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Do chickens really come home to roost?

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2013-12-08


Do chickens really come home to roost?

That is the question.

In politics supporters of one side or the other bitch and moan about the disappointments of their “man” in office, but on election day reluctant Republicans and Democrats typically hold their noses and return to the roost.

So, recently Tom Henry did himself a very big favor in appointing Win Moses to the Redevelopment Commission. Win is the happy warrior (apologies to HHH), of Indiana politics; he is the champion of working folk, the poor, the disabled, the disadvantage, old ladies and small puppies. He is a stickler for fairness, but also a strong proponent of economic development. He earned “boardroom-cred” when he and his 1980s lieutenant, Karl Bandemer, now the deputy mayor, led the way to bring the GM plant to Allen County. That coup was the beginning of the long turnaround that took Fort Wayne from a dying, rust-belt city with old newspapers accumulating in downtown doorways to a town that exudes optimism.

Win was Mayor then, a bit of a boy wonder who had served previously on city council. He led the city’s efforts to save itself during the Flood or 82, he won a Most Livable City award and our first All American City title. He also strengthened the neighborhood system, inspired staff and instilled the “can do” spirit among the city’s youth. He went on to serve ably in the legislature and underscored his credentials as a fighter for the average folk by founding the Citizens’ Action Coalition that fights on your behalf (cause the legislature sure doesn’t) against NIPCSO and I&M against utility rate hikes. His credentials as a consumer advocate are as impeccable as his Jederman brief.

Then, there was the little dust up in the legislature a couple years back when Win led a walk out of the Democratic minority to stop Right-to-Work legislation. He lost that fight and his re-election bid. But the latter was more a result of gerrymandering and big outside money than voter antipathy. In fact, during redistricting, the Republican legislature shifted his district’s boundaries so that many of his supporters were pushed into Phil GiaQuinta’s district to be replaced by traditionally Republican voters. Then, near the end of his re-election campaign big outside money came in to fund TV and radio attack ads. Koch Brothers??? Nobody’s talking.

Since then, Win has been sipping green tea by the river’s edge, chanting mantras and debating whether to focus on his business or return to the good fight. Bi-furcation won. His real estate business, he says, is flourishing again, and now he will soon take his seat on the Redevelopment Commission, one of the most powerful political bodies in Fort Wayne’s resurgence. Ironically, he will sit beside Redevelopment Commission director Greg Leatherman who was but a young pup when Win hired him back in the mid-80s to work in Neighborhood Code.

Among the consequences of the appointment is the repair of a scorched bridge to labor, a group Tom Henry will sorely need come November 2015. That outside money that beat Win will target Tom, one of the most powerful and successful Democrats in a state otherwise run by conservative Republicans. We may well see over a $1 million spent to try to defeat Tom, if he chooses to run. That will buy a lot of nasty airtime.

So, what of labor…

Tom Henry has done little or nothing for labor. In fact, the recent tax “reform” clobbered every union member in city government, as well as every pay-check slave throughout the county. (Note: with seven straight faces council voted a nice pay raise for itself, for the clerk and for the mayor. Only Councilmen Harper and Paddock demurred.)

Mayor Henry’s tax abatement program has been a slap in labor’s face. The program has promised jobs but has failed to deliver; and it was only after labor’s research and “where are the jobs” presentations at city council that the administration felt compelled to tighten up the rules and write a few lines about enforcement. Prior to labor posing those serious, quid-pro-quo questions to council, the Henry Administration was all about giving away tax breaks (cutting deeply into the tax base) with rubber stamp abatements without bothering much to see if anyone in Allen County benefited from the largess other than the company owners, their travel agents, and their bartenders.

The chummy relationship with business leaders has won Tom many fair-weather friends who will toss money his way for as long as his campaign looks the winner, but they will 1) hedge their bets with money to the Republican nominee, and 2) jump ship faster than long-abused laboratory rats if that nominee looks viable. Business owners tend to be Republicans who feel compelled to bathe thoroughly after standing within the same air handling system as Democrats…you can count on them going home to their roost given the opportunity.

Fair-weather friends, Tom.

For a century labor has made up the heart and muscle of the Democratic Party. On election day they are the army that goes over the top by putting up signs, ferrying voters to the polls, working polling places to make sure everyone gets to vote, making calls, cross checking “get-out-the-vote” lists, and a thousand more things essential to election day victory. Mayor Henry cannot buy his way to re-election, the Republicans will happily outspend him if Steve Shine can find a charismatic challenger. What the Democrats have long depended upon is an army of volunteers to offset the seas of cash the Republicans funnel into elections. Make that an ocean.

By bringing the Happy Warrior (with more apologies to HHH) back into the fray Tom has tossed a large olive branch labor’s way. When Election Day comes, winning or losing in this now Republican city will depend on whether those labor chickens come home to roost.

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