Community liaison takes office
City Council members welcome Ganim’s choice for position
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.”