Henry Fernandez LAW ’94, CEO of the consulting firm Fernandez Advisors — a group that provides support for nonprofits and progressive movements nationwide — will soon be joining the race to replace current Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
Fernandez, a former economic development administrator for the city and the co-founder of LEAP, a youth agency in New Haven, told the News that he has a vision for New Haven as “one city,” and that the Elm City has potential in its diversity, the entrepreneurship of its immigrant communities and its various college campuses. Fernandez’s entry into the mayoral race comes as probate Judge Jack Keyes discussed his potential candidacy and Hillhouse High School principal Kermit Carolina is set to announce his plans with regards to the race, adding to a field that is growing increasingly crowded.
“It’s no question that I’m proven as someone who knows how to effectively run city government, but I think that what I really believe is that we do function best as one city, where we all believe that other people’s success is our success,” Fernandez said. “I’d like to think that this campaign will be about weaving the city together and making sure everyone’s voice is heard.”
Bruce Ditman, Fernandez’s campaign treasurer, said that Fernandez has an “excellent track record” that not everybody has, and that Fernandez’s “one city” campaign demonstrates his ability to formulate a vision for the city.
Fernandez said that he has worked on a variety of projects in New Haven, such as bringing Gateway Community College to downtown and Ikea to Long Wharf, turning around the Shubert Theatre after it became insolvent, growing business districts and increasing owner-occupied houses in various neighborhoods throughout the city.
Esther Massie, the current executive director of LEAP, said that she “knew Fernandez was going to run for mayor someday” when she first met him. Fernandez was the executive director for seven years and Massie’s superior when she first joined the organization.
Massie, who called Fernandez an “incredibly smart, savvy and intelligent man,” said that he is unique as a candidate because of his ability to manage people while forming and executing a vision.
“Henry clearly had a vision for LEAP and created the organization in such a way that we have been able to be around for 21 years,” Massie said. “He has a great ability to manage individuals, departments, strategic plans and outcomes. He’s charismatic and in his various roles over the last 20 years, he has been able to interact with and connect with a variety of types of people.”
Unlike current candidates Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 and state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, Fernandez said that while he supports the Democracy Fund — New Haven’s public campaign finance program for mayoral candidates — he will not use it for the election because the five months until the election is not enough time for him to use the system effectively. In order to have sufficient time to fundraise through the Democracy Fund, Fernandez said he would have needed to make the decision to run about a year before the election.
But the Democracy Fund’s administrator, Ken Krayeske, said that the public has expressed a desire to see candidates use the Democracy Fund and that the Fund expects all candidates to participate in public campaign finance in the future. Krayeske said he does not fully agree with Fernandez’s reasoning, given the Democracy Fund’s funding timeline.
“My thought on that is we haven’t even given Justin Elicker his money yet: The date for disbursing of funds is April 1,” Krayeske said. “Maybe his perception of time could be different. I don’t know.”
Fernandez also said that he thinks the new New Haven Public Schools superintendent, who will serve after current superintendent Reginald Mayo, should not be named until after the mayoral election is decided. He said he believes that it is crucial for the new mayor and the superintendent to have a good relationship, and naming a superintendent now without knowing who the next mayor is could not guarantee that relationship. Additionally, he argued that some high-quality candidates would not be willing to take the position if they did not know which mayor they would be working with, and he expressed concern that concluding the process before the new mayor is elected could deter some potential candidates from considering the job.
However, Abbe Smith, communications director for NHPS, said that the Board of Education has previously said that they want to name a new superintendent by the time Mayo retires on June 30.
“The Board of Ed said they want to have a new superintendent named [by June 30] … because we really don’t want to lose the momentum we have right now with School Change and improvements that are happening in our schools,” Smith said. “We want to have continued leadership.”
DeStefano, who announced earlier this year he will not run for an 11th term, has sat in the mayor’s seat for nearly two decades.
Clarification: March 28
A previous version of this article stated that Ken Krayeske said that the Fund expects all candidates to participate in public campaign finance. Krayeske was not commenting on this year’s race specifically, but on the Fund’s expectation for the future.