Ladies Rising

By Kerri Provost via Real Hartford

Wildaliz headshotHartford’s Democratic Town Committee endorsed exactly zero women in 2011. That Cynthia Jennings served on City Council beginning in 2012 was thanks to her affiliation with the Working Families Party.

The last four years must have sent a message. This time around, the Democrats, Working Families, and Republicans each endorsed two women on their respective slates; ultimately, voters opted for two newcomers,Wildaliz Bermudez and Glendowlyn Thames, along with incumbent Cynthia Jennings and rJo Winch, who previously served on City Council, but not during the current term.

Of the four women, Ms. Bermudez is also coming in as the first Latina member of City Council since the previous was elected in 1999.

Though new to this position, Bermudez is not new to Hartford or City Hall. She was moved to run out of “frustration” with “fighting things from the periphery,” namely, the baseball stadium that is currently being erected in Downtown. She saw small living room gatherings in different parts of town bloom into larger meetings at community spaces, where the participation was from a diverse group of people, yet the opposition was still not listened to by those in power, Bermudez said. The marching and speaking at public hearings appeared to be for nothing.

“We don’t have any other option” but for “us” to “be at the table,” she said. This became clear to her when no referendum was even considered.

The stadium deal controversy may have pushed her toward public office, but Bermudez’s activism began taking shape decades ago. As a youth, she was one of the plaintiffs in Sheff v. O’Neill. She recalls attending those meetings, but it was not until college where she personally felt injustice.

Speaking fondly of the education she received at Trinity College, she remarked that the classroom dynamics drove home racial and economic discrepancies. It was hard to reconcile how this college existed in the same city where she grew up. This spurred her to get involved with various cultural houses on campus. This led to later getting involved with Latino/as Contra la Guerra and organizing in the community.

She did not find her way alone.

Along the way she received nudges from people in the community. Anwar Ahmad offered her a job at the Barbour Branch of the Hartford Public Library, something she jumped at. Ahmad planted seeds about college and scholarships, and began connecting her with people and opportunities. Luis Caban offered her the opportunity to be a member of the Center for Latino Progress board, as well as to co-host Café con Luis. Maria Perez-Colon of Puertorriquenos Unidos got her to attend monthly meetings about culture and history. Bermudez was able to see leadership modeled for her in this setting.

Bermudez said the response to her decision to run for City Council was overwhelmingly positive. Only two individuals, both men, had discouraging things to say, and both, she said, have “sexist personalities.”

Those seeking to have their voices heard should make that happen, Bermudez said, whether that means campaigning, joining the PTO or NRZ, or participating in a fatherhood group: “there’s different ways we can organize as a community.”

“If [concerned residents] don’t get involved,” she said, “it’s only going to get worse.”

Bermudez plans to remain accessible to residents noting that “barriers to accessing live human beings” currently exist in City Hall and are problematic. She will have a social media presence, reach out to parent groups, and canvass year round where the people are, which can mean dropping by the food pantries.

She, along with the other newly elected officials, will be sworn into office in January 2016.