EAST HARTFORD, CT — Local elected officials literally lined up behind former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz’s campaign for lieutenant governor Monday on a third floor balcony overlooking the Connecticut River.
With the state Capitol building visible in the background, Bysiewicz was praised for her experience and her accomplishments while serving for 18 years first as a state representative and then as Secretary of the State.
East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc said even when Bysiewicz wasn’t in elected office she was always there behind the scenes supporting others who were running for office.
She has been a champion for women politicians throughout the state, Leclerc said.
“I’m supporting Susan because she understands the political process,” Leclerc said. “Now is not the time to have people learning on the job.”
Bysiewicz is being challenged by Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, a 31 year old, labor organizer who was a plaintiff in the landmark school desegregation lawsuit, Sheff v. O’Neil.
Earlier this year, Bysiewicz had been running for governor until Ned Lamont asked her to be his running mate. Bysiewicz dropped down to the second spot in May making for a ticket with little in the way of racial diversity.
A Democratic Party convention endorsed Bysiewicz — but Bermudez Zimmerman picked up 40 percent of convention delegates, twice what she needed to qualify for the November ballot.
The position of lieutenant governor is largely undefined. There’s the constitutional responsibilities of presiding over the Senate and taking over for the governor should he become unable to serve. However, beyond that there’s little prescribed for the position.
Bysiewicz pointed out that between 1945 and 2004 six lieutenant governors have had to step up and be governor.
She said she believes Lamont chose her as his running mate because “together we are the strongest ticket.”
She said she brings different set of qualifications to the job than Bermudez Zimmerman.
“If there’s one thing this state needs it’s good paying jobs so we can get out of this financial mess that we’re in,” Bysiewicz said.
She said over the past seven years as an attorney in private practice she’s help 80 businesses.
At the same time she declined to disparage her Democratic opponent for having a different background.
The race has been framed in a way that puts Bermudez Zimmerman, of Puerto Rican descent who grew up in Hartford, in the mold of the young millennial upstart. She’s been compared to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old former waitress from the Bronx who ended up unseating U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley in a Democratic primary last month.
Bysiewicz is the establishment candidate, but according to local elected officials, that’s exactly what the state needs.
“I’m not embarrassed to tell people I’m a career politician,” Sen. Tim Larson, D-East Hartford, said.
He said the Senate votes on a bipartisan basis 85 percent of the time, so you need someone who understands how to work a bill on both sides of the aisle.
“I think Susan knows how to do that,” Larson said.
Bysiewicz said the internal polls look good and she’s confident the Democratic primary voters will make the right decision.
South Windsor Mayor Dr. Saud Anwar said voting for lieutenant governor is one of the most important decisions Democratic voters will need to make on Aug. 14.
“It’s about values, experience and skills,” he said.
Bysiewicz said she’s not a labor organizer like Bermudez Zimmerman, but she’s been supportive of labor. She said she wants to pass paid Family and Medical Leave and institute a $15 an hour minimum wage, just like Republican Gov. Charlie Baker was able to do in Massachusetts.
“The voters will get to make a choice as to what kind of background they are looking for,” Bysiewicz said.
She declined to comment on what it might mean for the Democratic Party if a labor organizer was on the ticket in the General Election.
She said Lamont picked her because she would be an equal partner in helping him solve the huge issues facing the state.
“I don’t know of any woman who has more brass than Susan Bysiewicz when it comes to making tough decisions for us in the state of Connecticut,” Larson said.
He said Bysiewicz is standing up for jobs and job creation and that’s how they’re going to fix Connecticut.
He pointed out they were making the announcement at Goodwin College, which has a manufacturing program. He said it’s also near Pratt & Whitney, which has 7,000 jet engines on back order.
Bristol Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said the outside business experience of Lamont and Bysiewicz’s background in public service might be “the best of both worlds.”
Rep. Chris Soto, who is the treasurer for Bermudez Zimmerman’s campaign, said the momentum and the energy is on Eva’s side because “she’s authentic.”
He said she doesn’t have to talk about what she’s done because she’s lived it.
“Nothing comes across as scripted and that’s why people are gravitating to her,” Soto said.
There’s fewer than 30 days left until the Aug. 14 primary.
Democratic voters will get to decide whether Bysiewicz or Bermudez Zimmerman get on the ticket with Lamont or Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim.
Bermudez Zimmerman said Sunday that she’s not backing either Lamont or Ganim in the primary and will let the voters decide.