Fernandez Pushes Ahead With Unity Message

Henry Fernandez formally launched his mayoral campaign with an Obama-tinged “One City” appeal across race and class lines—as supporters vowed to stick by him in the face of the surprise entry of a popular new campaign opponent.

Paul Bass PhotoHundreds jammed the colorful confines of the downtown ArtSpace gallery at Crown and Orange Monday evening for Fernandez’s launch party. Fernandez is seeking the Democratic mayoral nomination in a Sept. 10 primary; he hopes to replace his former boss, Mayor John DeStefano, who’s retiring.

Hours before the event, news broke that 11-term incumbent state Sen. Toni Harp has decided to jump into the race. She is expected to have prominent elected officials, the Yale-affiliated unions whose allies dominate the local party, and leading African-Americans in town behind her. At the same time Fernandez’s party started, a group of Harp supporters gathered at Edge of the Woods to start organizing that campaign.

“That hurt me today,” said Esther Massie as she greeted guests at the door for the Fernandez campaign. Massie runs LEAP, the nationally recognized youth program that Fernandez helped found two decades ago. “I love Toni [Harp],” Massie said. But, she said, she’s sticking with Fernandez.

Others in the room said the same. They advanced an argument for choosing their candidate over Harp—that 45-year-old Fernandez represents a fresh face and a fresh approach to government.

“I wouldn’t back out of a commitment,” said Rev. Jerry Streets of the Dixwell Congregational Church, who is a former alderman, Yale chaplain and city police commissioner. Streets introduced Fernandez to the crowd Monday evening. “I am delighted to be supporting Henry. May the best candidate win. Henry has the experience at the local level as an administrator that the city needs at this point. He represents a new generation of political leadership.”

Though she stood out of earshot in a different room in the gallery, former Democratic Town Chairwoman Susan Voigt (pictured with Joshua Safran and Aaron Goode) offered the same argument: “Henry understands what it takes to be mayor of New Haven. He represents a new generation of leadership.”

In his speech to the crowd, Fernandez laid out the vision behind his “One City” slogan: New Haven is now a city where people are too often divided by income or opportunity or education, but where all groups can come together to find common cause. Click on the play arrow to the video at the top of the story to hear highlights of that pitch.

“I am running because as I looked at New Haven, I had to be honest. While I love this city, it is a city divided,” Fernandez said.

“There are many of us in this city who have the greatest education available in the world. There are others of us who attend schools that are failing our children. There are many of us in this city who have never known the tension and fear that comes with crime. There are others of us who make every decision, every day, worried about keeping ourselves and our children safe or even just alive. There are many of us in this city who are financially secure with a good job, savings for retirement and solid health insurance. There are others of us who work hard every day, yet don’t make enough to make ends meet, take care of our children or pay for basic health care.”

“We have to have the courage to both be honest about this division and to believe that we have the ability to make a change. It has been easy in our past for one part of the city to look at another part and not see the things that tie us together. We have even had politicians who have been willing to exploit the differences between us for votes or to raise money. But we don’t have to settle for any of this. We have the ability to change New Haven from a city divided into one city. We can be one city that embraces our racial diversity, and that welcomes immigrants from around the world. “

Click here to read the full speech.

That one-diverse-city theme was on display as much in the makeup of the crowd as in the words of the speech. (And in the food, which included Italian pastry from Lucibello’s, salami mini-sandwiches from Nica’s, rolls from Chabaso, fried chicken from Sandra’s, dosa from Thali Too, and noshes from Westville Kosher Market.) The crowd reflected the different constituencies with which Fernandez worked in his days at LEAP, his time as a Yale law student, his tenure as City Hall’s neighborhoods and then economic development chief, and his current work as a consultant to civil rights and immigrant-rights campaigns.

New Haven immigrant-rights activists John Lugo and Megan Fountain (left and center) were there schmoozing with John Cavaliere, who runs Westville’s Lyric Hall.

Rabbi Shmully Hecht, who runs Pike International, the busiest real-estate firm in town, said he remains as dedicated as ever to helping elect Fernandez.

