Ganim faces gender inequality issues at Bridgeport City Hall

BRIDGEPORT — Mayor Joe Ganim has pledged to “ensure that all women feel supported and heard in their roles” after two high-profile women in city government raised questions this week about equality gender among its staff.

“It has come to my attention that there are women in administration who may feel they are not valued or heard in the same way as their counterparts,” Ganim said in a statement to Hearst. ConnecticutMedia. “I am committed to ensuring that all women feel supported and heard in their roles. My administration, with the support of Labor Relations and Human Resources, strives to ensure that the City of Bridgeport is a workplace of diversity, equity and inclusiveness.

The mayor was responding to comments from Constance Vickers, who quit her position on Wednesday liaising with state lawmakers at the Hartford Capitol, and City Council Speaker Aidee Nieves.

Vickers, in an interview with Hearst Connecticut, said she accepted an offer from the private sector for “a different challenge” and “a little more work/life balance.” But, as the third prominent woman to step down from a key administration role in the past four weeks, she also questioned whether women in government in Bridgeport were being supported, empowered and relied on to make key decisions. .

Vickers’ exit followed that of the mayor’s director of communications for five years, Rowena White, and Tyisha Toms, a city attorney who was a possible candidate to lead the city’s legal department but instead joins the Norwalk legal team.

Meanwhile, Nieves told Hearst Connecticut City Hall is losing qualified women because they aren’t treated and valued the same as their male colleagues.

“Male leaders – and this isn’t just for our mayor – male leaders across the country feel that when women are in these kinds of positions, sometimes they’re looking for a second opinion. They don’t trust their point of view,” Nieves said. “The male perspective is the dominant perspective. … He (Ganim) values ​​them, but it’s not as valued as if it were (his male advisors/employees).

“We accept these comments as valuable feedback,” Ganim replied.

Hearst Connecticut also reached out to Janene Hawkins, executive director of Ganim who, along with chief of staff Daniel Shamas, plays a major role in overseeing all city services and mayoral initiatives. She did not answer.

A leading young Democratic activist in local and statewide politics, Vickers was hired as the city’s director of legislative affairs in March 2019. She concluded that three-year term when the 2022 session of the General Assembly in Hartford ended on Wednesday.

Besides his duties as an intermediary between local and state governments, Vickers had other responsibilities, including playing a key role in last year’s distribution of federal coronavirus relief grants to small businesses and nonprofits. lucrative Bridgeport.

“She works hard for the city and has a lot of connections in Hartford and in the city itself,” Nieves said. “He is a trusted person in the community. She has worked on many campaigns. He is a “basic” person. … It’s really a loss.

Although she did not cite being dissatisfied with working for Ganim as a reason for taking another job, Vickers, when asked to comment on her resignation so soon after White and Toms, did replied, “If women are leaving administration at a higher rate than men, especially if they are Bridgeport residents, I think the root of that would be analyzed.

“Are we elevating women to decision-making positions? Are we empowering and supporting women in their work? Are women present and actively engaged in meetings where decisions are made? says Vickers. “If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, I sincerely hope that this will be resolved intentionally and quickly. The same questions should be asked of people of color. As a predominantly black and brown community, our administration should reflect that.

Nieves and other board members recently complained that Toms’ gender, youth and ethnicity — she’s black — made her a rarity among the older white men who dominate the legal department.

Nieves, whom Ganim helped re-elect to council last year, said the mayor “needs to foster stronger relationships” between him and the women in his administration “where they feel valued for their hard work and commitment.” . She used the word ‘loyalty’ – that Ganim needs to be more trusting and supportive of female staff members and that lack of loyalty is one of the reasons for departures.

“It’s a testament to the plight of women in positions of authority and positions where their voice is supposed to be on an equal footing and it really isn’t,” she said.

She cited as examples other high-profile female members who have left in recent years – health directors Maritza Bond and Lisa Morrissey and mayoral aide Alma Maya – and also referenced the professional struggles of the current acting police chief Rebeca Garcia.

Nieves came to Garcia’s defense last winter when Ganim, facing a storm of criticism and national media attention over the police department’s handling of the untimely deaths of two black women, said he was “extremely disappointed” with the direction of the force and placed the two officers involved on paid leave while Garcia was on a scheduled vacation.

“She was continually disrespected as a woman leader and undermined,” Nieves had said, arguing that the acting chief had become a “scapegoat” for the administration’s slow response to the controversy.

Garcia, in a February letter to the police commission appointed by the mayor, wrote that an internal investigation had already been opened into the two officers in question and that she had not been “consulted” on the decision of suspend them before or during his leave.

Nieves had expressed similar sentiments about how Morrissey was being treated under Ganim when, in January 2021, Morrissey abruptly took a similar job in New Milford – less than eight months after being hired to run Bridgeport’s health department amid of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“She was not part of the political establishment and had to continually prove herself to both the board and the employees and her powers were undermined,” Nieves complained at the time. “His management style is not something the city could get used to. It’s a shame. It doesn’t look good for the mayor or the city.

White declined to comment. Morrissey did not respond to a request for comment, and Bond, who in early 2020 left the Bridgeport Health Department for New Haven and is running for Secretary of State, could not be reached by through his campaign.

Maya, however, responded and agreed with the concerns expressed by Vickers and Nieves.

“Yes, there is a problem with the fact that women are (not) treated the same as men” at Ganim town hall, Maya said.

A former city clerk, Maya helped elect Ganim in 2015 and served as co-leader of his transition team. She was hired by the mayor as a senior advisor, then became the neighborhood outreach coordinator. She eventually left City Hall and, in 2019, supported Democratic State Senator Marilyn Moore’s failed attempt to unseat Ganim.

Maya recalled the discontent she felt shortly after joining the Ganim administration. She said that although she held the title of councillor, the mayor never asked her for her opinion and she was not included in meetings.

But, Maya added, it may have been less about her gender and more about her independent side.

“I have to be honest with myself – I’m not a ‘good soldier,'” she said.

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