Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders doesn’t often talk about his personal life. As anyone paying attention knows by now, he tends to keep the discussion focused around two topics—income equality and the influence of money in politics.
So, we were surprised to learn that the Vermont senator’s first marriage took place in Baltimore to a woman named Deborah Shiling (now Deborah Shiling Messing). Since 1988, the Brooklyn-born Sanders has been married to Jane O'Meara Sanders, the former president of Burlington College. They have four children and seven grandchildren between them.
According to reporting by the U.K.’s Daily Mail, Shiling Messing's father, Dr. Moses Shiling, served as chief of pulmonary diseases at Sinai Hospital and the young couple’s ceremony took place in the garden of her parents' Baltimore home.
Bernie Sanders on a tour of Sandtown in December 2015. -Photography by Meredith Herzing
We trailed Sanders around during his tour of Sandtown in West Baltimore in December and never heard mention of his familiarity with the city. Then again, his first marriage took place a little more than 50 years ago. Shiling is described by the Daily Mail as the 74-year-old’s former “college sweetheart.”
The Washington Post reported that the young couple visited Israel, spending several months on a kibbutz. Larry Sanders, Bernie’s older brother, described the Israel trip as “part of their honeymoon” tour. Larry has lived in England since the late 1960s—the honeymooning couple also visited there—and he is a member of the Green Party member and a former county councilor.
As a young woman, Deborah Shiling Messing, like Sanders, was involved in social justice issues as a student civil rights activist at the University of Chicago. She apparently joined the Congress of Race Equality in 1960 and participated in a number of sit-ins in segregated restaurants in Baltimore.
From the Daily Mail: “The couple met in college and moved to a sugar shack without electricity on 85 acres of land in Middlesex, a small hamlet just outside the Vermont capital of Montpelier. They bought it for just $2,500.”
The marriage didn’t last long, however—just less than two years. But Shiling Messing also still resides in Vermont. The good news is they appear to have remained on cordial terms:
“I really don't want to say much,” Shiling Messing, also remarried, told the Daily Mail. “All I can say is I believe in Bernie Sanders and I am a strong supporter.”