HARTFORD, CT — A young labor organizer pulled off a surprisingly strong show of support in her bid for lieutenant governor, spurred on in no small part by a New Haven politician’s emotional endorsement of her candidacy.
During Saturday’s state Democratic Party nominating convention at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, Eva Bermudez Zimmerman received nearly 40 percent of the delegate vote in her challenge to frontrunner Susan Bysiewicz for the party’s nomination of a lieutenant governor candidate. Before the vote, she received an impassioned second to her nomination by New Haven State Sen. Gary Winfield. New Haven delegates ultimately gave 86 out of their 100 votes to Bermudez Zimmerman.
Bermudez Zimmerman, a 30-year-old labor organizer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Newtown, garnered a total of 758 delegate votes. The Hartford-born Puerto Rican received more than 15 percent of the vote and has therefore qualified for the August Democratic Party primary.
Bysiewicz, a former state representative from Middletown and a former secretary of the state who dropped her bid for governor earlier this month to join gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont as his lieutenant governor teammate, earned 1,123 delegate votes, or 59 percent of the total vote. Charles Stallworth, a third candidate for lieutenant governor who is a minister from Bridgeport, received only 22 votes, or 1.16 percent.
Bermudez Zimmerman, who opened an exploratory campaign for secretary of the state in February before switching to the lieutenant governor’s race several weeks later, received a swell of support from New Haven politicos hungry for a more diverse ticket after Lamont chose Bysiewicz, who is white, as his running mate.
Winfield, in particular, voiced his concerns in the days and hours before the convention about the dissonance between the party’s verbal commitment to diversity and its failure to nominate people of color at the top of the ticket.
At Saturday’s convention, New Haven delegates gave eight votes to Bysiewicz and five to Stallworth. One delegate abstained.
Bermudez Zimmerman has promised to represent the youth, diversity, and working-class family interests so central to party rhetoric. If elected, she promised to be a gadfly in the governor’s mansion, constantly reminding him that the state budget cannot be balanced on the backs of working families.
“I’m young,” Zimmerman Bermudez told the Independent after the vote. “I have energy, and I have also spent the past decade organizing around progressive issues.” She said that she was proud to represent millennials and diverse groups on the ticket.
In her acceptance speech for the party’s endorsement, Bysiewicz also referenced the importance of upholding diversity as a core value of the party, particularly in the face of a Republican Party that she said was more committed to corruption, cronyism, conservatism, injustice, and entrenched inequality than raising the quality of life for everyone in the state.
“We need a strong, unified, diverse ticket,” she said.
Although Bermudez Zimmerman did not address the convention from the stage as she did not win the party endorsement, she did receive one of the more talked about speeches at the convention as delivered by Winfield in his seconding of her nomination.
“Who we are is as important as anything else in this party,” Winfield said to start.
He said that his wife recently gave birth to twins, and that he wanted to help create a political reality for those “two little black kids” in which they could aspire to the highest reaches of government not just because people say so, but because they see people who look like them actually in those roles.
With tears streaming down his face, he recalled how he and his first wife scraped by during his six-year stint in the U.S. Navy. She was attending law school. He recalled the jars of pennies, dimes and quarters that he carefully collected each week to make sure they had enough money to pay for the bare necessities. When he had collected $60, he said, he could breathe a small sigh of relief, at least for a week.
Bermudez Zimmerman, he said, knew the crunch that working-class families feel to pay for a roof over one’s head and food on the table. He recognized that she is young, but commended her for her years of connecting with and understanding the challenges faced by working families through her work as a union organizer.
“When I went up on stage,” Winfield said after his speech, “I knew I was going to put my whole self into it.”
He said it was time for the state party to match its reality with its rhetoric. He said he had spoken to a number of people at the convention who had arrived planning to vote for Bysiewicz and left voting for Bermudez Zimmerman.
Bermudez Zimmerman received an additional rousing second to her nomination from Norma Rodriguez-Reyes, the New Haven-based publisher of the Spanish-language weekly, La Voz Hispana. Rodriguez-Reyes also singled out the significance of nominating Bermudez Zimmerman to serve as the party’s first-ever Hispanic statewide candidate.
“Eva is a woman,” Rodriguez-Reyes said. “She is a millennial. She is a union organizer. Most importantly, she is a qualified Latina woman.”
Rodriguez-Reyes said when she ran for secretary of the state back in 2006, she called on the party to include a Hispanic nominee on the statewide ticket. On Saturday afternoon, over a decade later, she echoed that same sentiment.
“We have been very loyal to the party,” she said. “And we will continue to be. But we need to be included.”