Mayor Roberto Gonzalez paced his 20th-floor office, worried about the city, concerned about the upcoming election, wondering why he was ready to subject himself to the pressures of a sixth term.
Why am I doing this? he said to himself. A lifelong resident of the city, he would soon turn 70, just five years shy of the normal retirement age. He wondered whether his great-grandfather Juan, who emigrated from Mexico to Fort Wayne in 1960, would accuse him of being too ambitious, too greedy.
His Tau, the handheld device, rang, an old-fashioned telephone bell sound so unrecognizable that it regularly confounded his staff – one of the main reasons he used it.
Hey Vasquez, the mayor said, recognizing the call from his old friend working at the Kekionga dam southeast of the city. Where’s my water?
Get me a damn computer that works half the time, and I’ll get it to you twice as fast, Emilio Vasquez answered.
Got to make the rivers look good for tomorrow, Gonzalez said. He knew his Republican opponent, Mia Brown, would try to rally supporters at his event, and a dry riverbed covered with trash would give her much fodder for criticism.
Don’t worry, amigo, the St. Marys will glisten, and Mrs. Brown can find something else to worry about, Vasquez told him. The two were like brothers, but Gonzalez still couldn’t get over how Emilio could practically read his mind.
You’ve got to beat her, Vasquez said. She gets elected, and the city goes back 50 years.
Gonzalez smiled. Just a few words from his friend reminded him why he had to run, why he had to win.
Fort Wayne had become the envy of many other cities. When the gas-powered-automobile industry died, so did several Midwest cities. When climate change turned from theory to reality, the city’s three rivers turned from savage to savior. And despite all the global upheavals, the city’s entrepreneurial spirit helped it not just survive but thrive.
City-bred Vera Bradley became one of the nation’s largest textile companies, making towels, sheets and clothing in addition to the handbags and luggage items it started with. The company’s huge campus southwest of downtown now included its original buildings, the five added later and, of course, the old GM factory.
Biomet, one of the world’s largest medical supply companies, was still adding jobs at its Glenbrook campus, where a shopping mall once stood.
And there was the giant Kekionga Optics, sprawled over the area once called East End Industries, southeast of downtown.
None of it would have been possible without the dramatic influx of new residents, many from Florida and the East Coast, from Midwest Rust Belt cities, and, increasingly, from the West. White, black, Hispanic, Asian, professional, blue-collar – all flocked to Fort Wayne.
Brown wanted to end the immigration by requiring work permits to be able to live in the city. Like Canada in the 20th century, she wanted to make it all but impossible to move to Fort Wayne, requiring immigrants to get a job before getting a work permit but rigging the tax system so it cost businesses to hire anyone without work permits.
Brown and her supporters wanted the city to be like it was back in the ’30s, Gonzalez thought. But the city, like the nation and world, had moved on. The city’s demographics were much like the nation’s: 40 percent Hispanic, 35 percent non-Hispanic whites, 15 percent black, 10 percent Asian.
With the help of visionary businesspeople like Sadie Palmer, the CEO of Kekionga Optics, and a solid tax base, Gonzalez hoped Fort Wayne would become the first city in Indiana to again have public schools.
You’ve got to win, Vasquez said again.
Thanks, buddy, the mayor responded. And keep that water coming!
While Gonzalez worried about re-election, his deputy mayor, Angelica Lewis, was focusing on tomorrow’s ceremony marking the city’s 1 millionth resident.
There was no way of knowing which person was actually the 1 millionth, so Lewis had city staffers identify about two dozen of the most recent residents and reviewed their biographies. She looked at Shelby Loredo: half Hispanic, half Caucasian, single mom with three kids, self-educated, a new employee of Kekionga Optics.
The perfect 1 millionth resident.