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October 29, 2012

Gekas Says She's Been Offered a Job by Public Employee Union

GekasElection Day is still a week away, but Cassandra Gekas says she has already lined up a new job if her bid for lieutenant governor falls short.

The Progressive and Democratic candidate said Monday she's been offered a job as legislative coordinator — or chief lobbyist — for the Vermont State Employees Association, which represents 5200 state workers.

"I've had an interview with them and they've said they want to bring me on, so now it's sitting there until after the election," Gekas said.

Gekas said she reached out to VSEA executive director Mark Mitchell last week upon learning that the union was hiring. During a job interview last Thursday, according to Gekas, "He said it's yours if you want it."

She added, "I don't know what their processes are like, but I can't do anything official because I want to see where the race turns out. That's where my energies are focused."

Mitchell would neither confirm nor explicitly deny that he'd offered Gekas the job, though he did say, "We don't have a formal arrangement for her to come aboard."

Rather, he said, the union is concentrating on making sure she wins her race.

"We're working for Cassandra to be elected to the lieutenant governor's office 150 percent over here — and that's what we're focused on," he said. "Obviously if she's not successful, a lot of organizations would be more than happy to have her onboard. She's really proved herself as a candidate and has done such a respectable job. We've been very impressed, but there's nothing formal with regard to that on our end."

Asked if he was denying that he'd interviewed Gekas for the job last Thursday, Mitchell said, "I've talked to her about our organization, but we haven't posted the position I believe you're referring to beyond our internal staff."

Asked point blank whether his responses meant he was denying having offered Gekas a job, Mitchell said, "It means I'm not going to answer that question. We haven't specifically— we're expecting her to be elected lieutenant governor."

Gekas, meanwhile, said she remains entirely focused on her campaign against incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. And if she wins the race, she said, she'll turn down the VSEA job.

"I really want to respect what I'm doing now and want to put all my energies toward it," she said. "I feel really strongly going into the final week... but I'm not independently wealthy."

Gekas has been jobless since June, when she was allegedly fired by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group for her decision to run for public office. She has said throughout the campaign that she is struggling to support herself while running for lieutenant governor, remarking during a Vermont Public Radio debate last week that she is going without health insurance for the time being.

"I've done a lot of sacrificing to be on the campaign trail," she said Monday. "I can't afford to be jobless post-campaign. For me, this is a practical matter. And for me, I'm still working 100 percent on the campaign, but I had to be sure I was having some conversations."

Gekas, who worked as a health care lobbyist for VPIRG, was endorsed by the VSEA last month. Shortly thereafter, she held a press conference with VSEA representatives at the site of the Waterbury State Office Complex advocating for the state to quickly rebuild the facility, which was badly damaged by Tropical Storm Irene. Joining her at the press conference were VSEA president John Reese and legislative coordinator Connor Casey, who has since left the organization and whose job she has allegedly been promised.

As Seven Days reported last month, the VSEA recently faced an employee exodus, losing six of 19 staff members within five weeks. Several of those departing employees told Seven Days they were leaving because they disagreed with the management style of Mitchell, who was brought on to lead the organization late last year. Mitchell's supporters have said he is simply working to strengthen the union.

Gekas said she does not believe that her application for a job at an interest group represents a conflict of interest.

"If I was elected, I don't know what I would owe them. I mean, yeah, they offered me a job, but they offered me a job because I'm a friend of labor," she said. "It wouldn't make me further indebted to them in any way, shape or form. That's just not the way I operate."

Gekas says that no matter what happens come Election Day, she feels her run has put her "on the political radar."

"I really want to be a leader in Vermont, and I've accomplished a lot in this race regardless of the outcome," she said. "I feel a lot of doors will continue to open."

File photo of Cassandra Gekas by Matthew Thorsen.

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