The headquarters of Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s gubernatorial campaign is beginning to resemble City Hall, with the announcement Monday that another former City Hall staffer will be joining the campaign.
Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 will become the mayor’s campaign manager, after his resignation in March from his position as New Haven’s economic development administrator, a position he had held for seven years. Fernandez joins Derek Slap, who in February switched from serving as the mayor’s spokesman in City Hall to become the mayor’s campaign trail spokesman.
“[Fernandez] has consistently proven he has the ability to organize and lead people around a common set of goals,” DeStefano said in a statement.
While he has never run a gubernatorial campaign, Fernandez said, he has extensive experience in grassroots organizing and “get out the vote” efforts, both in Connecticut and on the national level.
“I have done work just in all sorts of neighborhoods and communities in lots of places around the country, doing everything from polling to laying out strategies for building community support for a broad range of initiatives,” Fernandez said.
Slap said that with Fernandez’s appointment, the campaign has now solidly begun its efforts to build a strong field organization and to reach out to general Connecticut voters.
“For this campaign, the plan all along was this time of year and campaign season to bring in professional management,” Slap said. “Henry’s expanding the campaign’s reach from beyond the focus on the convention and fund raising … as it has been for the last two years.”
As economic development administrator, Fernandez oversaw the beginning phases of New Haven’s downtown redevelopment project, which includes the upcoming demolition of the New Haven Coliseum and the relocation of Gateway Community College and Long Wharf Theater to downtown. He also helped bring IKEA to the city and was responsible in part for the expansion of Tweed-New Haven Airport. His wife, Kica Matos, is executive director of Junta for Progressive Action, an antipoverty agency based in Fair Haven.
Fernandez said the campaign’s biggest challenge is going to be convincing Connecticut voters — more than 80 percent of whom approve of Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s work as governor — that DeStefano, a Democrat, would be a more effective leader.
“You have a governor that is extremely popular, but that popularity is a mile wide and an inch deep,” he said. “Our real challenge is going to be to talk to every voter in Connecticut and make sure they understand that … Connecticut can do more.”
Before a potential challenge to Rell in the general election, DeStefano will face Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy in a Democratic primary.
Shonu Gandhi ’03 will retain her position as DeStefano’s campaign director, the equivalent of deputy campaign manager, according to a statement by the campaign.