All about Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, a challenger for lieutenant governor.
Candidate for Lt. Gov says she isn’t career politician
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.”
Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, of Newtown, speaks to supporters before the start of the state Democratic Convention in May.