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'I am back,' Bernie Sanders tells supporters at rally in Queens

The Long Island City event marks Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' return to the campaign trail after a heart attack. (Credit: Newsday / Shelby Knowles)

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, recovering from a heart attack he suffered two weeks ago, returned to the campaign trail in Queens on Saturday and fired up thousands of supporters with his long-standing promise to fight for working-class Americans.

Sanders was introduced at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queensbridge Park in Long Island City by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens), who formally endorsed her fellow progressive.

His campaign said Sanders (I-Vt.) drew more than 25,000 people to the park, which has a view of the Manhattan skyline and sits in the shadow of the nation's largest public housing complex, the Queensbridge Houses.

The candidate's speech struck the same populist tones he had as a presidential candidate in 2016 and throughout his political career.

“We are going to have a government of working people, not the 1 percent,” he vowed.

Sanders, 78, sought to quiet skeptics who believed his health scare would bench him.

“I am more than ready — more ready than ever — to carry on with you the epic struggle that we face today,” he said. “I am more than ready to assume the office of president of the United States.”

The senator added: “To put it bluntly, I am back.”

The crowd erupted in chants of "Bernie's back" in response to the line.

Sanders, a left-of-center candidate who campaigned on revolutionary change, has fallen into third place behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts for the Democratic nomination in most national polls.

But Sanders brought in the most money of the Democratic candidates in the third quarter of fundraising. He raised $25.3 million from small-dollar donors between July and September and has $33.7 million in cash on hand.

The endorsement of Ocasio-Cortez, the influential self-described Democratic socialist and freshman House member, may boost his campaign. 

Warren, another progressive presidential candidate, also had sought the congresswoman’s endorsement.

Last month, Warren drew a crowd her campaign estimated at more than 20,000 to a rally in Manhattan's Washington Square Park, where afterward she spent four hours posing for photos.

Ocasio-Cortez, like the other Sanders surrogates who spoke before her, said she believes that he has a path to the White House. 

She lauded Sanders’ “enormous, consistent and nonstop advocacy” for the working class. She said they could succeed with the “mass mobilization of working-class people at the ballot box.”

Ocasio-Cortez, who at 30 represents a much younger generation of progressives than Sanders, is a foil to Republican President Donald Trump and, at times, also has clashed with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Other Sanders supporters on hand Saturday included state Sens. Jessica Ramos and Michael Gianaris, both Queens Democrats; Tiffany Cabán, who earlier this year lost her bid to become Queens district attorney; and Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Sanders spoke to a crowd that waved blue and white signs reading "Bernie" and continuously chanted his name.

His remarks, which stretched on for more than an hour, included promises to tackle corporate greed and income inequality as president, touching on the same positions he expounded in 2016. Ocasio-Cortez had been a Sanders campaign volunteer in 2016.

Sanders called for environmental justice in noting that the Queensbridge Houses, a New York City Housing Authority complex,  is just across the East River from the city’s largest power plant.

He championed Medicare For All and the Green New Deal. He vowed to end student debt and mass incarceration. He celebrated the diversity of the crowd.

"I want you all to take a look around and find someone you don't know," he directed. "My question now to you is are you willing to fight for that person who you don't even know as much as you're willing to fight for yourself?"

His backers roared in affirmation.

Again and again, Sanders criticized the “billionaire class” and Wall Street. He said he would hike taxes on the rich.

“Are we prepared to stand up to them and transform this country?” he asked.

Rallygoers on Saturday included some members of the Nassau County Democratic Socialists of America.

Eliot Friedman, 30, of Mineola, said he believes the senator is the candidate who can best “improve the material conditions of people,” including housing and health care.

Friedman embraced Sanders’ appeal for big, bold change, saying, “We can’t go on having half-measures.”

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