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Best & Worst of 2007
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Our opinionated and highly arbitrary rundown of things we liked and didn’t like in 2007 reflects nothing more than the fact that we spent a lot of time thinking and talking about these things in FWR Towers this year. A lot of them have to do with local politics, and why not — it was a good year for it.
And here’s a secret: the real reason the media loves year-end wrap ups and lists is that all the sources for real stories are usually on vacation in late December.
Mayoral Race/Election Year
When Graham Richard announced he would not seek a third term as mayor, no one could have predicted the contest that followed to be so… interesting. After all, it was an open secret that Richard’s successor would be Republican county commissioner Nelson Peters. The two had shared a close working relationship that left some in the Democratic Party a little perturbed, and when Peters got around to announcing his candidacy, he did so in a press conference packed with G.O.P. heavy hitters. A sizeable flock of Republican officials also lent their endorsement to Peters campaign. Though three other candidates were also campaigning for the Republican nomination for mayor, Peters looked like he had the nomination, and the office, wrapped up.
We all know what happened next. Architect Matt Kelty won the primary, initially leading to exhortations of qualified public support from Republican officials (“no, really, Matt’s our guy. Couldn’t be more thrilled. Seriously…”) for a self-styled outsider who, in his campaign, had made little secret of his unhappiness at the direction the political establishment of either party was taking Fort Wayne. That didn’t last, and Republican party friction intensified as questions were raised about Kelty’s campaign finances, an investigation that eventually lead to Kelty being indicted by a grand jury on nine counts.
Speculation was rampant — the charges were the result of the G.O.P. establishment trying to sabotage the outsider who crashed their party; the Democrats were trying to destroy the Republicans’ chance at the mayor’s office; it was a hit job by the media… the prosecutor’s office… the Joker… Chancellor Palpatine…
And then there was the city council race, with two of the nine members declining to seek another term. Throw in a populace riled up by the smoking ban and Harrison Square, and a strong showing by the Allen County Libertarians, and it all added up to an election year that was more exciting that it was supposed to have been. Sure, in the end it all turned out pretty much like everyone thought it would: Democrat Tom Henry easily won the mayor’s seat, and though the changes on city council were significant, they were hardly seismic. But it was fun getting there.
That said, you’d think more of that cranky populace would have shown up at the polls…
G.O.P. meltdown/Democratic thumb-twiddling
Say what you will about Allen County Republican Party Chair Steve Shine, but the man has run a pretty tight ship since he took the position in 1993. Fort Wayne and Allen County government hardly lack for Republican office holders (Maye Johnson is the lone democrat on Allen County council), and it certainly looked as though 2007 was going to be the Republicans’ year to nab the mayor’s seat, too. But the Republicans’ seeming inability to coalesce behind primary winner Matt Kelty had the usually collected Shine scrambling for control of his party. That “tight ship” began to resemble the Titanic, and Shine was the captain assuring the worried crowd that they were just stopping momentarily to restock the freezers.
Shine himself defended Kelty and pledged his support in an extensive letter on the Allen County G.O.P.’s web page. Representative Mark Souder also initially got behind Kelty, for a while at least (“I endorse Matt Kelty. Wait, no I don’t. Well, I have some concerns. That doesn’t mean I’m withdrawing my support. But I’m not supporting him. Can somebody please tell me what the public opinion is on this guy? I’m doing important work, like trying to put President Reagan’s face on the dime”).
But Kelty’s legal issues and his “anti-establishment” stance prompted many other Republican officials to go public with their dis-satisfaction with the candidate. The Republican “executive committee” was disbanded, and a “reconciliation committee” was formed to heal rifts in the party. The infighting got so bad that Indiana Republican Party Chairman Murray Clark came to Fort Wayne to investigate. How much of this infighting could Shine actually control? Who knows, but it was surprising to see someone as smooth, assured, and confident as Shine in the role of spin doctor.
Allen County Democratic Chair Kevin Knuth also seemed lacking in the “inspiring leadership” department. While we were waiting for Tom Henry to begin his campaign for mayor, Knuth seemed obsessed with Kelty’s legal situation, firing off frequent updates on the web. Sure, it was certainly news, but focusing on the (alleged) bad things the Republican candidate was up to rather than the good things the Democratic candidate hoped to do smacked of gloating (the Democratic candidate himself remained a class act, deflecting questions about the investigation and the indictments against his opponent).
To give Knuth his due, however, we can think of about 800 things we’d rather do than lead the Democratic Party in Allen County. Like handle plutonium or wrestle a bear.
Knuth has decided to step down. On the Republican side, Shine shows no signs of resigning, though there have been calls for him to do so. He’s up for re-election in 2009.
