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Ah, the speculation…

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader


Jehl, Crawford, Peters, Henry, Smith, Pape and who knows who else.

So far, this is the line up for next year’s mayor primary and they are all busy testing the waters.

The primary is but a year away.

Most are known quantities, except Tim Smith, a senior manager for an insurance company, Medpro, on the city’s northeast side. He has that fresh face, is surprisingly well supported, right-center-right, and a very nice guy. The son of a preacher, he is a smooth talker and exudes a bright smile and confidence. And, after a short meeting with him, after chats with a dozen other politicos, and a bit of ruminating, he has as good a chance as anyone of being the city’s next mayor, neophyte or not.

His competition is also formidable, as well as complicated. And all are the most thoughtful and dedicated of people.

Nelson Peters is a very affable county commission who is respected and liked by nearly everyone. He has run for mayor before but was massacred in the primary by the rabid right of the local Republican Party who supported outsider Matt Kelty, a forthright local architect without the taint of political baggage, but whose campaign was destroyed by a grand jury investigation for his campaign’s misuse of political contributions, just one of the traps awaiting those without any political experience. Tom Henry won that year’s election for mayor, Henry’s first of three increasingly strong wins.

Nelson says he won’t run if Tom Henry runs again. Tom, of course, wants to run again. His only obstacle is his formidable wife, Cindy, who fears the strains of office will kill him. A year ago, our mayor suffered what has been called a minor heart attack, so she has grounds for concern. But there is the matter of his legacy where the feeling of pride bubbles forth and one feels no one else can quite finish the job right.

Tom is on a roll with one successful project after another blossoming in the city. He has advanced much of what former Mayor Graham Richard envisioned, adding more than a few of his own successful initiatives along the way. Thanks to Tom, (and Graham and Paul and Win) Fort Wayne has a burgeoning national reputation not matched since Franz Freimann brought Magnavox here circa 1930.

Then there is Russ Jehl. He is a dedicated, savvy politician. He asks very good questions at the council table and has led the effort, along with a couple of labor leaders, to reform the abatement game that resembled a Friday night in a Dodge City saloon before he came along. He knows the city budget in and out, knows the workings of each department, and has that x-ray vision that allows him to see past the superficial to the fundamental purposes of government.

Dr. John Crawford is the other Republican maybe. He notes that he is a centrist leaning to the right. He calls himself a conservative, a libertarian, a student of Ayn Rand, but is excoriated by the libertarians in his party for his votes on tax increases, Parkview Field, and the smoking ordinance, which he authored. The same libertarians are still seething about having to wear seat belts, and will change the subject if you note that the overwhelming number of Fort Wayners now support the ball park, and the smoking ordinance. As for the tax increases, they were supported, again, by most Fort Wayners as a way of paying for long-neglected repairs and improvements to our commonwealth.

Dr. Crawford might add that he has long championed smaller government and demanded that the administration stick to both balanced and flat budgets. Unions, by and large, rue his birth. Another note about the doctor — during the Brightpoint fight on the city’s south side he knocked on over 300 doors to gauge sentiment concerning the controversial proposal. After the vote he then worked to bring the contending sides together to find common ground. Rumor has it that he will announce his candidacy very soon.

Finally, there is Tim Smith. Recently, a corporatist political action committee, the Committee for Better (not best, just better) Government, closely aligned with Greater Fort Wayne, the successor to the Chamber of Commerce, gave Mr. Smith $50,000 to further his campaign. Fat cats like John Popp, a Tippman or two, Keith Busse, a coddle of bankers, and a few others currently sunning in Florida endorsed Smith in what has been dubbed the beginning of a corporate coup to take over the mayor’s office and the city’s finances. You know the old line: running government like a business, just like, say, GE or Wells Fargo or Enron.

Friends at Greater Fort Wayne are among Smith’s most ardent cheerleaders, saying he will motivate and inspire on a par with the recent great mayoral motivators, Graham Richard and Win Moses. Smith even cites Richard as an inspiration.

Smith is also supported by the local Right-to-Lifers and the religious right. He laments, however, that the dogmatic right wing of the Republican Party, personified by Councilmen Jason Arp, Paul Ensley, and by State Rep. Bob Morris, don’t support him.

And, like Matt Kelty and Eric Doden before him, Smith has no experience, none, in governance. He has not even been a neighborhood association sergeant-at-arms, not served on a commission nor board, nor blue ribbon panel. That matters. Think an armchair quarterback versus the one tempered and tested by real pressure. And, in business you can just fire whomsoever you don’t like for whatever reason. Not so in government. There are many power centers in politics. But charisma also matters, as does motivational drive, practical acumen, and energy, all of which Smith has in overflowing abundance. Smith is Mr. Tora-Tora-Tora, Mr. Damn the Torpedoes, Mr. Over the Top…literally. But government is different than business; to say otherwise is naive.

As for our avuncular mayor, his future is also, if only a bit, up in the air. If Tom were not to run (he will)…Tim Pape? Ah, speculation. Tim would certainly be the most formidable option. He has a golden tongue with an edge of Solingen steel, witness the regular thrashings he gave former councilwoman Liz Brown over their years of confrontation on city council. One night at budget hearings he beat back a slew of her proposed cuts, 8-1, 8-1, 8-1. Mr. Pape would certainly match Smith in determination, exceed him in knowledge of our city’s workings, and match him charisma for charisma…if Mayor Tom where not to run. (He will.)

Ah, the speculation, but while we contemplate, the six potential candidates are plotting and planning and trying to determine whither and wherefore. Truth is, the longer the other Republicans ponder the more likely it will be Smith vs. Henry next fall, maybe Pape four years later.

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