The Untold Truth Of Bernie Sanders' Wife

If you've seen Vermont senator and 2020 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail, the first person he always introduces first is his wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders. After meeting in the early '80s, the couple married in 1988 in the most Bernie way — at a public park and filmed for public access television.

The outspoken democratic socialist's proposal was also very on-brand. It happened over ice cream. "Look when you do a proposal, it has to be done with ambiance," Bernie told People in 2016. "Proper moment, proper lighting. Right? I'll let Jane tell you the rest of the story." Jane then obliged. "We finished our ice cream sundae at Friendly's and we walked out to the parking lot and he said, 'You want to get married?'" Jane explained further, "I wasn't getting it, so he took me by the shoulders and said, 'Will. You. Marry. Me.' And I said, 'When?'"

Like most relationships, it actually wasn't as simple as that, which we'll get to in a moment. But there was, of course, a happy ending, and after 32 years together, Jane says they're still slow dancing together. "He's romantic enough for me, believe me," Jane told People.

But what else do we know about Jane Sanders? We'll help you brush up on your debate prep as we discuss the untold truth of Bernie Sanders' wife.

It was (idealogical) love at first sight for Jane Sanders

Although Jane and Bernie Sanders grew up 10 blocks from each other in Brooklyn, N.Y., they didn't meet until her first husband relocated them to Burlington, Vt. for work in the '70s. She hit the ground running as a community activist and immediately felt the Bern when she first saw him at a mayoral debate in 1981. "I was sitting in the second row, and our eyes met, but we didn't really talk afterward," she told The Irish Times. "I felt it came from the heart, everything he said. He embodied everything I ever believed in."

Their fourth meeting was at his mayoral election party, and the rest, as they say, is history. "He asked me to dance, and we've been together ever since," she explained. The pair dated for seven years, but the relationship stalled after Bernie wasn't interested in getting married. The couple then took "a break," as Jane told People, or as the outlet put it: They "[evoked] Ross and Rachel of TV's Friends."

But Bernie kept pushing forward. He maintained a relationship with Jane's three kids from her previous marriage, spending meaningful time with them and giving them Christmas presents "even though he and I weren't together anymore," Jane explained. She added, "It wasn't that he just went away. When he finally asked me to marry him, I thought about that, about how he's somebody you can count on." 

Bernie and Jane Sanders honeymooned in Russia

If you watch Fox News of Rachel Maddow this news might scare you – Jane and Bernie had their honeymoon the former Soviet Union. Not just a romantic getaway, it was an official 10-day trip to the former Communist country, including a stop at Burlington, Vt.'s sister city of Yaroslavl (via The Washington Post). Republican David F. Kelley first suggested Kaunas, Lithuania, for the honor, but Bernie "rejected that idea because thousands of Jews had been killed there by the Nazis in 1941.

And Bernie had a great time in Yaroslavl, like the time he sat shirtless at a table lined with Yaroslavl officials (and vodka) singing Woody Guthrie's protest song, "This Land Is Your Land." After seven years as mayor, Bernie took this trip to raise his national profile. "I saw no magic line separating local, state, national and international issues . . . How could issues of war and peace not be a local issue?" he explained.

In video footage of the Sanders' USSR trip uncovered by Politico in 2019, Jane "talks to teachers in the Soviet Union over tea" and "proposes a teacher and student exchange program." She tells the group that she is "very impressed with ... the cultural life" and that she and Bernie "strive in Burlington to enrich the cultural life as much as possible." Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bernie later set up an exchange program where Burlington students would visit Yaroslavl and vice versa. Of the successful program, he told The New Yorker, "It was just an incredible experience to see these kids getting along as well as they did."

Bernie Sanders' wife has always been his closest advisor

Jane Sanders has been a Bernie Bro from the jump. Per a 1996 article in The Washington Post, Jane was one of the first volunteers to help Bernie's mayoral office after his election in 1981 by helping organize his first official act: the creation of a city youth office. A few months later, the pair started dating.