Livable City Initiaitve (LCI) deputy Rafael Ramos, who worked under Fernandez, came out ...

... as did fellow LCI Deputy Frank D’Amore and demo specialist Jose Romero, shown surrounding Seila Mosquera, who runs the not-for-profit neighborhood builder Mutual Housing.

Chatham Square organizer Lee Cruz chatted with Anne Calabresi, founder of LEAP and the International Festival of Arts.

Erector Square-based artist Ann Langdon showed up with her husband Drew Days, a Yale law professor, a former solicitor general for President Bill Clinton, and a member along with Calabresi of the Proprietors of the Green.

Former state GOP Chairman Chris DePino, whose lobbying firm represents the city, made the party.

So did Shubert Executive Director John Fisher, who worked with Fernandez during his tenure as City Hall development chief.

Toad’s Place owner Brian Phelps was spotted with a Fernandez sticker on his lapel ...

... as retired attorney Jamie Cohen was seen fist-bumping immigration-rights activist Kica Matos, who’s married to the candidate.


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posted by: cedarhillresident! on April 22, 2013  9:46pm


posted by: HhE on April 22, 2013  10:38pm

Well, the big guns are out, and on the table. 

After 20 years of Destefano, it is John 2.0.

posted by: Xavier on April 22, 2013  11:42pm

Cedarhillresident, you might yawn now, but One City Henry is going to WIN. He only has to get through the primary on September 10.


It serves the democrat machine that the status quo is maintained as evidenced by the presence of Susan Voigt, Rafael Ramos, Frank D’Amore, Jose Romero, Seila Mosquera et al. A “new type/breed political leader that the city needs at this time” is like the “new and improved” branding for laundry soap. So many of these folks flourished under One City Henry’s mentor and hope to continue to do so.

Anyone who has seen One City Henry in reaction to someone who has questioned him, knows well you won’t part of One City Henry’s city. But I could be wrong, a leopard can change his spots, no?

As much as I hate to admit it, One City Henry will WIN.

posted by: David S Baker on April 23, 2013  6:58am

That’s ArtSpace, no?  When I lived at ArtSpace in Hartford they did not allow us to hang posters during a presidential election and you could not have any policy oriented gathering in the gallery because they were terrified of losing their non profit status.  How did he pull that off?

posted by: robn on April 23, 2013  7:40am

Behold; the powers that be annoit a new king.

posted by: robn on April 23, 2013  8:16am

Seriously though. Every candidate needs to buck up and start naming specifics instead of feeding us feel good pablum. Programs and community centers are great only if you can afford to pay for them (which, at this time, we can’t).Every candidate needs to face the issue of debt burden and pension underfunding.
Lets get the debates rolling.

posted by: Curious on April 23, 2013  8:55am

How does NHI come off saying that the unions are going to back anyone?  I’m IN the Yale union (Local 34) and they’re not telling us a damn thing about who they are backing.

posted by: Noteworthy on April 23, 2013  9:27am

All that is missing from Henry’s speech is a reference to a “shining city on a hill” which Mayor DeStefano bastardized from scripture several years ago.

This was Henry’s moment. I was hoping to see something in the speech that was practical, real, different, uplifting and hopeful that would add some meat to rather meaningless “one city” slogan. Sadly, Fernandez chooses the well-worn path of the last 20 years - school reform, education, college, immigrants, income and crime. He says we are divided because our individual experiences in each of these areas are different.

This is a retread campaign. The same predictable people who prospered and feasted under DeStefano, are not surprisingly, guests at this table too. They will pay dearly to stay there as Fernandez has made clear through opting out of a clean elections campaign.

But, the bottom line is that the campaign is devoid of real content - kind of like a date with a pretty girl who can’t hold a conversation. There is nothing about reform of City Hall, let alone transforming its policies and practices, the gratuitous patronage dump on the payroll or its horrendous history of human resources, risk mitigation, and long history of legal losses which it deserved from an overall lack of professionalism and maturity.

