If Eva Bermúdez Zimmerman wins the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor at the August 14 primary, she would become the first Hispanic to run on a major party ticket for statewide office in Connecticut.
A fact not gone unnoticed by Hispanics nationally, among them San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Mayor Carmen Yúlin Cruz who tweeted her support of Bermúdez Zimmerman to her nearly 250,00 followers.
Additionally here in the state, after a stunning win of 40% of the vote for Lt. Governor at the state Democratic Convention in May after only three days as a candidate, Bermúdez Zimmerman has gone on to rapidly score an impressive number of endorsements from key organizations that have endorsed the Democratic Party Gubernatorial candidate, but not his endorsed running mate, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz.
Her supporters say that’s because Bermúdez Zimmerman’s appeal is more than just about being a Latina. The 31-year-old labor organizer from Newtown, who is waging a nonstop campaign across the state, is becoming better known as a passionate advocate for issues, such as a higher minimum wage and better access to health and child care, than as just a Latino candidate.
Democratic state Sen. Gary Winfield of New Haven, a vocal Bermúdez Zimmerman supporter says, what is becoming apparent to more Democrats is that she, the daughter of Puerto Ricans who settled in Hartford, offers more than a fresh face and someone who would help diversify the Democratic ticket. People are seeing that she is “young, vibrant and knowledgeable,” said Winfield.
“Eva has been doing the work,” and now “people are saying this could be real,” said Winfield, who is working on her behalf, as is the Elm City’s mayor Toni Harp and several other non-Hispanic mayors.
This work includes knocking on doors, raising contributions to qualify for a state campaign funding, attending meetings with local Democratic groups almost on a nightly basis and making appearances at numerous fairs and parades, as well as pro-immigrant and anti-Trump rallies.
Bermúdez Zimmerman, who has strong labor ties, has racked up endorsement from labor-oriented organizations including the AFL-CIO, the Working Families Party, the Connecticut State Building Trades and numerous others.
Through this effort and the enthusiastic support from the CT Democratic Hispanic Caucus and other Latino organizations, her supporters say an “eva-lution” is taking place. So much so that some prominent Democrats are sensing she has a good chance to beat Bysiewicz.
“Present leadership has an inbred quality few find appealing,” said Bill Curry, a two-time Democratic nominee for governor and a White House advisor in the administration of President Bill Clinton. “A candidate can stand out just by having something to say, which gives Eva her chance,” he said.
People are tired of the “same old, same old,” said Alma Maya a longtime civil rights and community activist in Bridgeport. “Eva gives them a little bit of new blood, new spirit.” She added, “My family and friends are voting for her.”
According to Scott McLean of Quinnipiac University, Bermúdez Zimmerman qualifies as a viable candidate based on the general political mood nationally, citing three prominent factors. Longtime politicians do not have the hold over the parties as they once did, this is a “big year for women generally” and immigration policy and the treatment of the “Dreamers” has raised the awareness and energy of Latinos, making them more likely to come out and vote, said McLean, who teaches political science at the Hamden university.
Compared to Bysiewicz, Bermúdez Zimmerman is a political outsider. Her primary rival has been a state political mainstay since 1994 as a legislator, served as secretary of the state for 12 years, in 2010 unsuccessfully tried to run for attorney general and until a few days before the 2018 convention was running for governor.
However, Bermúdez Zimmerman is no stranger to politics. She has worked on several campaigns in Hartford, where her sister Wildaliz is the Working Family Party’s leader on the city council. She also has been active in Newtown, serving on the town’s legislative council and running two years ago for state senator.
It is not only the Democratic side where there is a sense that the political climate is changing. This view is shared by Erin Stewart, the 31-year-old Republican mayor of New Britain, who also is running in a primary where a longtime party figure, 61-year-old state Sen. Joe Markley, carries the state convention’s endorsement.
“The changing face of politics is catching up with the population in our state,” said the 31-year-old Stewart, who is her third term as mayor. “It is more moderate and it is diverse, and if either party wants to actually represent the people then they will elect leaders who reflect the faces, cultures and values of the state.”
