Mayor Caroline Simmons has the perfect backdrop for Zoom calls. Behind her desk at Stamford Government Center is a view of the city’s changing skyline. To the left is a distinctive cylinder of one of the St. John’s Towers, affordable housing units completed in 1971. To her right is The Smyth, a 15-story, 414-unit structure that will replace one of the three cylindrical buildings that made up the St. John Towers She’s also flanked by both the American flag and that of the city.
Though her tenure as mayor has only just begun — she narrowly beat former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine, Page ?, for the job — Simmons already embodies the bridge between past and future visible from her office window. She is Stamford’s first female mayor, marking a new chapter in the city’s 381-year history, and her platform and messaging center on preparing the city for the years ahead.
“This week we are continuing to focus on our top priorities as an administration, including improving our infrastructure, making Stamford more affordable, supporting education, making our city more responsive and bolstering economic prosperity,” Simmons said when asked how her week had gone.
With energy beyond what most people can summon on the Friday before Presidents’ Day weekend, she went on to describe a full week of trying to deliver on campaign promises.
She sat down with representatives from a company that might bring 250 new jobs to the city. She also visited the NBC Sports headquarters, alongside Gov. Ned Lamont, to learn more how the Peacock Network was able to mobilize more than 1,500 employees to provide some 2,800 hours of coverage, mainly virtual, of the controversial Beijing Winter Olympics (Feb. 4-20). She oversaw the formulation of plans for how to use the city’s share of $6 billion in federal spending on infrastructure across the state, studied property tax rebates for seniors and did it all while staying on top of the latest Covid statistics as she decided what to do about masks in schools. (The mandate ends March 15.)
And that was just her professional life.
William Charles Linares — the third of her three sons with husband Art Linares, a Republican former Connecticut State Senator — was born Jan. 26 at 10:13 a.m. at Stamford Hospital, weighing in at 7 pounds, 5 ounces. Waiting for them were big brothers Teddy, 3, and Jack, 1. They keep her busy but proud.
“It’s definitely a juggle,” she said with a wry smile, “having a new baby and two toddler boys who want all the attention they can get from their parents. It’s such a cute stage, too, so we’re really working on making sure we get quality time with the kids.
“But it’s also such an important time for our city,” she added. “So many people are in need and there’s so much opportunity now that I really feel a sense of urgency to try to do everything I can to serve our constituents in Stamford and take advantage of this really important moment in the city.”
Simmons credits her team for making the preceding weeks successful. She said that while her house is a complete mess with diapers everywhere, she didn’t worry about the state of the city. She was confident that by leveraging the now ubiquitous technology, keeping everybody in the loop, she could stay in touch with her talented team to keep moving forward.
More than just a challenge to overcome, Simmons said she finds it valuable to engage with the balancing act.
“I think it helps give me perspective,” she said. “Just being a mom in the city when there are thousands of working moms and parents who are doing this every day, it’s helpful to bring that mindset to this office and think about families in need and how we can make our city work better for them.”
Simmons was quick to note how rare the perspective she brings to the table is on a national scale: “You see a lack of female executives in these roles. If you look at the numbers nationwide, only 19% of mayors are female.”
Simmons said the doubts she faced from others about her capacity to do the job as a younger woman was one of the largest challenges she faced during her campaign. While some may have cast Simmons as young compared to opponent Valentine, she has had significantly more political experience, having worked in government since 2008. She served on Barack Obama’s Presidential Transition Team before winding up at the Department of Homeland Security as the director of special projects in the counterterrorism coordinator’s office. Her first run for office was to become representative for Connecticut’s 144th District in 2014 when she unseated a Republican incumbent and successfully defended the seat for three more terms. (She also met her husband, who represented the 33rd District, at that time. Though they are members of two different parties, theirs is a strictly and refreshingly bipartisan union, with each happy to gain a perspective on the other’s ideas.)
Running for mayor of Stamford was arguably a considerable narrowing of her focus. But Simmons views this as an opportunity to have an effect that she can see.
“I loved my time in Washington,” she said. “But I think sometimes you’re sitting in a cubicle at a big bureaucratic government agency so removed from what’s happening on the ground….It may be incredible, exciting work…but to be here locally in my own community, where I’m raising my family, is really rewarding.
“The pandemic really shed light on the importance of cities and the roles they have in people’s lives whether it’s responding to a pandemic or mitigating the effects of climate change or simply improving people’s day-to-day quality of life. I think that this job has probably been the most rewarding so far, just because of the local impact and direct touch you can have.
“But,” she added, “I certainly would be open to in the future broadening the scope, while continuing to serve constituents in some capacity.”
For more, visit stamfordct.gov.