So if we are to believe all the press - Fernandez and Toni Harp are the favorite inside players. The choice is between the queen of tax and fee hikes, state spending increases and mountains of debt that dwarfs our ability to pay and adversely affects the city budget, and Fernandez who has a thin resume at the local level and big promises of a DeStefano-lite with all the same policies and dependencies on the state. Next up.

posted by: Sarah.Miller on April 23, 2013  9:33am

Of all the candidates in the race, Mr. Fernandez is the least likely to actually bridge divides. It’s easy enough to steal Obama’s rhetoric. But Fernandez is no Obama-style grassroots organizer; he is a power broker. Since leaving his post in the Mayor’s office, Fernandez has been MIA in New Haven’s neighborhoods and social change movements. He steps back in only to seize an opportunity for himself. What kind of Mayor do you want: one driven by his own ambitions and personal agenda? Or one driven by a genuine desire and demonstrated ability to bridge our divides, advance cooperation among constituencies, and make concrete progress on issues of common concern? It’s not a difficult choice. Let’s not let the political machine decide this election for us. Think JUST ELICKER.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on April 23, 2013  11:28am

Well I don’t see any different from the past Mayoral elections, same people, same supporters and I don’t mean anything “bad” whit this comment, just saying is this candidate has the same people, ideas, mentality how we are going to have a new government and better?
Well actually I take it back. I see ONE BIG difference Mr. Fernandez is talking openly about emigration and like I said before (but some locals authorities trying to denied) Obama proved it! Latino vote counts and help to win.

posted by: Xavier on April 23, 2013  12:30pm

Only if the world was so pure. The Machine wants One City Henry - kudos to Paul Bass for photographing the scene of the crime before it happens.

Holder-Winfield is reassessing his campaign because he wants to be a senator, though I doubt the Machine will concede that to him. Holder-Winfield is a nice guy, and they, like Elicker, always finish last.

One City Henry is the man who will WIN, and not because he is necessarily nice but he has the Machine behind him. The next few weeks, One City Henry will have to cinch things up with the few not on board and bring that big money to bear on New Haven.

Remember the candidate needs only to win the primary, Sept 10.

posted by: Fairhavener on April 23, 2013  12:32pm

Looks, from the photos one notes several old-guard backers, and sounds like DeStefano 2.0.

No thanks.

posted by: swatty on April 23, 2013  1:52pm

john 2.0

side note: Odd I saw Aaron Goode at another event at the same time. It’s true! He can bilocate!

posted by: P Christopher Ozyck on April 23, 2013  5:21pm

There is more that unites New Haveners than divides us.  Having diversity of experiences and reference points mixing enriches us all. I choose to live here and raise a family for this and many other reasons. It is tough at times but I am confident in brighter days for everyone in New Haven.

posted by: Wildwest on April 23, 2013  7:05pm

Xavier makes me want to vote for anyone else besides Fernandez, thanks for your comments.

posted by: HhE on April 24, 2013  12:30am

Swatty, Aaron Goode is one of those people one keeps bumping into so many places (and it is always a pleasure to talk with him).  Maybe he has cloned himself. 

Well said, P Christopher Ozyck.  My number one reason for moving to New Haven is that it is the cultural capital of the state.  I also did not wish to raise children in a all white suburb. 

Wildwest, I am thinking Xavier is a frustrated talk radio pundit.

posted by: HewNaven on April 24, 2013  7:50am

1. I wonder if some of these guests were offered talking points. Its curious that Rev. Streets and Susan Voight repeated the same phrase verbatim about Fernandez representing a “new generation of leadership.” This is a clever way of trying to distance Fernandez from the stink of DeStefano and also attempting to come to par with true reformers like Elicker and Holder-Winfield, who actually do represent a new generation of leadership.

2. The whole campaign reeks of subliminal manipulation and marketing techniques - from the choice of blue and orange colors, to the “one city” slogan, to the canned speeches, responses, and talking points. They’ve definitely done their homework studying sleazy, underhanded political tactics.

3. Rumour has it that Fernandez does not speak Spanish very well, so I’m curious why so many Latino activists were in attendance. There’s at least one other candidate (Elicker) who is fluent, and is absolutely committed to immigrant rights and interests, and does not just pay them lip service.