Stewart also said, “There is a place for young leaders and you are seeing that this cycle. I am working toward being one of those leaders. Our state can’t wait any more.”
For Bermúdez Zimmerman, a big asset has been her union activism and lobbying on issues pertinent to working class families. She currently is on leave from the Service Employees International Union where her husband Stacey Zimmerman is an associate director and she had been organizing child-care workers.
Bermúdez Zimmerman’s time working for labor speaks for itself and has created a comfort level with unions, Winfield said. “They don’t have to question the way she thinks,” the New Haven Democrat said.
The state AFL-CIO and the Working Families Party both have endorsed Lamont, but passed over his running mate to back Bermúdez Zimmerman. The state firefighters union also are backing Lamont, but so far have not indicated a favorite in the lieutenant governor race.
The American Federation of Teachers and the United Auto Works also have endorsed Bermúdez said state Rep. Chris Soto of New London, her campaign treasurer who is working to generate the type of diverse, grassroots support that made his own campaign successful two years ago. Also, Our Revolution, a national political organization led by former aides to Sen. Bernie Sanders, has announced their support for Bermúdez Zimmerman, the first time this group has backed a state candidate.
The WFP in its endorsement noted that Bermúdez Zimmerman has a lifetime of activism that began with her testifying as a child in the landmark school desegregation case, Sheff v. O’Neill. “We know that, if elected, Eva will fight tooth and nail every day to make real improvements in people’s lives,” said Lindsay Farrell, state director of the Connecticut WFP.
Another factor in Bermúdez Zimmermn’s favor, McLean said, is that some Democrats were “hungry for someone who looks “different” than Lamont” and offers greater balance to be his running mate. He added that Lamont looks like a Republican out of central casting and that the 64-year-old Greenwich millionaire “acts like a traditional GOP candidate.”
Winfield explained that it was the diversity issue which “opened this conversation and helped Bermúdez win 40 percent of the vote at the state convention, only a couple of days after she announced for lieutenant governor.
The need for Bermúdez Zimmerman in her first statewide campaign is to establish herself as a more than a “fresh face” who carries more than the banner of the Latino community, reflects the reality on intra-party politics and an opponent who is a seasoned campaigner and fund-raiser.
Bysiewicz has the name recognition, Winfield said, but “New Haven is politically for Eva.” He added that “people on the ground are talking about her.”
The Working Families Party also plans to put “boots on the ground” to build support for their endorsed candidates as well as to provide communications and strategy ideas, said Carlos Moreno, director of the WFP Organization.
McLean also said that he does not see the former secretary of the state, if she wins the primary, “turning off Latino voters” in the general election. “There are plenty of issues to turn on Latinos,” he said, and the anti-Trump focus and union support “is going to be there whoever wins (the primary).”
While defeating a state convention choice for a constitutional office in a primary is a big challenge, it is not impossible. It happened in 2006 when Mary Glassman defeated the convention choice, Scott Slifka, in the Democratic primary.
McLean said that within the Democratic Party nationally it is not untypical to find an “establishment versus the outsider” nomination fight and “sometimes the outsider wins.”
Still, McLean said, Bysiewicz has a track record for winning and has government experience, but not during the during eight years of the disliked Malloy Administration, which is a big plus.
However, Bermúdez Zimmerman’s supporters are heartened by the recent primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cruz, a 28-year-old Latina who had never held elected office, over a ten-term incumbent for the Democratic nomination in a New York City congressional race. Jason Ortiz, chairman of the CT Puerto Rican Agenda, described the Connecticut Democrat as an similar to Ocasio-Cortez in that she is perceived more as an insurgent progressive less as a Latino candidate.
Curry also views Bermúdez Zimmerman an as a possible winner. “With so many candidates, such low spirits about the state of the state, and an August primary date, her challenge is to grab enough attention. Being seen as the strongest progressive among so many super cautious centrists works in her favor.”