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Jobs, Tom. Jobs.
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
Tom Henry is golden now and about to go platinum…
A week ago he announced a deal to bring sparkling City Utilities water to folk in Aboite who have complained for years about the “sludge” Aqua Indiana sent to their homes. At a well-attended public hearing one Aboitee charged AI water killed her fish! That success follows on the heels of a landmark agreement on new taxes, spending changes and budget cuts crafted by the mayor. Before that he shepherded the Legacy process to another landmark agreement that will pour millions into “transformational” changes in our city, mostly downtown. He is credited with piecing together a deal for the Marriott across from the Grand Wayne and for cajoling a couple savvy businessmen into building the Harrison to complete phase one of Harrison Square. He announced a deal to restore the Anthony Wayne Bank building and to get the 19th century building at the corner of Pearl and Harrison refurbished and back into service. One success after another. Now, his Redevelopment Commission also has plans for housing along Ewing near the ballpark and soon they will announce construction of two large buildings in the center of town with shops, offices and more housing. The Mayor is on a roll and could probably and will probably have a handful more significant deals to announce between now and the next mayoral election two years out.
And, with the recent tax increases he will have millions to rebuild roads, improve parks and gussy up the city meaning his re-election campaign will be highlighted with one upbeat ribbon cutting after another.
Downtown Fort Wayne is becoming attractive enough that larger development companies, such as Cordish of Baltimore, who the city has long courted, will have more to gain by taking on a major local development project. The center is increasingly the place to be, thanks, in great part, to Mayor Henry.
The next piece to develop could be the Rifkin plot known as North River. It was the old scrap yard that may or may not be a candidate for Super Fund clean up status; the City won’t say and makes it hard for reporters or citizens to read evaluations that have been commissioned on your behalf and paid for with your tax money. Talk is the Rifkins would like taxpayers to foot the bill for the clean up and to provide all sorts of credits and incentives to help them redevelop the land across from Science Central. Nothing new there, the rich always want the middle class to foot part of their bills in the name of economic development, for a promise of jobs…jobs that seldom materialize.
If there is an Achilles heal to Mayor Henry’s re-election it is the cronyism associated with sweet deals for friends and contributors, and the long list of contractors who have given oodles toward his last re-election campaign and will again pony-up to buy access. The scent of corruption and favoritism in city hall lingers and will waft anew as many, many street and water contracts are let. Whatever contract is negotiated with the Rifkins — major contributors to the mayor’s campaigns — it had better show the family is not getting the same sort of giveaway deal Hardball Capital was gifted. Same with the new buildings downtown: there should be no suggestion of a conflict of interest.
While things are looking up for the downtown and Mayor Henry, crime is on the increase in Fort Wayne, if you haven’t noticed. Break-ins are on the rise, shootings are a weekly, sometimes daily occurrence, sometimes in multiples on a given night. We hear of more gangs and gang wannabies, of more graffiti, of home invasions and assaults. The gangs offer an alternative to collapsing low-income families and the wannabies’ heroes are the saggy-trowed, tat-stained, professional criminals who teach street law.
This dark trend in Fort Wayne, juxtaposed to the bright downtown renaissance, is a principle reason so many citizens, especially plugged-in neighborhood leaders, supported a tax increase to put a few more officers on the street.
It is like a tale of two cities: while the center of town and the well-to-do are enjoying better times, thanks greatly to Mayor Henry’ team, the city’s poorer neighborhoods are suffering from a lack of jobs for kids and for the less educated. Stats corellate crime with income and unemployment with education. Economic development efforts have failed to help them find work, in fact, ED may, through increasing business technological efficiencies, have tossed more workers (and their families) on the street. So, putting more police on the beat will not reduce crime alone, because the gainful alternatives to break-ins, theft, hold-ups or finishing the argument with a bullet are seldom there, nor is the peer pressure nor the positive role model; these career thugs and their acolytes don’t have a stake in the community and “if you got nothin’ you got nothin’ to lose.”
If Mayor Henry were to do anything to really benefit the community, to take his record platinum and to insure his re-election, he would pay attention to his father’s legacy and focus on lifting up the poor with jobs, jobs, jobs. Otherwise, the crime rate will not go down, and a generation of kids will grow into career thugs because they have nothing to lose, and, neighborhood leaders will be back in a few years clamoring for even more officers on the streets.
Jobs, Tom, jobs.