That changed in the new decade. A friend who taught at the University of Vermont observed to Mr. Sanders that even in his losing campaigns, he had fared well in Burlington, a city that was growing as a trickle of young liberals left the cities of the Northeast for the Green Mountains. Mr. Sanders announced a challenge to Mayor Gordon Paquette, a long-serving Democrat, attacking local emblems of inequality and economic grievance — a proposed condo development on Lake Champlain, for one, and a mayoral plan to hike property taxes that Mr. Sanders called regressive. He won with 43 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
And then, at age 39, Mr. Sanders learned that victory did not always bring power.
For a small city, Burlington had an impressively tangled bureaucracy, with layers of commissions constraining the mayor. On the board of aldermen, 11 of 13 members were aligned against Mr. Sanders, ensuring an alliance of Democrats and Republicans that could thwart his proposals and override his veto. That bipartisan bloc saw Mr. Sanders as a fire-breathing amateur and viewed the people he picked for jobs like city clerk and city treasurer in similar terms.
Mr. Mahoney said Mr. Sanders initially “didn’t have a clue.” The aldermen felt ambushed by his unexpected policy demands, and rattled by his tempestuous manner that more than once involved storming out of meetings.
“Coming in, he was just very uneducated,” Mr. Mahoney said, recalling that Mr. Sanders would scramble the council’s agenda and inject remote issues into city politics. “We’d get our packets on a Friday and the agenda and everything is included there. Bernie would have a news conference on Monday and add some huge new thing, like we’re going to be supporting Daniel Ortega in a resolution.”
When Mr. Sanders submitted his nominees for top city jobs, the board rejected them in a humiliating fashion. Linda Niedweske, Mr. Sanders’s former campaign manager, said he was “furious.”
“He won fair and square,” said Ms. Niedweske, whose appointment as Mr. Sanders’s secretary was briefly blocked. “He was entitled to do what the people had elected him to do.”
Mr. Sanders sued the board, accusing it of usurping his authority, but lost in court. Denied a full slate of appointments, he enlisted volunteer advisers to help him map a city budget. There were small breakthroughs with the board — Mr. Sanders ushered through a modest property-tax increase — but at base, Mr. Sanders said recently, Democrats wanted to make him a “powerless mayor.”