Dogged Leftist Candidate Peter Diamondstone Dies | Off Message

Bernie Sanders
Dogged Leftist Candidate Peter Diamondstone Dies


Peter Diamondstone - FILE: ZACHARY STEPHENS
  • File: Zachary Stephens
  • Peter Diamondstone
Updated at 5:24 p.m.

Peter Diamondstone, a fiery socialist politician who founded the Liberty Union Party and was a mainstay on Election Day ballots in Vermont for four decades, died on Wednesday at his home in Dummerston, his wife confirmed to Seven Days. He was 82.

Diamondstone was suffering from a variety of ailments, Doris Lake said, including heart failure. He left the hospital several weeks ago to receive hospice care at home, Lake said. They had recently celebrated their 60th anniversary.

In recent years, Diamondstone was perhaps best known as a colorful character at debates and on the campaign trail for the various offices he sought. His name appeared on ballots in every statewide election since 1970, though he never came close to winning.

He was motivated, Lake said, by a profound sense of "mission," and was never discouraged by his repeated drubbings on Election Day.

"His passion was to bring about some kind of equitable treatment of all human beings, no matter who or where," Lake said. "A kind of form of socialism that would not exploit certain groups of people and resources in the world. He had a passion for justice and equality — all those wonderful things we don’t have any more."

Diamondstone, a New York native who moved to Vermont in 1968 after graduating from the University of Chicago, founded the Liberty Union Party with a group of friends in 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War. They espoused an ideology that Diamondstone dubbed "nonviolent revolutionary socialism." Their platform included free and universal health care and childcare, government control of resources and wealth, and opposition to nuclear power.

One year after creating the party, Diamondstone welcomed a young Bernie Sanders into the fold. Due to a shortage of candidates, Sanders volunteered to run under the party's banner for a U.S. Senate seat in 1972. He won 2 percent of the vote. In all, Sanders ran for office four times under the Liberty Union banner, never winning more than 6 percent of the vote.

For a time, Diamondstone and Sanders were close, staying up late to talk politics and policy.

"We were yelling at each other all night," Diamondstone recalled in a July 2015 interview with Seven Days. "Finally, one would say, 'We've got to go to sleep.' Five minutes later, we'd go off again, until the sun came up."

But they had a falling out three decades ago, when Sanders quit the Liberty Union party.

"There's no 'friends' there for me," Diamondstone told Seven Days. "There's nothing, from my point of view. He went in a certain direction, and that was the opposite of mine. Sanders and I suffered a hostile divorce."

Nonetheless Sanders, in a statement sent Thursday to Seven Days, had kind words for his old pal.

I first met Peter Diamondstone over 45 years ago. While I have not had any real contact with him for many, many years, I have the feeling that he never changed. Peter was a very independent thinker, unafraid to express his (often controversial) point of view on any subject. As a result, he forced people to examine and defend their own positions. No small thing. In his own way, Peter played an important role in Vermont politics for many decades.

While he watched Sanders climb the political ladder from Burlington mayor to congressman, senator, and presidential candidate, Diamondstone spent the rest of his life waging also-ran campaigns that attracted little mainstream interest.

Diamondstone averaged about 2 percent of the vote in his many bids for U.S. Senate, Congress, Vermont governor and state attorney general, but said he was proud to fight for his beliefs. In his last race, a 2016 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat, he got 1 percent of the vote.

"Do I look at it from the point of view of measuring results — that is, votes? You know, I'm a happy guy," Diamondstone told Seven Days. "It didn't ever dawn on me to change. It's not enough to get votes."

On the campaign trail, Diamondstone rarely missed an opportunity to taunt Sanders, whom he ran against eight times, calling him a "sellout" and "war criminal."

With his health failing and confined largely to his living room, Diamondstone nonetheless challenged U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in the 2016 election, garnering 1 percent of the vote.

In recent weeks, Diamondstone and his wife engaged in one last policy debate — whether it is more environmentally friendly to be buried or cremated. He decided, in the end, that a simple burial was best, Lake said. Members of his family on Thursday built a simple pine box for Diamondstone, whose final resting place will be a West Brattleboro burial plot.