Warren Mayor Jim Fouts on Bernie Sanders and Socialism

By Susan J. Demas

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FLINT –– IMP caught up with Warren Mayor Jim Fouts in the spin room after the March 6 Democratic presidential debate at the University of Michigan-Flint. 

Fouts, who has been mayor of Michigan’s third-largest city since 2007, was with his assistant, Amanda Mika. Fouts had introduced presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at a March 4 event in Macomb County, which appeared to be an endorsement.

However, Fouts told IMP after the debate that he was not endorsing anyone, although he was “impressed” with Sanders. IMP then asked him about his history of endorsements. In January 2008, The Chicago Tribune reported Fouts endorsed Republican John McCain for president, but he later switched to Democrat Barack Obama.

In the interview, Fouts initially disputed several times that Sanders is a socialist, even though the senator has embraced the term for decades (long before he ever ran as a Democrat). Later in the interview, Fouts acknowledged that Sanders may be a democratic socialist.

Here’s the IMP interview and audio:

IMP: Mr. Mayor ––

FOUTS: Thank you very much.

IMP: Warren is a blue-collar town.

FOUTS: Yes, it is.

IMP: It has a lot of older voters.

FOUTS: Right.

IMP: How do you think they feel about you endorsing a socialist?

FOUTS: Ahhh … First of all, I don’t endorse anybody. I said I’m impressed with Bernie and I think he can have good solutions, but I didn’t say I was endorsing anybody, and I don’t believe Bernie is a socialist. The last I heard…

IMP: He calls himself that.

FOUTS: No. No.

IMP: He said clearly he is.

FOUTS: Well my understanding is he is a democratic, he’s a …

IMP: ... Democratic socialist.

FOUTS: But he’s an independent. He’s not –– I didn’t. If you correct me ...

IMP: Does this go back to 2008 when you endorsed both McCain and Obama?  

FOUTS: Did I? I … Yeah, I did. Can I explain that? I would be glad to explain that. I donated to McCain in the primary and then I became impressed with Obama and I did endorse Obama. I did not endorse McCain in the general.

IMP: But you are not endorsing Sanders?

FOUTS: I am not endorsing Sanders. I am saying I am impressed with him. I attended his speech tonight. I thought he was on fire. And I thought he offered specific answers. No, I am not a socialist and I don’t think Bernie is a socialist. I think ...  

IMP: I think you may want to check that.

FOUTS: Well, uh, I think he said he is a democratic socialist. That’s different than a socialist because all too often –– I am a government teacher, OK –– and sometimes people get socialist mixed up with communist, and I think he may be a democratic socialist like [Franklin] Roosevelt was. Uh, Social Security is a socialist program. Um, Medicare is a socialist program. But I –– the last I heard he was an independent.

But I am not endorsing anybody. I am non-partisan in my position so I don’t endorse anybody [Ed.: Fouts just admitted he did twice in 2008], but I am impressed with what I heard tonight because I heard conviction. I heard trustworthiness and I heard honesty and I like the fact that he [Sanders] speaks his mind. And so far, he is one of the few candidates that does that, and over the years I have been impressed with many people.

I am a big fan of Harry Truman. I have big portraits of Truman up in my office and I follow Truman to a tee. The buck stops here and I think he was our most honest president. I also liked Ronald Reagan, which some people would be surprised with, and Ralph Nader.I’ve liked a number of people over the years whether Republican or Democrat. I don’t vote for somebody on the basis of ideology. I vote for someone who’s honest and trustworthy and I think I can take their word to the bank. Someone that offers that speaks from the heart and I think that is what this man [Sanders] does, but I haven’t made up my mind who I am voting for and I am not endorsing anyone.     

IMP: OK.