The poll put out by the Citizens for Anything That Might Make Downtown Fort Wayne Interesting says 97.3% of the population is for Harrison Square. The poll put out by Citizens Who Fear and Hate Change says 97.4% of the population is against it. Whatever, it’s going forward now, and the Citizens Who For God’s Sake Can’t Take Another Decades’ Worth of Proposals and Exploratory Committees is quite relieved to hear it. Seriously, even someone who has never seen a baseball game they couldn’t have napped through must have been tempted to just grab a shovel and start the project themselves if that’s what it takes.
Even though we’ve heard “baseball won’t get me downtown,” plenty of people go to those Wizards games and it’s a waste to have them just sitting in their cars out by Memorial Coliseum after a game when they could be walking around and spending money. But the baseball stadium is only a small part of Harrison Square. As we’ve all been told, it will include retail, condos, and a brand new hotel. We’re also told it won’t raise property taxes, and that the package was an offer the city basically couldn’t refuse. Indeed, the amount of outside investment in the project is remarkable.
We were lukewarm on the project, but it’s going forward. Finally. Here’s hoping it “densifies” downtown, brings lots of pedestrian traffic, spurs a thriving retail area, boosts local restaurants and helps to connect all the attractions already downtown, encourages people to move to the city, and turns Fort Wayne into a major tourist destination. Two cheers for Harrison Square.
Soon after the Harrison Square groundbreaking, city planners and city officials were quick to assure the public that downtown Fort Wayne wouldn’t become saturated with the same sort of national chains you can find in any city, or the suburbs of this one (the chain mentioned by name was Applebee’s, which seemed to have replaced the Olive Garden as cultural shorthand for all that is boring and bland in restaurant chains). And talk to any young proponent of the project and they’ll tell you their hopes that Harrison Square will help give downtown a “college town” flavor — more venues for bands, interesting retail, a variety of entertainment options.
The former will happen; the latter won’t. Downtown Fort Wayne will turn into a miniature version of downtown Indianapolis. There will be chain restaurants and chain stores and chain retail, but without a Broad Ripple or a Slippery Noodle or a Vogue in sight. What Fort Wayne really wants is the same stuff we see in other cities, whether it’s a Starbucks or a Rock Bottom Brewery. To us, it’s validation. It means we’re a real city, just like the others. Which isn’t the worst thing, I suppose. In fact, it’s sort of the way these things go. But still… Well, here’s hoping we’re totally wrong, and that the establishments downtown that have kept the area from becoming a complete ghost town thrive under the shadow of Harrison Square.
Tom Henry Comeback
Back in 2004, Democrat Tom Henry lost the 3rd district city council seat he had held for 20 years to newcomer Tom Didier. A successful businessman with strong ties to the community (he has nine brothers and six sisters), Henry had plenty of other things to occupy his time, but it seemed his days in local politics were done… at least until last March, when he became the Democratic nominee for mayor, filing just before the deadline.
Even then, Henry’s chance didn’t look too good. The Democrats had been slow to put forward a candidate, and it appeared as though Henry had been drafted to the position so the Democrats could save face as Nelson Peters coasted into the mayor’s office.
Instead, Henry found himself campaigning against an even more formidable opponent, a candidate who was not only a great speaker but who had seemed to tap into the frustration many citizens felt towards city officials this year. While Matt Kelty was pledging to turn city government upside down and shake it until its sense of entitlement fell out, Henry’s platform emphasized experience and leadership.
Maybe it was Kelty’s legal troubles that gave Tom Henry such a decisive victory in the election; maybe people simply liked the direction of the previous administration and wanted it to continue — this is Fort Wayne, after all; we like experience and leadership. Whatever the case, Henry winning the mayor’s office after the loss of his council seat four years ago ranks as a pretty impressive political comeback.
And frankly, Matt Kelty’s achievements were nothing to be sneered at, either. Sure, he took a beating on election day, but in early 2007, no one thought he would have made it even that far.
Fort Wayne Blogosphere
You may have been disappointed by the results of Fort Wayne’s elections, or you may have seen those results coming, but for political speculation, argument, arm chair strategizing, and sniping, 2007 couldn’t be beat. And part of what made it so heated and exciting was the local political “blogosphere.”
Some political bloggers might tell you that blogging is the new journalism and should be viewed as a trusted news source on par with any long established paper or other news organization. While it can be, it isn’t necessarily. What it is, or can be, is a way to encourage discussion; draw attention to a particular issue that may be overlooked by the mainstream media; or present the blogger’s response to an issue in an entertaining way. In those respects, the Fort Wayne blogosphere does an admirable job. Sure, some of it’s crass, unfair, biased, and just plain ugly, but reading some of the local political blogs made an already contentious year in Fort Wayne politics even more interesting.
Fort Wayne Blogosphere
“No, you shut up!”
