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My Man Mitch

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-09-06


It was a very understated way to announce a run for mayor. In fact, it was almost an unannouncement. It sounds more like Councilman Mitch Harper had just had too many Nevada Pale Ales and started boasting to friends at a recent cookout that he could be mayor, if he really wanted to. “Really, I can, too. Just watch this!” Somebody must have double-dog dared him to take the bold — and expensive — step. So, down the plank he walked.

The announcement, over pulled pork and German potato salad, punctuated by a couple chomps on a Polish dill, got front page coverage. Somebody in Mitch’s inner circle of pickle lovers asked permission to pass it on, ex-post facto, and Mitch said, ah, shucks, sure, why not? It sounded as if he didn’t mind keeping such a weighty matter private. Perhaps it is just another of his many “trial balloons” that never quite lift off.

Mitch has talked before of a run for the mayor’s office and quietly let each opportunity pass. Maybe this recent low-key burst from the starting blocks is his way of keeping the exit door slightly cracked in case his cautious angel prevails. Whether he sticks it out is anyone’s guess, but other local politicians doubt he will follow through. They know how the cautious angel on that right shoulder can slow down the most prescient of ideas.

Maybe this time he is really in. Or maybe, as a sage local commentator said, it is another quadrennial appearance of Harper’s Comet where he blazes brilliantly across the political sky only to fade away.

His fellow councilmen bet he is truly in this time. They have noted a change in his posture for well over a year now. Last year he was urged to run for mayor, but he demurred. Instead, he played the faithful role of the attack dog for the Paula Hughes campaign. It is the traditional role of the future candidate. And now that Mrs. Hughes is gone, Mr. Harper has the inside track to the nomination.

To be sure, Mitch has the experience to be mayor. He has a long career in local government; he is the master of many issues; he is exceedingly well connected, he has friends aplenty in Fort Wayne, knows the levers of power, knows the torque each lever needs and is as intelligent as anyone in local government.

The other side of his reputation, though, is one of verbosity and a reluctance to take that last step. If you have ever spoken with Mitch he can go on and on, but brilliantly. He can be condescending, but in a very well meaning, educative way.

And his so-called fear of pulling the trigger may speak to success by other means. He does push things along. He does get things done. He seldom lets go of an issue until it has been moved forward.

So, Mitch says he is running. The favorite son of New Haven will have to raise nearly a million dollars to run against his opponents. He will also undergo the sort of corrosive, intrusive and speculative scrutiny of his personal life, his campaign finances and his votes that Mayors Henry, Richard, Moses and Helmke all suffered and endured.

In the Republican primary he may face Dr. John Crawford or Tom Didier. Two years ago Dr. Crawford asked his supporters whether to run for mayor or council. He chose council, but is well prepared to be mayor. Tom Didier has made it well known that he would also like to be mayor.

Three years, however, is a long, long time, and who is on the stage now, as in Henry V, may not survive St. Crispin’s Day. But Mitch has taken center stage with his announcement. He has the rail, the inside position, he now is the standard bearer for the local Republican Party.

The long slog will be devoted primarily to begging for money. The Henry Campaign raised well over $1 million. Mitch will have to come close to matching that, if he is to compete. Do the math – three years means roughly $1,000 per day. Without a sterling fund raising effort there will be no staff, no bumper stickers, no campaign, just another shooting comet.

Mr Harper is taking the bet of a lifetime. But this is his chance to be mayor and he clearly wants to put his mark on our city. For the next three years expect to hear him regularly speak about openness in government, to bring up the matter of out-of-state contributors who financed the mayor’s 2011 run, and to speak forcefully about lowering taxes.

You might also expect a knock on your door and an invitation to contribute a grand to his campaign. Three years is a long, long time. Perhaps his gamble will pay off, of perhaps the comet will blaze past and out of sight once again.

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