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Smiles and tears
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
Along side the balloon drops and rousing cheers there were more than a few sad faces and broken hearts at both Democrat and Republican post-election celebrations. It is usually that way at the end of a campaign, when enthusiasm and optimism trump realism; smiles turn to vacant stares as good people who pushed themselves hard for a year come crashing down, collapsing in on their dreams, alone with family and a few friends to ponder their political futures.
Venerable names in local governance are gone. Rusty York, the long-serving police chief and current director of public safety lost, as did Mitch Harper, boy legislator and one of the smartest, most complete politicians this area has ever produced. Marty Bender did not run again, the venerable John Shoaff chose to finish his book on Frank Lloyd Wright, and Tom Smith was beaten in the primary. Then, of course, there is the debacle surrounding Sandy Kennedy, the longest serving Clerk in the city’s history.
It is probably true that the narrow Democrat loses might have been even narrower victories had 1) the erstwhile popular Sandy Kennedy been on the ballot, and 2) had scandal not engulfed her office and her anointed successor. Instead of seven to two on council it may well have been five to four. Instead of a Republican in the Clerk’s office Angie Davis probably would have won, given the overwhelming strength of Tom Henry. The scandal, coming in the last weeks of the campaign, a scandal that was so easily comprehended by voters and so eagerly played by the Republicans, is the story of this election.
Without the scandal Tom Henry’s five thousand-vote margin would have been greater and his coattails longer. His win was not just a victory, it was a slaughter, Tom Henry firmly took the middle and part much of the Republican vote on his way to victory. Given Fort Wayne is nominally a strongly Republican city it is all the more impressive. Given the Henry landslide, the disaster in the Clerk’s office seems all the more the cause of Rusty York, Michelle Chambers, and Mike Conley falling short.
There may be another underlying reason the Democrats suffered so in this election — hostile relations with city and area unions. Eight years ago Democratic Party election headquarters was crowded with strong young men and women wrapped in Carhartts, topped by union caps. They were hardly a presence this go ‘round. And you can attribute that to a sense among union leaders, and the rank and file, that the mayor tossed them to the wolves — city council — during the collective bargaining fight.
If the Democrats are to regain a footing on council the party leadership must rebuild the coalition that long underpinned the party, and the party has to express common ground with the suburban middle class.
For the Democrats there are saving graces: Tom Freistroffer, finally elected to council on his third try, is probably as much a Democrat in spirit as the mayor. He will not be a knee-jerk ally of anyone, in fact, he may be the mayor’s choice to replace a cooperative Tom Smith. Jason Arp, elected to replace Mitch in the Fourth District, is respected and liked by political friends and foes. Michael Barranda is a moderate and also well thought off. Paul Ensley, on the other hand, is a fringe right stalking horse for State Representative Bob Morris who infamously wouldn’t endorse the Girl Scouts. Ensley was also supported by Liz Brown, the most divisive member of council in decades. He should be fun to watch.
So, now what? One councilman told me that with a seven to two margin they “don’t need the mayor.” Well, not true. The mayor worked well with most members of council going into the race and will work well with John Crawford, Russ Jehl and Tom Didier in the months to come. The mayor will endeavor to build coalitions on each critical vote, for example on major Legacy votes. Glynn Hines and Geoff Paddock will stand with the mayor generally and will aid in building those coalitions the mayor will need to govern. Hines, you may know, is senior on council and a strong force. Paddock is the most gracious and constructive member of council anyone can remember, certainly a bridge builder by nature. The city’s business will continue to be done, only occasionally punctuated by some brawl, such as taking bargaining rights away from the public safety unions.
Come January first there will be a dramatically new line up on stage for the swearing in: four new faces on council and a new clerk. One hopes in the interim the newbies will learn how to manage legislation. Remember, the two real students of procedure and rules, Harper and Shoaff, have moved one. One can expect moments of confusion and all eyes turning to Joe Bonahoom, council’s attorney, to clarify matters.
Oh, and for all the purists out there, check the roster of the clerk’s office again in a year and see if all the old timers are gone to be replaced by a cadre of Republicans, thus proving Sandy Kennedy’s point that in politics jobs are on the line if the boss loses. Republican indignation at Sandy Kennedy’s conduct will be replaced by steady efforts to push out those she hired, and, since there is no longer a union to protect workers, thanks to the council and the mayor, it should only take a few months, if that.