Repeat until someone deletes someone else’s link or blocks them from posting comments.
Ironically, 2007 gave Harrison Square haters cause to point at downtown and say “Look! We don’t need it! There are people downtown anyway!”
They were right; it seemed people did come downtown in 2007. Of course, a fairly constant stream of festivals during the summer ensures there’s usually some people downtown… at least on the weekends… in Headwaters Park. But this year the renewed focus on downtown revitalization seemed to bring out the crowds.
A lot of credit goes to the Downtown Improvement District, who worked hard to produce a string of fun events in all kinds of weather — the winter HolidayFests, the Beach Blast, Downtown Fright Night, the Freimann Family Thursdays…
Running down the list of well-attended events is only part of the story. What’s especially encouraging is that the D.I.D. was able to bring so many downtown organizations, businesses, and institutions together to lend their time and resources toward making the events a success.
But it didn’t stop with the D.I.D. Anyone visiting the corner of Calhoun and West Wayne this summer during the work week might have thought the area had finally become that bustling pedestrian environment we all seem to want. That block of West Wayne and Calhoun with Cindy’s Diner, J.K. O’Donnell’s, Toscani’s Pizzeria, Double Dragon, Loaf and Ladle, Pint and Slice, and the Dash-In seemed to do brisk business during summer lunch hours.
And of course, let’s not forget the new library, which suddenly became a cool place to hang out. We might actually start readin’ books n’ stuff.
The lesson for this encouraging year: give people something to do or places to go downtown, and people will come downtown. What a concept.
D.I.D. director Dan Carmody recently left for Detroit after two years on the job; here’s hoping whoever takes his place continues what the D.I.D. started here. And here’s hoping those downtown establishments keep growing.
Indiana’s Newscenter Triple Play
Strike 1: Matt’s Manacled Mitts
Showing Matt Kelty being lead from the Allen County courthouse in handcuffs during a newscast qualifies as news. Using the same shot for a station promo is bad judgment.
Strike 2: “Something to Believe In”
Pretty much the only time the word “infectious” has a positive connotation is when it’s used in relation to music. For this song, however, we’d like to make the case for using the C.D.C.’s definition. Indiana’s Newscenter played this song so often we almost expected to hear it over the promo spot described above. ‘Cause that woulda been classy.
We understand the singer, Jeff Skorik, has retired from music to pursue other interests and spend more time with his family. We’re a little dim on how the music industry works (we’re a little dim on a lot of things), but if he only gets a nickel for each time we hear “Something To Believe In” on TV he should be set up for life.
Strike 3: The Mayoral Debate from the ACPL
The beginning of the debate between Tom Henry and Matt Kelty could have been packed with an exciting and dynamic exchange of ideas. We don’t know, since the annoying buzz that permeated the first 20 minutes or so of the broadcast made it difficult to concentrate. Of course, we know audio/video technology can be a tough thing to grasp sometimes. We’re also not sure why they bothered to put a panel of experts up on stage, yet didn’t let those people use their expertise. But we’re old media. We’re kind of slow.
Music — local and otherwise
There were a slew of exciting music releases during 2007, but what really excited fans of local music and local fans of music were the shows. You had Down the Line, which gave several local bands — The Trainhoppers, Definitely Gary, Orange Opera, 600 North and David Todoran — a chance to wear their influences on their sleeves on stage at the historic Embassy Theatre. Over 1800 people bought tickets for the fundraiser (version 2.0 comes along February 9). FWR wasn’t involved with that one, but we were sponsors of the Maumee Music Fest, a day long show in Freimann Square the last Saturday of the Three Rivers Festival that showcased original local acts like Sankofa, The Orange Opera, Tito Discovery, Definitely Gary, I, Wombat, North River Agents, Left Lane Cruiser… There was also Live On Stage (which we were involved with, then weren’t), and we even organized our own Battle of the Bands for younger acts at the TRF.
So, local music — meaning music made by local people — seemed all over the place this year. But just as exciting were a few D.I.Y. promoters who decided that since no one seemed willing to get their favorite up-and-coming indie band a gig in town, they’d do it themselves. Kevin Hambrick of Orange Opera fame brought Dr. Dog, The Teeth, the High Strung, Wisely and others to Fort Wayne; Greg Locke is bringing Thunderhawk!; the guys at Little Brother Radio brought Tim Williams and Black Atlantic to town; Brad Etter brought Over the Rhine, Maia Sharp, Devon Sproule and others to C2G; One Lucky Guitar hosted The Ike Reilly Assassination at the Botanical Gardens, and the new management at the Brass Rail offered a steady stream of edgier musical fare like Six Parts Seven and The Murder Junkies. If Fort Wayne isn’t good enough for Wilco, screw ‘em.