Home > Around Town > The Independent candidate
The Independent candidate
He’s not angry, he’s not ‘fed up’… Haley Ahrendt just thinks he could do a better job as Mayor
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
“I’m not doing this just to ‘stir the pot,’” says Haley Ahrendt. “It’s not about that for me. That’s not who I am. I’ve just always been interested in politics, I’ve always wanted to run for office, I have good ideas, and now is the time.”
Ahrendt raised a few eyebrows in early February when he announced he would seek the office of Mayor of Fort Wayne as an Independent candidate.
Furthermore, he stated that he would not solicit or accept any contributions. Instead, his press release read, he would run for office “… the old-fashioned way: meeting people, listening to their needs and concerns…” and count on supporters word of mouth.
Ahrendt is a local businessman with no previous experience in politics, and Fort Wayne has never elected an Independent for Mayor — they’ve all been Republicans or Democrats since Samuel S. Morss of the Know Nothing party left office in 1859.
And the idea of a modern political campaign not soliciting donations is pretty much unheard of… “Between the two parties, so far, they’ve collected almost a million dollars,” Ahrendt says. “I think that means they owe a million favors. That’s a lot of money; who puts out that kind of money unless they want something done in their interest?”
Put it all together and it suggests an almost Quixotic endeavor, undertaken to make a point rather than achieve real results. But Ahrendt insists he’s serious. “This isn’t a joke to me, by any means,” he says. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t feel I could make a change for the better. I just think that there are some things out there that we’re spending money on that don’t make sense to me.”
“The City needs to be taken back and run more like a business,” he adds. “We need to do a lot of cutting of some programs that different administrations have just thrown another layer on top of rather than really looking at them. My theory is, if it’s wasteful, let’s not even do it.”
You might also think that Ahrendt is… well, a firebrand. He describes himself as a conservative who says he’s become disenchanted with both parties. “Honestly, I don’t see the difference anymore,” he says. “Both parties really do some goofy stuff, either with funding of projects or talking out of both sides of their mouth.”
“Somebody just paid… well, I don’t know how much, for a 10 second spot on TV where they cut a debit card in half with a pair of scissors. And I’m thinking ‘what did that cost? If you’re a conservative, why would you waste that kind of money to prove a point you’ve already made six times? And if you’re going to do that with your campaign money, what are you going to do when it comes to something important?’”
Yet Ahrendt doesn’t come across as angry or indignant. He says he won’t bad mouth any particular administration or candidate, and despite a focus on budgetary matters, he’s not necessarily against more ambitious public projects. In fact, if you ask him about, say, Harrison Square and Parkview Field — popular local targets of many conservatives (and not just conservatives) when it comes to the potential pitfalls of government involving itself in the private sphere — Ahrendt says he believes the project is probably a good thing for Fort Wayne, adding that he would have let someone else have the opportunity to develop the project when it stalled.
Another hot topic: the purchase and relocation of government offices to the Citizens Square property. Ahrendt wonders why the City didn’t look into purchasing the Holiday Inn property downtown, possibly as a police headquarters. “It would have been cheap — tax-sale cheap — and I think it would have been a great investment for the city,” he says.
Rather than anger or indignation, Ahrendt’s outlook seems to be puzzlement over the things local government chooses to spend money on. “I think a lot of people have lost track of whose money that belongs to,” Ahrendt says. “It’s your money and my money. I want my money spent wisely, I want it spent as efficiently as possible, and I’m really big on trying to stay local when you can.”
“How do we create more jobs in Fort Wayne? There are hundreds of businesses where local guys do well for themselves. But they can’t expand. They don’t know how. So as the City, let’s send people out — free of charge — to say ‘how can we help? How can we help you market your business so that you’re able to expand, to hire more people?’”
He also doesn’t understand why Fort Wayne isn’t doing more to recruit new businesses. “If smaller cities to the north and south of us can do it, why can’t we? Why can’t we recruit a 300-person complex to our city? What are we doing wrong? They don’t have the budgets we have in Ashley, correct? So how are they doing it? That’s why I’m running.”
But while Ahrendt takes a certain amount of pride in not being a politician, he is learning that politics can be pretty rough, and pretty lonely, for a candidate trying to do it on their own. A few years ago, Ahrendt filed for bankruptcy — a particularly bad bout of that bronchial infection that was going around put him out of commission for a while and unable to tend to the business he had run for eight years. Shortly after his illness, the economy went bad. The business folded and he filed for protection.
It’s a familiar story, one that’s happened to a lot of people. Ahrendt isn’t ashamed of it — “It can happen to anybody, and it has. I’m under protection, and I’m paying it back” — but he does find it’s often the first thing he’s asked about. “I walk into WOWO and it’s ‘hi, how are you doing? Why are you running for mayor? Oh, about your bankruptcy…’” he explains. “It’s out there. I’m not hiding it. But when I hear people say ‘oh, you’re irresponsible…’ Just like thousands of other responsible people out there, the economy hurt me. They don’t realize who they’re insulting when they say stuff like that.”
Ahrendt is currently trying to collect the 1,278 signatures he needs to get on the ballot as an Independent candidate. He has until June 30, though he says he’d like to wrap up that process by the primaries in the first week of May.
“The beauty part of government for me is that every four years, people have the opportunity to apply for a job, the Mayor’s job, and that’s what I’m doing,” Ahrendt says. “I believe I can do the job; I believe I can look at budgets and trim some fat, and leave it better than when I came.”
For more info, visit hayley4mayor on Facebook, or e-mail Ahrendt at haly4mayor@gmail.