The tide may be turning for Latinos seeking political office in New Haven. Members of the city’s Latino community have stepped forward and have become significant players in the upcoming November municipal elections.
Henry Fernandez is eyeing a Democratic nomination for mayor, while Sergio Rodriguez has entered the race to be the city’s first Latino City Clerk. Both agreed that New Haven needs more political involvement from its Latino residents.
Fernandez is one of seven candidates vying for the mayor’s seat that John Destefano will leave behind after serving 10 terms since 1994. He will be up against Justin Elicker, Gary Holder-Winfield, Sundiata Keitazulu, Toni Harp, Matthew Nemerson and Kermit Carolina.
Rodriguez, a Democratic five-term alderman for the 26th Ward, will face off against Ronald Smith for the city clerk position. He is also running to represent the 26th Ward against Darryl Brackeen Jr.
New Haven is following state-wide and national trends, which have seen a significant increase in Latinos vying for political positions. In last year’s state races, several Latino legislative candidates were Latino, and equally significant, Latino voter registration increased as well. Latino registration made up nine percent of the state’s electorate, according to the Secretary of the State’s Office.
Fernandez’s mayoral campaign aims to bring the city together; his theme is aptly named “One City.” Most notably, he seeks to level the playing field for all of New Haven’s younger residents.
“I really became concerned about the limitations [New Haven students] face.”
“[New Haven] has been divided along economic lines,” he said, adding that all residents have been not been given equal opportunities too succeed.
When the schools improve, the whole city benefits, he said. The same is true when crime is reduced. “Together we can tackle these significant challenges,” he said.
Fernandez, a graduate of both Harvard College and Yale Law School, has lived in New Haven for 23 years and has an eight-year-old son, Henry, who attends public school. He and his family live in the Fair Haven section of the city.
As the city’s economic development administrator, he lead the effort to move Gateway Community College downtown and to bring Ikea to Long Wharf, among other projects. In his role as CEO of Fernandez Advisors LLC, he oversees strategic and management support for nonprofits, progressive causes and movements across the country. He also co-founded the youth agency LEAP and served as its executive director for seven years. LEAP trains and employs college and high school students to be mentors and tutors for younger children in New Haven.
Rodriguez said he wants to hold the city clerk title to help New Haven better serve its residents through by opening the lines of communication.
“I see it as more than a job,” he said, noting that he was an alderman in a primarily non-Latino ward.
adding that for many people the City Clerk’s office is their entry point to city government.
As clerk, Rodriguez said he wants to be an advocate for the people of New Have, since the City Clerk’s office is often most residents’ entry point to city government.
“I think that position needs to be more connected with the public,” he said. “It’s a critical issue to elevate that position.”
Leadership positions are where he thrives, he said, referencing his time on the Board of Aldermen and serving as deputy majority leader, chairman of the finance committee and president pro-tempore.
He was also elected for a two-year term on the National League of Cities board of directors. He was the immediate past president of the National League of Cities Hispanic Elected Local Officials constituency group after two years as its president.
Along with his leadership positions, Rodriguez has worked to better the lives of children without stable home lives.
He and his wife, Randi, were licensed foster and adoptive parents for 10 years and co-founded ‘R Kids, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides supervised visitation and reunification services for children and families in the state child welfare system.
Both candidates said they think that getting Latinos involved politically is critical to gaining a stronger voice in the city.
“We saw that in the election of President Obama,” Fernandez said. “We should make sure that the Latino electorate is fought for.”
With more Latinos running for office and voting in all levels of elections, the Latino influence has had an undeniable impact, including the last presidential election. According to the Pew Research Hispanic Center, Latinos voted for President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney 71 percent to 27 percent.
Fernandez added that candidates should have a history of fighting for the Latino vote, not just taking it for granted.
Along the same vein, Rodriguez said he would like to see Latinos become more involved politically and become active voices within the city.