Thomas Breen / New Haven Independent

HARTFORD, CT — Black and brown Democratic delegates gathered before the beginning of this weekend’s state Democratic nominating convention to support a challenger’s campaign, casting the bid as a campaign for youth, diversity, and the working class.

Eva Bermudez Zimmerman pitched her candidacy for lieutenant governor as being the exact opposite of her opponent Susan Bysiewicz, claiming that she is the true representative of youth, diversity, and working class family interests in the state Democratic Party.

Zimmerman and her supporters made that pitch during a 20-minute press conference outside of the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford a few hours before the kickoff of the Democratic Party state nominating convention.

Zimmerman has launched a challenge for the party’s nomination for lieutenant governor. She’s taking on the favored candidate, Susan Bysiewicz, who is the running mate of front-running gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont.

Bermudez Zimmerman, a 30-year-old labor organizer in Newtown and a former state party secretary, stood alongside over 30 supporters, including four state representatives and three Hartford city councilmen.

The lieutenant governor’s race has quickly become one of the most contentious in the party in the past week, after Democratic Lamont convinced his former rival-turned-teammate Bysiewicz to drop her bid for governor and join him as his lieutenant governor candidate.

Many in the state Democratic Party, particularly those representing cities like New Haven, have expressed dismay at Lamont’s choice of Bysiewicz, a white woman from Middletown, over a younger person of color. Bermudez Zimmerman is a Hartford native and of Puerto Rican descent.

In the plaza outside the convention center on Friday, supporter after supporter touted Bermudez Zimmerman’s candidacy as representing a younger, more diverse Democratic Party constituency.

Hartford State Rep. Edwin Vargas said that Bermudez Zimmerman, though young, has proven herself a capable leader through her work with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). He said that union organizers have to be good tacticians, strategists, public speakers, organizers, and negotiators.

Thomas Breen / New Haven Independent

“If you can succeed as a union organizer,” he said, “you know you have leadership capacity.”

New London State Rep. Chris Soto, who is the treasurer on Bermudez Zimmerman’s campaign, said that people told him he had to wait his turn when he first ran for the General Assembly two years ago, and that Bermudez Zimmerman must disregard those same warnings.

“Eva’s not going to wait her turn,” he said. “Millennials are going to save our state.” He said that state party leaders were wrong if they thought they could inspire younger voters of color to turn out for the general election without a candidate like Bermudez Zimmerman on the ballot.”

Hamden Councilman Justin Farmer said he has already knocked doors for Bermudez Zimmerman, and that it was important for him to see a young person of color on the state ticket.

“She’s always talking about allowing other voices to have a seat at the table,” he said. For a young urban person like himself, he said, that message of inclusivity and diversity was crucial.

Thomas Breen / New Haven Independent

Bermudez Zimmerman introduced herself by saying that her candidacy is not just about her skin color, but about the concerns of working class people.

“It is obvious that the color of my skin is brown,” she said. But what motivated her to run was instead a conversation she had with a childcare provider who struggled to pay for her child’s college education and had to ask herself whether she should prioritize tuition bills or utility bills.

“Those are questions we shouldn’t be asking,” she said. “Those are conversations we as politicians should be discussing.”

She said that, if elected lieutenant governor, she promised to poke and prod and remind the governor that that the party can’t balance budgets on the backs of working families.

“I do not just doorknock,” she said. “I represent policies. I represent change. I embody this. I live this. This is not a paycheck. This is my life.”

She acknowledged that Joe Ganim, the mayor of Bridgeport and Lamont’s chief rival for the Democratic nomination for governor, had asked her to run as his lieutenant governor running mate. She said she respectfully declined the invitation.

I’m coming at this alone, not aligned with anyone,” she said. She said that she will work with any Democratic candidate who did become governor.

As for her opponent for the lieutenant governor position, Bermudez Zimmerman said that she and Bysiewicz could not be more different.  She said she respects Bysiewicz’s career as a state legislator and secretary of the state. But she said she is closer to the lived experience of working class people.

Lamont and Bysiewicz have pledged to run the most diverse administration in Connecticut history by appointing people of color to judgeships, commissioner positions, deputy commissioner positions, and other boards.

When asked about Lamont’s pleas earlier in the week for the party to unify around him and Bysiewicz in anticipation of a heated contest with Republicans in November’s general election, Bermudez Zimerman said the whole point of conventions is to have different candidates and different win on the merits of their own ideas and appeals.

“He should respect that process,” she said. She said she is looking to fortify the party by embodying its commitment to diversity.

Joseph Rodriguez, a member of New Haven Board of Education (BOE), made the trip up to Hartford on Friday to support Bermudez Zimmerman during her press conference.

“As a New Haven delegate,” he said, “I know all too well about the importance of welcoming everyone.” He said he plans on voting for Bermudez Zimmerman during Saturday’s lieutenant governor vote at the convention.

Bermudez Zimmerman said she is confident that she will win the support of at least 15 percent of the delegates, or 300 votes at the convention, which is the minimum required to qualify for the August primary. If she qualifies, she said, she will be on the primary ballot. If she does not qualify, she said, she will not seek to petition her way onto the ballot.

Democratic LG Candidate Eva Bermudez Zimmerman holds pre-convention presser in Hartford

Posted by New Haven Independent on Friday, May 18, 2018