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Former mayor known for more than odd name

Perhaps it should be no surprise that something of a juvenile streak is emerging in the public suggestions for naming the building at 200 E. Berry St., which will house city and county offices beginning later this year.

By far the most popular choice on the city’s www.feedbackfortwayne.org site is the “Harry Baals Government Center.”

Sadly, some people supporting the name have actually graduated from high school, and some are probably even older.

Yes, there has always been humor in having a mayor known as “Harry Balls.” Actually, when he was mayor, the name was pronounced “Bales.”

Though many of those voting for the name probably don’t know this, he is the city’s second longest-serving mayor, elected in 1934, 1938 and 1942, then again in 1951, making him mayor during the latter portion of the Great Depression as well as during World War II. (The next mayor to win three consecutive terms was Paul Helmke in 1987, 1991 and 1995.) Baals died in office in 1954, serving a total of about 15 1/2 years.

In 1934, Baals, a Republican, defeated William Hosey, who was the city’s longest-serving mayor, with 17 years. Baals led the city during World War II, but perhaps his biggest accomplishment was reaching agreement with the former Nickel Plate Railroad to elevate the tracks going through the city – though the actual elevation over all seven intersections didn’t occur until the mid-1950s.

For true history buffs, Hosey might be the mayor more deserving of the building name.

He emphasized the city’s utilities, pushed for building the water filtration plant, and built the City Light plant and the dam across the Maumee River that carries his name. During rains and snow melts, he would be seen personally walking the riverbanks to gauge flooding possibilities.

Whether government buildings should be named after former government officials is itself a question that deserves more attention. Local Republicans have traditionally been more aggressive in the practice than Democrats.

More history

City Councilman Mitch Harper wants the city to do more to honor former council members.

After former city councilman – and mayor – Paul Mike Burns died recently, the City Council office sent out a news release saying Harper asked City Clerk Sandra Kennedy and the council’s legislative administrator, Molly McCray, to put information about former council members on the council’s website.

The release said Harper wants space in the new City Council chambers in the as-yet-to-be-renamed building at 200 E. Berry St. “to give focus on the history of the city’s legislative body and memorialize contributions of former City Council members.”

Keep in mind that while the city elects one mayor every four years, voters elect nine council members. Hundreds of people have served on the council.

Perhaps to remind anyone who may forget that Harper is the council’s president and not exactly known for his humility, the release states that “President Harper, as many citizens are aware, is a knowledgeable local and state historian.” And a former state legislator, as he is fond of reminding people.

Details, details

A reminder that local voters can see campaign finance reports and find out the most recent candidates to file for office on the county election board’s website: allencounty.us/election-board.

Tracy Warner, editorial page editor, has worked at The Journal Gazette since 1981. He can be reached at 461-8113 or by e-mail, twarner@jg.net.

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