Home > Political Animal > Wink and a Nod?
Wink and a Nod?
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
Mitch Harper, the Republican candidate for mayor, fired the first salvo of the fall election campaign by implying that Mayor Henry is steering public contracts to some of his favorite contributors. It is a charge deserving an honest answer. If you peruse the Mayor’s campaign contributors list you might wonder why engineering and design firms located hundreds of miles away are interested in local good government. The answer is that they aren’t; on the contrary, they want access and preferential treatment. Firms are interested in the many lucrative contracts the Board of Public Works and City Utilities award. Millions of your tax dollars are spent on, one would hope, the best and least expensive bids to rebuild roads, lay sewers or dig massive tunnels. But, contractors bet if they toss a few thousand a candidate’s way they will get to the head of the line. Money buys access. The trickier part for challenger Harper will be proving quid pro quo, that contributions equal contracts. Expect to hear the phrase “pay to play” often this fall, expect the challenger’s staff to dig to find proof of corruption, and expect Mr. Harper to hammer home these findings on walks, in literature and during the debates. Perhaps the Mayor is saintly clean, but the list suggests the Mayor fails to disabuse contractors of the notion that backroom deals are the norm here.
That Useless Plaza
Again, back from a visit to friends in Poland with many reminders of how underachieving is our little green in front of the Court House. It is ill-conceived and ill-designed, more a liability for the community than an asset; in fact, it is hardly used, but costs us thousands a year to maintain. In most European towns the central square is where everyone meets to solve the world’s problems over cappuccino or an amber lager. There are benches, children, fountains, young people, strolling oldsters, restaurants, displays of art, buskers, and an occasional concert. You’ll find nothing like that in our little village green at the Court House, except a few benches. It reminds me of my aunt who had lovely furniture, but covered her couch in plastic. Again, to move Mad Anthony there as a majestic centerpiece, to allow cafes on two corners, to recreate the plantings, and to pave the rest of the green with granite would make it a focal point worthy of the backdrop, our marvelous Court House.
Selling Fort Wayne
A few local politicians believe the way to attract businesses is to focus on the time away from work, meaning new attractions, building a downtown arena, developing the waterfront, creating a nightlife downtown, making the parks more interactive, supporting the art venues, expanding the history center, and generally beautifying the community. The economy is changing, they add, from factories to entrepreneur shops, from mass employment to smaller businesses. It is changing in favor of the likes of Angie Hicks, the local girl who founded Angie’s List. It is the age of the entrepreneur, of flex-time and paid leave. Make the city attractive to the creative types who conjure up apps, and there will be plenty of better jobs and a richer income for the city. There will still be foundries, and large factories, but with shipping advances, easy capital flow, just-add-water-factories, and lower wages in Asia grunt work will go there, and in coming years to Africa where wages are much, much lower. The city and stodgy county should invest, they add, in the amenities of play and relaxation so that Fort Wayne and the area attracts the best and the brightest and hold our best graduates. Someday, they laughed, that tailings hill off Lower Huntington Road will be converted to a ski slope-tobogon-run-zip-line park. Planners, they added, should focus on facilitating Steam Engine 765 and other attractions that will make living here just plain fun.
One by One
Story goes that council and the administration will soon begin their effort to reduce the power of the fire and police union. It would be fitting only in that when council prohibited collective bargaining for other city unions the uniformed unions hardly raised a finger in solidarity. The union movement locally is as divided as Congress, which leaves each union vulnerable to those legislators intent upon imposing their personal dogma. One would think union leaders would take the word to heart and show a bit of solidarity.
The discovery of a huge pool of natural gas off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast has implications for us all. First, it undermines Russia’s power to coerce European NATO allies with threats of withholding energy during the winter cold. Putin has less power to coerce his neighbors with energy threats and a wider war. Egypt will be richer meaning more pressure on Israel to work with the Arabs to solve the Palestinian conflict. The find distributes the region’s power away from the Saudis, as well. Distribution to Europe will go through Italy and Greece meaning jobs. It also puts downward pricing pressure on the energy markets, including American oil and coal companies. As for the environment, well, more methane is not good, but it’s better than coal.