News Column

Henry Fernandez Reflects on New Haven Mayoral Race

September 13, 2013

Henry Fernandez, after coming in third in the Democratic mayoral primary, is taking a break before getting back to his consulting business, but not before some reflection on the race.

The former economic development administrator in the city pulled in 2,782 votes to 3,417 for Alderman Justin Elicker, 1,195 for Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina and 7,327 for state Sen. Toni Harp, who won 23 of the city's 30 wards with just under 50 percent of the vote.

Fernandez and Carolina are out, after deciding not to take advantage of having secured a place on the general ballot as independents.

"I lost. These folks fundamentally deserve a runoff as the top two candidates," Fernandez said.

The job of the candidates now will be to fight it out for Fernandez's votes, while Carolina decides whether to throw his support to either Elicker or Harp or stay out of it, a decision he announces on Monday.

Fernandez's advice to Elicker is to broaden his base and he offered a mixed critique of both their campaigns.

Broadly, Harp won the heavily African-American neighborhoods, but also the Latino and more diverse neighborhoods around the city in Fair Haven, Quinnipiac Meadows, the Annex and Wooster Square, while also winning Ward 26 where she lives in Westville and splitting with Fernandez and Elicker in Westville's Ward 25, which had the highest turnout.

Elicker took the Yale ward (1), downtown (7), East Rock (9, 10 and 19), Morris Cove (18) and edged out a win in Westville's Ward 25, considered white wards.

"This is a very diverse city and he hasn't addressed the issues that impact a broad range of people. He hasn't impacted poverty in any significant way," Fernandez said of the 75 solutions offered by Elicker in his policy-driven campaign.

But Elicker said his voting record on the city budget shows his support for programs that address poverty, and beyond that "if you ask my constituents in Cedar Hill I have effectively addressed their problems from the abuse at a rooming house, to improving economic development, to installing a playground and working with merchants."

He said he has a track record dedicated to the issues of poverty and can articulate the problems and said Harp doesn't.

Fernandez said New Haven is racially divided, and it is an issue that has to be addressed. "Race matters in this city," he said.

"It is unfortunate that race plays a significant role, but it doesn't necessarily mean that people only vote based on race, of course," Elicker said.

The candidate said, "I have met with many leaders in the black community and I consistently hear that people are quietly supporting me, but it is difficult for a black leader not to (publicly) support a black candidate."

Fernandez was sharper in his critique of Harp, who as front-runner was the target of the three other contenders in months leading up to Tuesday's Democratic primary.

"She has real issues she has to address to the voters, which goes to her support from the organized political machine that's really squelched dissent in the city and raised issues like jobs and youth programs, but didn't move that agenda at all," Fernandez said.

He accused the Yale union-backed coalition of "silencing dissent. I don't think that is healthy for the party and it is particularly not healthy for the city. The aldermen are afraid of expressing dissent for fear they will be primaried," Fernandez charged.

"She will have to explain before November how the labor coalition organized for her did things like the field organization and paid for campaign literature. It raises serious questions about what she is going to do when she becomes mayor," Fernandez said of the almost $50,000 in labor donations that came to Harp and aldermen she supported.

Jason Bartlett, campaign manager for Harp, said "Toni Harp makes no apologies for her labor supporters."


He said what people have to keep in mind is that when Harp worked for the city, she helped form one of the city unions.

Bartlett said Harp has always believed labor helps grow the middle class.

Bartlett said her campaign would welcome an opportunity to sit down with Fernandez to convince him Harp represents a broad base in the city across racial and ethnic lines and geography.

"She isn't beholden to anyone. We are looking for a mandate to make the hard decisions" that will be required of a mayor, he said. Bartlett said she has already made them in cutting $6 billion from the state budget in the last few years.

Fernandez gave Harp and Elicker credit for successful legislative careers where they were able to build a block of supporters.


(c)2013 New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

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Original headline: Fernandez is out but reflects on New Haven mayoral race

Source: (c)2013 New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

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