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And our new deputy mayor is…

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-03-15


Politics is so much about signals, real and perceived.

So the appointment of career politician Mark Becker to the post of deputy mayor sends many messages to the residents of Fort Wayne about the capacity and will of Tom Henry to move boldly forward, wherever that might be.

Mr. Becker, you may have read, has worked in government from birth. Somewhere in the bowls of the Moses Administration back in the 80s, Mark worked in community development. He rose through the ranks working for Mayors Paul Helmke, Graham Richard and Tom Henry, and now is reprising his role as Mayor Henry’s first deputy mayor.

Mr. Becker has also played the journeyman role in economic development, working in South Carolina during their heady and quite successful economic renaissance. Most recently he has broadened his skills as foundation director of the Northeast Indiana Partnership, charged with bringing jobs and encouraging growth around here. At the Foundation he became an even stronger advocate for small business development.

Mr. Becker also comes to the job with an asset that many leaders in town recognize, but might be overlooked by the rest of us: his wife, Cheri. Mrs. Becker is a power in her own right, currently the leader of Leadership Fort Wayne, but also has been for the last dozen years one of the main sources of energy, intellect and drive behind the most current push to revitalize our city.

A few years back she led top echelon people from our fair city to Providence, Rhode Island and Greenville, South Carolina — her former home town — to encourage the inert leadership of this town to think big and do something to build a future for coming generations. She has, consequently, created a common set of insights among local leaders on how formerly moribund communities have turned themselves around; more than a bit of what you see blossoming in Fort Wayne has come about, in part, because of her work.

But, now back to Fort Wayne’s #2, husband Mark.

A close political friend, an office-holding Republican, tilted his head toward the ceiling the other day, scratched his chin and admitted that he had no idea whether Mr. Becker is a registered Democrat or Republican. That rather sums up Mr. Becker; he is non-partisan with a bias toward progress and inclusion. Present an idea to him and you will gain the sense that he has heard and absorbed every syllable and concept, and that he has added the nuances of your comments to his understanding of how 1) we want our town to be; and 2) how he will proceed to achieve that end.

No one has ever mentioned Mr. Becker losing his temper, no one has mentioned a raised voice, let alone a raised eyebrow.

The appointment of Mr. Equanimity to the #2 seat in local government suggests the Mayor’s goals.

First, cooperation among and within local government will get a boost. He knows all the ropes, he works well with everyone. And, he is fair, and he is honest. Mr. Becker has assiduously protected his Eagle Scout reputation. The hectoring of the Henry over charges of corruption should diminish greatly. Mr. Becker will allow nothing similar to the “what did you know and when did you know it?” line of questioning witnessed recently concerning elevators and water rate increases. He prefers to move forward, rather than play defense.

Where might that lead us? The North River Project? Probably. Mr. Becker has been involved in Fort Wayne’s recent giant step, Harrison Square. It is clear that Mayor Henry wants something serious done about North River and Mr. Becker will oversee the project.

The decision also signals Mayor Henry’s maturation in his job. Often, a deputy will be from outside town, someone who has no local power base and serves completely at the pleasure of the mayor. Beth Malloy and Greg Purcell were both outsiders; she never quite unpacked. Becker is a Fort Wayner in all but birth. He has become a part of the furniture and, in many ways, is as powerful, well connected and admired as the Mayor.

On the podium during the announcement were Rusty York, our highly effective police chief; the celebrated Public Works chief Bobby Kennedy; quietly effective John Urbahns who runs community development; and the powerful controller Pat Roller. Each is a formidable administrator, each nationally respected, each a top-level hold-over from the previous administration, and they are all use to getting their way. Visualize a room full of big hair.

Add Becker to the mix and you have truly a strong, savvy, and determined top-level management team. One can surmise Mr. Becker will be there to moderate and focus what could be rather spirited discussions on the course the city should take on any given matter.

So, what does that say about Mayor Tom Henry? First, it says he wants a strong and resourceful chief of staff. It also suggests that the Mayor values Mr. Becker’s skills and connections more than he fears creating his successor. And, the decision tells us that Mayor Henry will undertake big projects during the coming years including North River, downtown redevelopment, river front development, and Mayor Tom to do what he loves most, serve as de facto city father at all of the ceremonies, gatherings and events that are the essence of our city. That is his passion; elevators are not.

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