Soon after Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 announced his candidacy, I had the opportunity to speak with him about his vision for the city. This conversation led me to believe that he was the right man for the job. When I asked Henry what he thought was the most important issue facing New Haven? He answered, “Crime.”
This response is not as simple as it seems. Fernandez elaborated that to reduce crime, New Haven must not only deepen its commitment to community policing, but also foster a belief in the legitimacy of its police force through every interaction between an officer and a resident. Public safety is also created by ensuring that our youth attend good schools and always have a safe place to go after school and in the summer. And safer streets will attract businesses, and with them taxpayers, growing New Haven’s corporate tax base, while providing high paying jobs for residents of New Haven. This vision is One City. When one part of the city improves, we all improve, but when one part of the city fails, we all fail. In order for New Haven to improve, the next mayor will have to make improvements in every neighborhood.
As One City, we must transcend living in different neighborhoods, the town/gown divide and the power held by special interest groups. For years, politicians in New Haven have pitted neighborhoods and neighbors against each other, to the detriment of us all. Fernandez instead sees the city as a unified whole that must band together to reach its full potential.
Being a mayor is not only about vision. After I spent time researching Henry’s background, I decided to spend my summer working to elect him as our next Mayor. Henry has the experience as an effective, and progressive, leader on the issues that most affect New Haven.
As a 22-year-old Yale Law School student, Henry cofounded the youth mentoring agency LEAP. He served as its executive director for its first 7 years, growing it to become the largest youth agency and employer of youth in New Haven. When the FBI raided City Hall in 1998, Henry was brought in to clean up the corruption plaguing the Livable City Initiative and Housing Department.
Due to his success, Henry became the city’s Economic Development Administrator. He led the city’s efforts to bring Ikea to Long Wharf and Gateway Community College to Downtown. In addition to bringing jobs and education to New Haven, Henry directed a program to build over 300 affordable homes for first time homebuyers in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Because of Henry’s success as a progressive leader, he was asked to serve on the Obama-Biden transition team in 2008 to develop housing policy for the nation at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Additionally, he serves as a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, working extensively on policies relating to education, criminal justice and community development.
Today, he lives in Fair Haven with his wife Kica Matos, Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change, and their son Henry, 8, who attends a New Haven public school. When he talks about the issues facing our school system, they are not abstract, but rather affect his family on a daily basis. Henry currently runs a small business, Fernandez Advisors, working with the NAACP to register voters, creating the strategy to abolish the death penalty in Maryland, and developing programs with school superintendents to improve public schools across the country.
Over the past few years, I have spent many afternoons mentoring young men at James Hillhouse High School. I see the potential for these teenagers to make a difference in their communities and on the world; however, I also see that the barriers these young men face on a daily basis in their attempts to better their futures. In order for these young men to succeed it is imperative that we elect a mayor who can improve our entire city, and who can begin to do so on day one.
On the campaign trail this summer, I have seen Henry’s inspiring commitment to New Haven and its residents in action. I believe in Henry as Mayor because Henry believes in the future of New Haven. I encourage you to join me as One City, and ensure that New Haven moves to fulfill its potential by voting on Sept. 10 for Henry Fernandez as your next Mayor.
Kadeem Yearwood is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.