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A polarizing Polaroid moment
Fort Wayne Reader
The above photo might just turn out to be the strangest memento of perhaps the strangest mayoral race in Fort Wayne history.
No sooner than Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters announced his candidacy for mayor, nearly two dozen Republican elected officials endorsed him. But they didn’t stop at mere words. Nearly all of them posed for a photo that Peters later used in his GOP primary campaign - a campaign that lost to underdog Matt Kelty. Now, it’s not just the elephant who never forgets. For some of Kelty’s most ardent supporters, that photo is a simmering, visual reminder of the Republicans who didn’t back their guy.
If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, Allen County Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine used just the right quantity of verbiage to profess the local GOP’s unqualified support of Kelty. In a statement recently posted to the party’s website (www.allencountygop.com), Shine devotes 1,032 words to professing his party’s unqualified backing. The statement is a slightly expanded version of a column published July 27, 2007 by The Journal Gazette.
“All political parties at some point suffer from a schism caused by a primary where two or more eminently qualified candidates seek the party’s nomination,” Shine explains. “This obviously leaves some of the party’s membership with bruised feelings. To that end, I am deeply respectful of those people who have yet to come on board...”
And there’s the rub. Of all the current GOP office-holders pictured in the Peters’ photo, only U.S. Rep. Mark Souder and Peters himself have actually endorsed Kelty. With a grand jury expected to convene August 6th to examine Kelty’s campaign finance reporting, some Republicans claim they’re waiting for the outcome of that probe.
However, other GOP office holders say the Kelty Camp hasn’t asked for an endorsement. Privately, some complain that they’ve been made to feel that their input is not welcome. They feel that they’ve been branded as part of “The Establishment” by a campaign that won on an anti-establishment theme.
And, let’s face it. Kelty won despite landing comparatively few endorsements or contributions from GOP heavyweights. Although Kelty enthusiastically accepted Rep. Souder’s endorsement for the general election, Souder’s backing should have been more valuable in the GOP primary. Or not - since Kelty won the primary without Souder’s blessing.
While Matt Kelty now focuses on the grand jury probe, as well as on winning a general election against Democrat Tom Henry, Steve Shine remains focused on promoting picture-perfect unity within the Allen County GOP. The Peters snapshot isn’t helping.
“...Perception is not reality – this photo was not a party endorsement,” Shine writes, adding that the party, as a policy, doesn’t endorse one GOP candidate over another GOP candidate in a primary. “Rather, these individuals chose on their own to endorse a superb candidate, Nelson Peters.”
The statement closes with references to the ongoing campaign finance flap, in which Kelty is accused of improperly reporting more than $150,000 in campaign loans that he initially claimed came out of his own pocket but later revealed to have come from two campaign donors - revelations resulting, ironically, from questions raised by Shine himself.
“Matt’s detractors clearly hope to beat him in a courtroom, because they know they cannot beat him on the issues in November,” Shine boasts. He accuses Democrats of spending the summer attacking Kelty on the issue even though Democratic mayoral candidate Tom Henry has been oddly silent on the matter.
However, the outcome of the grand jury probe could fuel far more turmoil within the local GOP than without. If Kelty is indicted, already reticent Republicans might continue to hold Kelty at arm’s length. However, the more important question might be - if Kelty is cleared, can the party convince GOP officials to finally have a Polaroid moment with him?