All about Eva Bermudez Zim­mer­man, a chal­lenger for lieu­tenant gover­nor.

Can­di­date for Lt. Gov says she isn’t ca­reer politician

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Kait­lyn Kras­selt

No one speaks for Eva Bermudez Zim­mer­man.

When she felt sup­port for her rene­gade can­di­dacy slip­ping at the state Demo­cratic Con­ven­tion last month, she said so.

His­tor­i­cally, can­di­dates don’t say they’re los­ing ground un­less it’s re­ally bad. So, one of her vol­un­teers stepped in be­hind the scenes for some un­so­licited dam­age con­trol. She doesn’t know she’s not sup­posed to say that, he sug­gested.

But at 31, Bermudez Zim­mer­man is not a ca­reer politician — nor does she have a de­sire to be­come one — so why should she act like it. That vol­un­teer is no longer with her un­con­ven­tional cam­paign for lieu­tenant gover­nor.

“As a can­di­date, you’re sur­round­ing your­self with peo­ple who are very pro­tec­tive, and there’s a lot of cau­tion with mes­sag­ing and I’m here and I got this far be­cause peo­ple know that I’m real,” Bermudez Zim­mer­man said dur­ing an in­ter­view in a quiet cof­fee shop in New Haven last week. “So I will con­tin­u­ously re­mind my team, my vol­un­teers, my staffers that we don’t get here, or we don’t get far, by try­ing to mis­in­ter­pret things.”

Bermudez Zim­mer­man walked away from the party con­ven­tion last month with nearly 40 per­cent of del­e­gate votes and mo­men­tum on her side.

She had of­fi­cially en­tered the race just three days ear­lier.

A sprint, not a marathon

Those who view her as in­ex­pe­ri­enced were sur­prised, but per­haps they should con­sider her years of ac­tivism, her in­stant rap­port with strangers and her skill at mo­ti­vat­ing peo­ple.

A pro­fes­sional union or­ga­nizer, Bermudez Zim­mer­man reached out to the net­work she has been cul­ti­vat­ing for years. In less time than it takes for an Ama­zon de­liv­ery, she mo­bi­lized 200 vol­un­teers, hit the phones, en­er­gized a base of sup­port­ers and av­er­aged two hours of sleep per night.

“I am an or­ga­nizer,” she said. “I am very lucky to have a lot of friends who or­ga­nize for a liv­ing. When you’ve been be­hind the scenes as long as I have in ad­vo­cacy, in pol­icy change, in col­lab­o­rat­ing with non­prof­its, then you have the abil­ity on a whim to make that call to peo­ple who be­lieve in the ex­act same val­ues that you be­lieve, and say, ‘ Let’s do this.’ ”

She de­cided to run when Demo- crat Ned La­mont picked for­mer Sec­re­tary of the State Susan Bysiewicz as a run­ning mate, seem­ingly to avoid a pri­mary and unify the party. The move high­lighted the lack of di­ver­sity at the top of the Demo­cratic ticket and spurred Bermudez Zim­mer­man, who would be the first Latina to be lieu­tenant gover­nor, to run. Bysiewicz came away with the party’s en­dorse­ment and a tough pri­mary chal­lenge against Bermudez Zim­mer­man.

Her fa­ther, Pe­dro Bermudez, quit his job as an ad­vo­cate for the un­doc­u­mented to help with her cam­paign. So did her sis­ter, Wil­daliz Bermudez, an en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cate and Hart­ford City Coun- cil mem­ber.

Ac­tivism is the fam­ily busi­ness. When Bermudez Zim­mer­man, who lives in New­town, was a tod­dler, her par­ents named her and her two sib­lings plain­tiffs in the Sh­eff vs. O’Neill Hart­ford school de­seg­re­ga­tion case.

Thrust into a di­vi­sive bat­tle early on, she saw the re­sults. In high school, at­tend­ing one of the mag­net school pro­grams for which her par­ents fought.

‘ Drawn to her’

Bermudez Zim­mer­man’s ap­peal comes from her in­nate abil­ity to con­nect with peo­ple and her gen­uine em­pa­thy, said Demo­cratic state Sen. Mae Flexer, who has known Bermudez Zim­mer­man the bet­ter part of a decade af­ter they met through Bermudez Zim­mer­man’s la­bor work.

“It’s about Eva per­son­ally,” Flexer said. “I think peo­ple are drawn to her. I think she’s a unique kind of leader who’s got a track record of work­ing with peo­ple in a col­lab­o­ra­tive way for a long time. She rep­re­sents a dif­fer­ent de­mo­graphic and that’s re­ally at­trac­tive to peo­ple as well.”

There is no short­age of sto­ries about Bermudez Zim­mer­man’s affin­ity for help­ing peo­ple — from her time work­ing in the fave­las in Brazil to her work or­ga­niz­ing child care work­ers to the time she sin­gle- hand­edly signed up more than 10,000 peo­ple for Con­necti­cut’s health care ex­change.

“I know she’s my younger sis­ter, but I of­ten felt she’s my older sis­ter,” Wil­daliz Bermudez said. “I’ve looked up to her. She’s fear­less.”

Even Ryan Knapp, a Repub­li­can who served along­side Bermudez Zim­mer­man on the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil in New­town in 2014 and said he and Bermudez Zim­mer­man agree on vir­tu­ally noth­ing, told a story about the time Bermudez Zim­mer­man went out of her way to help his brother nav­i­gate the health care ex­change.

“Eva had no obli­ga­tion to my brother, no ties to him so­cially or po­lit­i­cally, and there was noth­ing in it for her to give as much time as she did,” he said. “She sim­ply be­lieved in the sys­tem, that it could work and wanted to see as many peo­ple as she could in­sured.”

The in- be­tween

Bermudez Zim­mer­man says her abil­ity to con­nect comes from a life­time of liv­ing in the “in- be­tween.”

She grew up the youngest daugh­ter of Puerto Ri­can mi­grants and would be the first Latina elected to any Con­necti­cut con­sti­tu­tional of­fice.

“Hope­fully in the next decade we’re not talk­ing about that any­more,” she said. But she and her fam­ily are and al­ways have been Amer­i­can ci­ti­zens. The Puerto Ri­can iden­tity is, in it­self, an in­be­tween, she said.

She was raised in the sub­ur­ban South End of Hart­ford, but at­tended school in the 1990s crimerid­den North End. She loved sci­ence and wanted to be a doc­tor, but she thrived in the arts and won awards for po­etry.

“I’m all about the in- be­tweens,” Bermudez Zim­mer­man said. “I went to ( col­lege) in Puerto Rico ... and since I wasn’t raised there, I was re­ferred to as the ‘ Gringa,’ be­cause of my Amer­i­can­ized ac­cent. And now I live in Fair­field County but I grew up in Hart­ford, I speak more than one lan­guage. I thrive in the in- be­tween.”

She stud­ied abroad in Brazil where she worked in the fave­las af­ter fin­ish­ing high school at 16. That’s where she re­al­ized she needed be an ac­tivist and an or­ga­nizer like her par­ents.

She has served as a con­gres­sional in­tern, man­aged a state Se­nate cam­paign, served on the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil in New­town, made an un­suc­cess­ful bid for a seat in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly and or­ga­nized child care work­ers for the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union where her hus­band, Stacey Zim­mer­man, also works, so it’s odd that she should be la­beled “in­ex­pe­ri­enced.”

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Eva Bermudez Zim­mer­man, of New­town, speaks to sup­port­ers be­fore the start of the state Demo­cratic Con­ven­tion in May.

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