In April, when the Vermont Democratic Party hired Claire Cummings as its executive director, many an eyebrow was raised. Not that any of us knew beans about Cummings or could render informed judgment on her qualifications, but we did know two facts: She was very young, and she hadn’t been in Vermont politics very long. Less than a year, in fact.
The track record of parachuted political talent is pretty dismal. You’re far more likely to succeed if you have some experience of Vermont politics and the tangled thickets of the VDP. Still, she got the gig, so maybe she was the best one.
But from what I know now, her hiring seems even more of a stretch. There were at least two finalists for the job with much longer resumes and greater political accomplishments, and with far deeper experience in Vermont and party politics. I did not hear about this from either of them, but from a bunch of folks associated with the party. Who, presumably, are dissatisfied with the hire or they wouldn’t be spilling the beans.
I won’t name the two, because they’ve gotten on with their lives and they didn’t leak the news. But rest assured, their qualifications are rock solid.
I have no knowledge of Cummings’ personal qualities or her performance on the job so far. But the VDP is a dysfunctional snakepit. Or, as an exiting staffer said last winter, the party suffers from a “toxic environment” and “a lack of willingness… to address systemic issues.” It will take a strong hand to whip this organization into shape. And it’s difficult to wield a strong hand when you’re usually the youngest person in the room and you aren’t familiar with the powers and principalities of the party.
If you want a sense of how difficult this job is, Cummings is the fourth person to hold the job since 2018. (The party has also had four chairs since 2017. Not great.)
Add to that, the fact that the party offices dwindled to a single person after the 2018 campaign cycle. And that person took advantage of his sole occupancy to give himself a raise, reimburse himself for questionable expenses, and cut himself checks for a total of $18,000. His misdeeds went undetected for months. That alone should have triggered a massive reform and reorganization. Instead, party leaders did their best to pretend it never happened.
Are these people likely to listen to a young woman who only recently arrived on the scene? I fear that she got the job because she can safely be ignored. Other finalists would have been more of a threat. They would have known where the bodies were buried, which people weren’t up to their tasks, and what needs to be done to revivify the party. It’s quite possible that Cummings was seen as something of a patsy, which would be a real shame for her and a black mark on the souls of those in power.
Again, it’s possible that Cummings will prove more formidable than expected. It wouldn’t be the first time a smart young woman was underestimated by older men. But honestly, I’ll be surprised if she makes the two-year mark. That’s nothing against her; it’s simply the established track record of the Vermont Democratic Party.
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.
Seldom has Will Rogers seemed so relevant.