Com­mu­nity li­ai­son takes of­fice

City Coun­cil mem­bers wel­come Ganim’s choice for po­si­tion

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Brian Lock­hart

BRIDGE­PORT — Lo­cal ac­tivist Carolyn Ver­mont is a fa­mil­iar sight at din­ners and other gath­er­ings around town.

“I said to her one day she’s at more so­cial events than any­body I’ve ever met,” said state Sen. Mar­i­lyn Moore.

And now Ver­mont can get paid for it. As pre­vi­ously re­ported, she has been hired by Mayor Joe Ganim to be his $ 70,000- a- year com­mu­nity li­ai­son.

But is the po­si­tion even needed? And is Ver­mont the most qual­i­fied choice or just a po­lit­i­cally strate­gic one?

Ac­cord­ing to the job de­scrip­tion, Ver­mont will be more than just a glo­ri­fied so­cial but­ter­fly. She will rep­re­sent the mayor at var­i­ous func­tions and on pub­lic or pri­vate boards; be Ganim’s li­ai­son with com­mu­nity groups, re­li­gious and pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tions; re­ceive and re­solve

con­stituent com­plaints; and take on un­spec­i­fied ad­di­tional projects.

Ganim al­ready has a fair num­ber of po­lit­i­cally ap­pointed aides, in­clud­ing Alma Maya, whose re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­clude work­ing with Bridge­port’s var­i­ous neigh­bor­hood re­vi­tal­iza­tion groups. The mayor’s of­fice also has two com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ists.

It was the City Coun­cil that called for the ad­di­tional li­ai­son job in the bud­get passed last spring that, in ex­change, de­funded the va­cant deputy chief- of- staff po­si­tion.

“It’s some­thing we did want for him to have,” said Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Aidee Nieves, liken­ing the role to that of Lamond Daniels, who worked for Ganim’s pre­de­ces­sor, Bill Finch. “He was the ‘ boots on the ground’ per­son.”

Nieves said that Ver­mont will sim­i­larly be “the face of the ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Coun­cil­woman Maria Zam­brano Vig­giano, who chairs the bud­get com­mit­tee, said, “The mayor’s of­fice needs to have some­one in the com­mu­nity re­spond­ing to con­cerns res­i­dents have. I know that role was some­thing we pri­or­i­tized. We want to make sure peo­ple feel they’re rep­re­sented in City Hall and have a point of con­tact.”

Given the funds for the li­ai­son’s job have been avail­able since July 1, when the 2018- 19 bud­get went into ef­fect, the tim­ing of fill­ing the va­cancy and the choice of Ver­mont took some, in­clud­ing Nieves and Vig­giano, by sur­prise.

“I would have liked to have known more about that process be­fore a hire was made,” Vig­giano said.

Moore, who is con­sid­ered a po­ten­tial chal­lenger to fel­low Demo­crat Ganim as he seeks re- elec­tion in 2019, has crit­i­cized many of the mayor’s hires as un­nec­es­sary. But Moore praised Ganim’s choice of Ver­mont, say­ing, “I don’t think he could have picked a bet­ter per­son. Carolyn has great pre­sen­ta­tion skills and a mil­lion dol­lar smile. ( And) I think this job is very much needed.”

Fair and ex­pe­ri­enced

Coun­cil­man Ernie New­ton said since Ver­mont is more of a pro­fes­sional than a politi­cian; he was not cer­tain she will last: “She’ll find out within the first two or three months if she likes it. It’s a vis­i­ble po­si­tion and peo­ple are go­ing to come to her to re­solve their prob­lems. ( And) 90 per­cent of the peo­ple care about what have you done for me to­day, not what you’ve done in the past.”

Some may know Ver­mont mainly for her pub­li­cized fail­ures. Her ten­ure run­ning Bridge­port’s NAACP branch ended with the state NAACP tem­po­rar­ily tak­ing the lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion over to end on­go­ing in­fight­ing and help es­tab­lish new lead­er­ship.

And ear­lier this year, Ver­mont tried and failed to run for re­tir­ing state Sen. Ed Gomes’ seat. She launched a pe­ti­tion drive to force a pri­mary with Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Den­nis Bradley, but did not col­lect enough sig­na­tures.

Ver­mont re­ceived praise from heads of some of the prom­i­nent com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions she has served.

Joe Car­bone, pres­i­dent of The Work­place, a work­force de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion in Bridge­port, said that Ver­mont for sev­eral years vol­un­tar­ily re­viewed ap­pli­ca­tions for fed­er­ally funded grants The Work­place dis­trib­utes.

“She does an ex­tremely thor­ough job. She’s very very fair. And she’s got a great sense of the com­mu­nity — a me­mory of the track record of or­ga­ni­za­tions we’ve funded,” Car­bone said. “That comes with years of ex­pe­ri­ence and in­ter­ac­tion with peo­ple.”

Jeremy Stein, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of CT Against Gun Vi­o­lence, said Ver­mont did a great job as his paid, part­time ur­ban out­reach co­or­di­na­tor in Bridge­port: “She con­nected us with the mayor’s of­fice, the schools, com­mu­nity lead­ers, youth groups. Most re­cently, she helped us fa­cil­i­tate a youth em­pow­er­ment sum­mit in New Haven.”

Nieves said “it’s go­ing to be im­per­a­tive for her suc­cess” serv­ing Ganim that Ver­mont con­nect not just with the higher pro­file groups, but with smaller, lesser- known com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions and ac­tivists as well.

Asked if Ver­mont could sim­ply be used by Ganim to pro­mote him­self dur­ing next year’s may­oral race, Nieves said, “Of course she’s got to say sup­port­ive things ( about the ad­min­is­tra­tion).”

But, Nieves em­pha­sized, Ver­mont needs to do her job for the com­mu­nity: “She’s gotta bring back what the res­i­dents want.”

New­ton saw an­other po­lit­i­cal mo­tive be­hind Ganim’s hir­ing Ver­mont. While the ad­min­is­tra­tion has blacks and His­pan­ics in prom­i­nent po­si­tions in city gov­ern­ment, one of the for­mer, Chief Ad­min­is­tra­tive Of­fi­cer Kim­berly Staley, is de­part­ing, and Ganim has been crit­i­cized for not hav­ing enough mi­nori­ties work­ing in his of­fice.

“The mayor’s staff is lily white,” New­ton said. “A lot of peo­ple are very an­gry about that.”


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