4. I had to laugh when Fernandez called himself a local business owner during his speech. He runs a consulting firm catering to special interests and developers who have enough money to pay him. He’s not selling produce or running a hardware store! So, “local business owner” is a real stretch. I suppose Shmully Hecht is a local business owner too (also curious that he’s so vested in Fernandez, I wonder what he’s being offered).

posted by: Claudia Herrera on April 24, 2013  10:38am

comments on 2 and 3.
2. After I read the background of Fernandez campaign manager (form a previews NHI article) I wandered immediately WHOSE Meaningful words will be.

3.Speaking the language help a great deal to communicated and understand to each other. Understand the culture is a completely different conversation. That’s WHY so many Latino activists were in attendance. I know all of the Latino activists in this article and I can tell you that ALL of them understand not only the culture but the straggles of a low income families and immigration.

I really like Justin but I don’t think he’s committed to immigrants, he’s learning that Latinos starting having a real matter in the political field. Justin is a great neighbor, activist and educated man (I will talk to him about this subject). I’m also know Rev.  Streets he’s one of the most positive people I know and smart man. I do not have him as man who let him be manipulated easy.

What I wander more is, are truly a New Haven resident who cares? or some of Justin’s campaign? I’m asking because your points of view seem to be well articulate.

PD: I still undecided to support my candidate, there so many now that I fill like a child with a new toy every week.

posted by: HewNaven on April 24, 2013  6:31pm


I won’t apologize for being articulate. I wish more commenters would clearly articulate their thoughts, and write coherent messages, perhaps even have someone proofread for them before they click Submit. It would make this forum for community discussion even more effective than it already is.

Also, I have lived in New Haven for almost 10 years. We’ve actually met before. However, I’d prefer to remain anonymous while commenting on this site. I’ve taken the advice of Oscar Wilde:

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

Finally, I don’t work for Elicker, but I probably will vote for him. Sorry if I come across as a cheerleader or campaign staffer. To me its really exciting to see someone running for Mayor who actually cares about democracy and making local government more transparent and responsive to citizens, so maybe I get carried away. At the same time its troubling to see a candidate like Fernandez trying to buy his way into City Hall with a flashy campaign full of marketing techniques. That gets me out of my seat as well. So there you have it. If you get me excited about something I will have to articulate my thoughts clearly!

posted by: Claudia Herrera on April 24, 2013  9:56pm

Hew Have
Actually please do not change a bit about delivering your message with clarity and meaningful thoughts. I agreed with you that many don’t take the time to hear their own voices, some got to busy screaming their thoughts so loud that it is hard to even understand their own point of views. I’m also appreciated to this kind of community engagement and I’m sure NIH is doing as they can by monitoring some comments, in some occasions, I got the feeling that if it wasn’t for that some anonymous commenters, would slap you to your face with nick names or bulling.

About, democracy in our local government with more transparency. For me is like a knife with two sharp ends when become to choose a qualified person to be our new mayor. What it bother me is that some smart people blind them selves by the friendship they have with their candidate and loose focus of how important is to vote for a qualify person to be in charge and handle with integrity (if we can have that much in a politician) to manege with efficiency the high pressure to make important decisions that will affecting us in our daily lives.

Vote for your fiend is like “buy the sit to The City Hall”.POWER over the person is more efficient than money.For last I think your name start with “M” :-)

posted by: HewNaven on April 25, 2013  8:14am


I don’t know any of the candidates personally, so I would never call any one of them my friend. Why did you assume that?

And, no, my name does not start with an M. I’ll allow 25 more guesses, but I’m sure you have better things to do.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on April 25, 2013  9:49am

I did to trow the stone to you about the blind-friendship. I was shearing what’s “get ME out of the chair “. 
My mother use to tell me and remind me constantly; The ignorant is not blame for his ignorance, because he can not teach what he doesn’t know and respond with his rational thoughts. But if he has been and educated person making wrong decision in that case that is his nature.
Any way, I’m looking forward to attend to the mayor’s debates! I have a lot of homework to do until September! And give up about your secret identity :-)