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The coming Council

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2011-11-17


For every silver cloud there is a dark lining, especially in politics.

Last week Mayor Tom Henry fairly basked in the congratulations of his re-election victory, and dreams of what heights of managerial and political excellence he might soar during the coming four years. Dreams of Fort Wayne on the cover of Business Week as the most business friendly, hottest market in America. Sugar plum fairies just can't compete.

But, before long, about 45-days or so, Mayor Henry will face a sobering reality, a council where he has no allies and many skeptics.

First of all, he lost his two staunchest supporters on council, the highly articulate Tim Pape and the thoughtful Karen Goldner. Secondly, he saw his workable 4-5 Democratic minority on council fall one notch to 3-6. Third, the astute and tenacious John Crawford was added to the mix making Mayor Henry's next four years a much tougher sale. Fourthly, Mr. Pape's replacement on council, the Democrat Geoff Paddock, is more aligned with the estranged Democrat John Shoaff than Tom Henry. While Mr. Henry held the fort, the number of barbarians at the gates have increased in number and power.
Certainly, in most matters before council, such as the amount of salt to buy to clear our roads and corrode our cars, votes are pro-forma. The majority of ordinances are work-a-day expenditures that involved roads, sidewalks, curbs, gutters, sewer lines and the like. There are many fewer matters that set one party against the other or the mayor against council. It will be, however, on matters such as campaign finance, the north river project, intergovernmental relations and discretionary spending where Mister Henry will have a tougher time getting his way. One can assume budget hearings in October will be quite detailed and probing with a more unified and skeptical council.

First, Mayor Henry really only gains a nominal ally in Mr. Paddock. A long-time politician, Paddock will not easily be pushed to vote for that which he and his closest advisers think bodes ill for the city, or for their own political skins. Additionally, Mr. Paddock is a long-time friend and political ally of John Shoaff, himself frequently at odds with the mayor over the way the city is administered, and especially over what Mr. Shoaff considers the mayor's detrimental management of the parks and of the urban aesthetic. (We'll write about that some other day.) Finally, two years ago the mayor tried to fire Paddock from his job as the top dog at Headwaters Park, a public-private partnership, by cutting the amount of Mr. Paddock's salary from the public side of the partnership funding formula.

What seems superficial a 6-3 council is much more fractious, more a shift set of sands. Even the two likeliest friends of the administration, Marty Bender and Glynn Hines have been known to stray from the fold. Mr. Hines has occasionally snapped back at the administration for perceived slights toward him, personally, and toward the district in southeast Fort Wayne that he represents. No slam-dunk here. As for Councilman Bender, listed as a Republican, but often a supporter of the administration, his vote also can not be counted on: he won by the biggest margin and can set his own course, despite the fact his pay check is signed by the mayor. Approaching retirement has its perks.

The biggest flip-flop was the loss of Mr. Pape and the return of John Crawford. Mr. Crawford is as savvy as anyone at the council table. He will be no push over on any vote and will likely sway votes with his measured arguments. Tim Pape had played that role for the mayor. He was clearly the most articulate voice at council over the past four years, and his rational construction of arguments will sorely be missed, even though the city, in the person of Public Information Office Frank Suarez and Deputy Mayor Beth Malloy have two adept managers of the city's message.

So, if the mayor is to win controversial votes he will have to mend fences with Shoaff, pay a bit more respect to Mr. Hines and repair his relationship with Mr. Paddock. He can do that, but he will have to thicken his notoriously thin skin. He may well win the vote of Mr. Bender who has strong and long ties with the mayor and Clerk Sandy Kennedy. Mr. Bender seldom lets party dogma or party solidarity affect his vote. Perhaps, that reputation for being above politics is what gave him this election's greatest vote total.

In the middle will be Councilman Tom Didier, Mr. Crawford and Councilman Tom Smith. Mayor Henry will have to build bridges to at least one of them to pass anything controversial.

On the dogmatic right are Councilman Mitch Harper and councilman-elect Russ Jehl. Both are party evangelists. Harper led the council effort to embarrass the mayor during budget hearings. The effort backfired. I doubt the mayor will ask Mitch to his house for tea.

So, Mayor Henry is looking at the most hostile council any mayor has faced in decades. He has only one friend, there is one skeptic, one who still licking his wounds from a recent dagger in the back, two who are antipathetical and four with propensities to lean against him on controversial votes. And, did I mention two are already contemplating running against the mayor? Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble. Let the cauldron boil.

The coming council, 45-some days away, could be Shakespearean in its convoluted intrigues. The question is whether Tom Henry and his administration will have the political skills, a thick enough skin, and the humility to make deals. The next four years will be about pride, which, incidentally, goeth before a fall.

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