And when Mr. Sanders went to Washington in 1991 to join the House of Representatives, Jane served as "her husband's unpaid chief of staff and policy adviser," sometimes working 70 hours a week. After his first six years in office, Jane "wrote more than 50 pieces of legislation" and helped Bernie eventually earn the nickname "the amendment king," according to Politifact

The list of accomplishments included (per The Washington Post): "the second-best record in the House for passing amendments to appropriations bills on the floor of the House, offering 10 and seeing four become law," and "an increase in funding for heating oil for low-income families." He was also called "socialist" for attempting to raise the minimum wage in 1991, but still got the bill passed in 1996. "When he was mayor we just made it up as we went along," Jane told Yahoo! News in 2015, adding, "But when you come to Congress, you have to learn how does the job get done, how do the committees work, how do the party structures work?" Sounds like Jane helped Bernie figure it out. 

Married with Bernie

Bernie Sanders would rather talk about anything but himself. Billionaires? Yes. Environmental justice? Yes. His self-care routine? Get outta here. Jane Sanders, on the other hand, is always there to humanize him. Described by Yahoo! News as "the people person to his curmudgeon," Jane says that the former Vermont senator "embodied everything [she] believed in."

Carina, Jane's daughter from a previous marriage, spoke to the outlet on behalf for her three siblings, half-sister, and stepbrother Levi. "I'm his daughter. He's my dad. We grew up in his house. They're our parents." Carina also explained the nature of Jane and Bernie's relationship, saying, "They are a team; they always were a team. They have been a really amazing example of a partnership based on building something extraordinary together."

Perhaps the most on-brand look into life with Bernie came in the form of a 2016 People interview with the couple. After listening to Jane brag about his accomplishments, Bernie let out a sigh. "He doesn't like to talk about himself — or hear about himself," Jane explained. Bernie's saving grace in the embarrassing moment was the dryer buzzer. "That's my cue!" he said, jumping up to tackle the laundry, although there probably wasn't much. "If Bernie has seven sweaters, that's three too many for him," Jane told the tab, also revealing that Bernie is also quite the handyman, who chops firewood and fixes window screens without measuring. "So we had a window with a tutu," Jane recalled. Bernie's response? 'Well, it works!'"

Jane Sanders is an activist to her bones

Carrying on Bernie Sanders' tradition of standing with America's indigenous people, Jane Sanders joined a 2020 march in Minneapolis to "call attention to crimes committed against indigenous women and girls," the city's Fox 9 reports.

"Violence against women is an epidemic," Sanders said in an interview with the station. "We have a culture of impunity in this country right now more than ever with the current occupant of the White House." According to the report, the march occurred after a 2019 task force was created by Minnesota's state legislature and Gov. Tim Walz to study "the issue of missing and murdered Native women." A CNN report revealed that the National Crime Information Center estimates that "5,712 reports of missing Native American women in 2016 alone" and that Native American women "are more than 10 times more likely" to be murdered than the rest of the population.

A 2018 Associated Press investigation into the issue found that there isn't a government database that tracks missing Native Americans. "I can't think of a single person that I know ... who doesn't have some sort of experience," Blackfeet Nation's Ivan MacDonald told the publication. "These women aren't just statistics. These are grandma, these are mom. This is an aunt, this is a daughter. This is someone who was loved ... and didn't get the justice that they so desperately needed."

The democratic socialist millionaire?

Despite railing against the billionaire class, Bernie and Jane Sanders have amassed quite the nest egg. Wow, we do live in a society. According to 2019 Forbes report the Sanders family enjoys a net worth of $2.5 million "from real estate, investments, government pensions — and earnings from three books." $1.7 million of that fortune came from the books, including 2016's Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. "I wrote a best-selling book," Bernie famously said in 2019 (via The New York Times), adding, "If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too." Solid advice.

Forbes revealed that Bernie also enjoys a $428.00 a month pension from his time as mayor, but "as with many Americans," much of the Sanders' wealth is "tied up" in their house.  Well, their three houses — one in Burlington (a 2009 purchase at $405,000), one in Washington, D.C. (snagged in 2007 for $489,000), and a Vermont summer home on the shorefront of Lake Champlain (purchased for $575,000 just after his failed presidential bid in 2016). Forbes also lists the Sanders as having "around $500,000 in cash and investments, including three retirement accounts owned by Jane Sanders."

According to the Burlington Free Press, Bernie didn't release a personal finance disclosure during his 2016 run after he dropped out of the primary race against Hillary Clinton. "I guess our campaign just said 'why bother,'" Jane said, adding "There's no new information."

