least in time to hear the headliner, Yarn, an Americana group from New York, expected to play from 8 to 10 p.m.

In addition, Cloverdale High School will hold its graduation ceremony Friday at 7 p.m.

The Cloverdale airport is south of town, with access off Asti Road east of Highway 101.

City services will be fully committed with two big events on the same evening, but Kelley said the Sanders appearance would be great for the city’s reputation.

“People are probably looking up Cloverdale on Google,” he said. “You would pay a whole lot of money for that kind of publicity.”

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or On Twitter @guykovner.

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