After Sen. Toni Hart shook up the field as New Haven’s sixth mayoral contender to announce her candidacy, Henry Fernandez LAW ’94, former city economic development administrator, emphasized affordable housing and education reform in his campaign launch event Monday evening.
Fernandez addressed a crowd of about 100 New Haven residents, including members of immigrants rights advocacy groups, Board of Aldermen members and business leaders, gathered in Orange Street’s Art Space gallery. The diverse audience was reflective of Fernandez’s “One City” campaign goal to bridge socioeconomic and racial divides in New Haven. The former director of New Haven-based LEAP — an academic and social enrichment program for children and youth — advocated embracing community policing to make Elm City streets safer and implementing transparent school report cards that would make public school evaluations easily accessible to parents.
“We can be one city that says that a high-quality education is the right of every child,” said Fernandez, who has an eight-year-old son in the New Haven public school system. “We can together … tackle the root causes of crime, ensuring that that our children have safe, high-quality community centers in every neighborhood.”
Besides outlining policy objectives to undecided voters, Fernandez and his staff used the event to address criticism that his campaign lacks financial transparency. Fernandez opted not to participate in New Haven’s Democracy Fund, the city’s voluntary public-financing system for mayoral campaigns — funding that candidates Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 and State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield have embraced. Fernandez’s campaign manager Jim Doumas defended Fernadez’s decision to finance his campaign privately by claiming that the candidate would have fallen behind in fundraising had he used the Democracy Fund because his March entry into the race was comparatively late.
East Haven resident Andrew DePino, who previously lived and worked in the Elm City, said Fernandez’s lack of political connections within the city is refreshing and noted that he identifies well with minority voters.
“You have to have that support to get elected in this city,” DePino said, estimating that about a third of the crowd consisted of minorities.
William Placke, president of New Haven-based Start Bank, cited Fernandez’s teamwork with his wife Kica Matos, executive director of immigrant rights advocacy group Junta for Progressive Action, as a potentially positive influence on the mayorship, particularly in facilitating Fernandez’s “One City.”
Both Fernandez and Matos have helped shape the city’s immigration policies. Fernandez, who said he hopes to make the city welcoming to immigrants, pushed for the passage of Connecticut’s DREAM Act, which allocated funds for in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. Matos led advocacy efforts for the Elm City Resident Card — which provides all residents with a tool to access basic public amenities regardless of immigration status — as Junta’s director and as the New Haven community services administrator.
“I know we can count on [Fernandez] to protect immigrants rights,” said Megan Fountain, an organizer for New Haven-based immigrant rights advocacy group Unidad Latina en Accion.
Fernandez is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, focusing on civil rights, as well as the director of New Haven’s Livable City Initiative, which seeks to enhance the experience of the individuals who live and work in the city through housing programs and economic development.