So to recap, after 40 years in office, Bernie has amassed enough wealth to buy a 640-square-foot house in San Francisco

Jane Sanders became the target of a federal investigation

After serving as the interim president of Vermont's Goddard College, Jane Sanders was hired as Burlington College's president in 2004 (via The Atlantic). She held that position until 2011 until she left "for reasons undisclosed." Five years later, the private college announced it was closing due to the "crushing weight of the debt" incurred during Sander's tenure.  

Politico reported that Sanders "brokered a deal to buy a new plot of lakefront land with multiple buildings from the Roman Catholic Diocese to replace the college's cramped quarters in a building that used to house a grocery store" by using "$10 million in bonds and loans." The goal was to drive up enrollment and alumni donations, but that didn't happen, and the weight of the debt caused the school to shut down in 2016. 

According to The Washington Post, Sanders allegedly told college trustees and lenders that the school "had commitments for millions of dollars in donations" to pay off the $6.7 million loan. Those trustees and state officials claimed Sanders "provided inaccurate information," at which point, federal prosecutors launched an investigation. In Nov. 2018, the U.S. Attorney in Vermont closed the investigation and declined to press charges. "Jane is grateful that the investigation has come to an end," Bernie Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said in a statement. "As she has said from the beginning, she has done nothing wrong, and Jane is pleased that the matter has now come to a conclusion."

The institute that was ... then wasn't

In 2017, Jane Sanders and her son, Dave Driscoll, created the non-profit policy group The Sanders Institute to help Bernie push his progressive ideas after his 2016 primary loss. The organization's mission statement says it was created to "revitalize democracy" by forming a coalition "in the pursuit of progressive solutions to economic, environmental, racial and social justice issues." Jane reportedly took no salary from her role at the institute, whereas Driscoll earned $100,000 "as co-founder and executive director."

However, in 2019 when Bernie decided to make another run at the White House, Jane shut down the institution, "so there could not even be an appearance of impropriety" (via The Associated Press).

"When Bernie decided to run again and announced it on Feb. 19, we thought it was better in today's politics to definitely stop taking donations," Jane explained, adding, "We stopped taking donations right away so that nobody could think they had access or could gain favor to Bernie by giving to the Sanders Institute."

Here comes Hillary Clinton ... again

Since her loss to Donald Trump in her bid to become America's 45th president, Hillary Clinton has taken quite a few shots at Bernie Sanders. However, the two-time Presidential candidate's most pointed remarks at the former Burlington, Vt. mayor came in her 2020 Hulu documentary, Hillary.

"He was in Congress for years. He had one senator support him. Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It's all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it," Clinton said during the doc (via The Hollywood Reporter). During a January 2020 interview with the publication, Clinton was asked if she would support Sanders if he became the Democratic nominee. Her answer? "I'm not going to go there yet." The following month, Sanders raked in a massive $25 million from small-dollar donations. According to The New York Times, that amount was "more money than any other candidate raised in any full quarter during 2019."

So, what does all this have to do with Jane Sander? Glad you asked. During a break in Trump's impeachment trial, ABC News asked Sanders to respond to Clinton's remarks. "On a good day, my wife likes me, so let's clear the air on that one," he replied. Count it. When asked why Clinton was still talking about 2016 in 2020, Sanders replied, "That is a good question, ask her." 

Jane and Bernie Sanders would be the first interfaith couple in the White House

If Bernie Sanders becomes the Democratic Party's nominee and goes on to defeat Donald Trump, he and Jane Saners will be the first interfaith couple to occupy the White House. According to The Irish Times, Jane attended Catholic schools and grew up in an Irish Catholic household in Brooklyn, N.Y., where "a Sacred Heart hung on the wall."

Bernie, of course, would be the first Jewish president of the United States if elected. However, unlike most politicians, identity isn't something he leans into on campaign trail. And although Hitler killed Bernie's father's family in the Holocaust, he rarely talks about his faith or heritage unless asked, and always circles back to how they have molded his political views.

"When I try to think about how I came to the views that I hold, there are two major factors," Sanders said at his 2020 CNN town hall in New Hampshire. "No. 1, I grew up in a family that didn't have a whole lot of money. ... The second one is being Jewish." He then recalled his Brooklyn neighborhood that was home to many Holocaust survivors. "In the community that I lived in you go downtown, shop, and people had the tattoos from the concentration camps on their arms," he continued. "I think at a very early age before my political thoughts were developed, I was aware of the horrible things that human beings can do to other people."