Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 announced his resignation Tuesday after nearly seven years of overseeing five city departments as New Haven’s economic development administrator.
Citing a variety of reasons for his departure from office — including his readiness to take a break from city government as well as the expected birth of a son in about seven weeks — Fernandez said he feels good about the work he has done but does not think the job is pushing him like it used to.
“I really feel like I got to the point where I don’t necessarily think I’m still learning a lot, and there are other things I want to try,” Fernandez said. “If you stay in any one sector for too long, you wind up becoming narrow in the way you look at the world, so I am hoping to get a look from a different perspective.”
Fernandez said he will probably step down within the next 30 days, and the city will advertise for a replacement beginning this weekend. Although he has no definite plans for the future, Fernandez said that he would like to work with issues of poverty on a national level. After law school, Fernandez did extensive grassroots work in New Haven before he came to office. He said this gave him a new perspective on neighborhoods and how people make a community work.
“I care deeply about issues of poverty and how we as a country try to eradicate it, and there are a lot of things that worry me about America’s social situation,” Fernandez said. “It has been great in New Haven to see people being so committed to a community.”
Under Fernandez’s leadership, New Haven’s Economic Development Administration saw the growth of retail and restaurants downtown, successful downtown marketing efforts, the expansion of Tweed New Haven Regional Airport and the expansion and development of Yale into greater New Haven. He also helped attract outside developers and brought the IKEA furniture store to New Haven, a hugely successful initiative generated entirely by private investment.
Fernandez also laid the groundwork for the current Gateway Community College and Long Wharf Theatre project, which the Board of Aldermen approved last week. Although millions of dollars in private investment are still needed for the plan to move forward, Fernandez said he is confident the city will be able to secure these funds without him, because private investment has become more common in New Haven since he began the job.
Deputy Director of Economic Development Tony Bialecki said while Fernandez was clearly responsible for spearheading the project and getting it approved, there are enough skilled project managers to continue moving the plan forward. Bialecki said Fernandez’s confidence in his staff strengthened his administration and spoke well to his strong character and education.
“Fernandez was responsible for numerous departments, and he supported the people in all those departments,” Bialecki said. “He is politically astute, reliable and able to work effectively in a lot of different areas.”
In his partnership with Mayor John DeStefano Jr., Fernandez made significant progress in developing University-community relations. During his term, New Haven enjoyed a “renaissance” driven by cooperative partnership between the University and the community, Associate Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand said.
“Fernandez embodies the spirit of public service that is a hallmark of what Yale aspires to in its graduates,” Morand said.