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The Big Ask, the Big Ugly, and the Big Unease

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader


The Election

We are making Europe very nervous with our little election. During a recent trip the Europeans voiced concern that Donald Trump might somehow win this election. And, as you travel closer to Russia, in places like Romania or Estonia, those countries that have had an intimate relationship with Russian foreign policy, the fear is even greater. But the concern is also palpable in England, Germany, and France where Pax Americana, the NATO years, has bound former enemies together into a highly effective alliance that has at the very least kept them from each other’s throats. A trip to Omaha Beach, or Verdun, Chateau-Thierry or Belleau Wood could serve as perfect illustration. Their fears are three-fold: Trump is a world politics novice, has voiced indifference to the future of the alliance and, more importantly, has voiced a certain realpolitik attitude that he would toss our allies under the bus if he thought he might make a deal with Russia. Finally, and most ominously for our allies, he has routinely praised Vladimir Putin. For the record, Putin has invaded a neighbor at the cost of 10,000 lives, and still occupies parts of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Secondly, he has threatened central Europe, including Germany, Poland, and Denmark, with nuclear missiles. He boasts about how fast his armies could conquer their neighbors. Additionally, he has long practiced energy extortion by threatening to shut off natural gas and oil flows to Europe during the dead of winter, unless they towed his foreign policy dictates. And, his hackers have gone after a variety of institutions, individuals and governments in Europe, including a massive, sustained attack on Estonia that nearly shut down that country. There are another half dozen significant ways in which he tries to bully his neighbors. You might call it the art of the deal, Putin style. And, you might add that undermining NATO would not make America Great Again, just more vulnerable.

The Doctor Clinic Abatement

A few years ago, when council reformed the rules governing the abatement process, it was discussed and seemingly agreed which types of businesses should continue to qualify for tax breaks at public expense. Reform was badly needed — over the years the abatement give away helped already well-healed companies and owners become even richer at your expense. Abuses were as regular as council’s rubber-stamp votes. So, under public pressure council revised the scoring system, limited slightly the duration of tax breaks and focused on giving abatements to two classes of companies: manufacturing and warehousing. They further defined the creation of new jobs with higher pay as of highest importance. Bringing new money into the community was given priority. But recently council gave a $100k tax break to a pack of doctors whose practice brings no new money into the community, is neither manufacturing or warehouse, and hardly creates new jobs. The owner even admitted he didn’t need the break to open his clinic, it was just icing on the cake, a little bottom line enhancement for himself and his partners. Six of the nine councilmen voted for the giveaway. Give a taxpayer tip-of-the-hat to newby councilmen Jason Arp, Michael Barranda, and Paul Ensley for voting against, and to Dr. John Crawford, a member of the medical community, for sticking to the reform philosophy that had been rationally decided. As local labor leaders pointed out years ago, not every abatement is worth our investment of public funds. Some members of council seem to have forgotten that point. You can’t blame them. Saying no is very hard. Abatements have long been associated with the goal of job creation, and every councilman likes that picture of a ribbon cutting for the campaign flyer. But few abatements result in the promised level of new jobs. The real benefit of an abatement usually accrues to a very few individuals, the investors and owners of the company, who enjoy from tens of thousands to millions in tax breaks. Those savings come at a cost to our common institutions, such as schools and roads. Eventually, as was the case a couple years ago, city council then has to come back to you with new taxes to make up the difference because we are “falling behind”…in part because of rubber stamp abatements.

Of Pedestrian Zones and the Rosemarie

Steps forward on the Landing should be applauded and encouraged, and modified. The area has so much potential — anyone who can remember the Blue Mountain Coffee shop of the 80s will know what could be — but over the years the area has faded. Arson may have brought down the elegant Rosemarie Hotel, as well as another huge brick warehouse, while yet another building on the block collapsed. Now, the city, together with a group of architectural firms, has plans to refurbish the Landing with lofts and apartments, snappy new street lighting and a jarringly incompatible aluminum hulk of a building to replace the Rosemarie’s placeholder. They can do better. First, the aluminum hulk is simply ugly and doesn’t fit in, doesn’t seem to try. Secondly, anyone who has spent much time in any European city would recommend that the Landing be a pedestrian mall for three reasons: pedestrian zones are safer, more active, and more attractive. Certainly, there is plenty of parking at either end of the block to allow sufficient access, so a pedestrian mall would fit neatly into that young-urban-sophisticated-hipster lifestyle reflecting the type of person the city is trying desperately to attract. In effect, a pedestrian mall adds a front yard which is effectively a common park where people meet, itself a key factor in establishing an attractive urban setting. A concern is fire department access, but the Europeans long ago solved that problem with removable stanchions or barriers that pneumatically rise and fall at the e-command of a fire captain. There is no need for cars on the Landing, but there is every reason to make the street an urban oasis.

The Big Ask

The City will soon begin the Big Ask, some $10 million from the Legacy to start the Riverfront. In mid-November, the funding application will be reviewed by the Legacy Committee with a vote at city council not long after. At the news conference, it might be noted, that of the nine councilmen only Mr. Paddock managed to attend the mayor’s news conference. Like the ballpark, the riverfront will be transformational and defining, so lets hope the councilmen were all really terribly tied up, and not slighting the mayor, again. They were invited. Given the significance of the matter one would think they would have shown a bit more interest.

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