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Sunday, November 15, 2015 5:39 am

Track record helped Henry carry nearly every district

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

Though the Democratic Party lost a Fort Wayne City Council seat, unofficial precinct voting data show almost every City Council district voted to re-elect Mayor Tom Henry. 

Earning 23,769 votes in the Nov. 3 election, Henry pulled off a bid for a third term, defeating challenger City Councilman Mitch Harper, R-4th, by 5,702 votes, according to Allen County Election Board data. That’s 4,056 more votes than Henry earned in 2011 against former Republican County Councilwoman Paula Hughes. In that race, Henry won re-election by less than 2,000 votes citywide. Henry won 23,166 votes that year. Hughes got 21,520. Harper earned 18,067 votes citywide on Nov. 3.

Just because Henry earned more votes this election compared with the last one doesn’t mean there’s an ideological shift occurring among Fort Wayne’s voting public. After all, voters elected to support a City Council with a 7-2 GOP majority.

Henry won 160 of the 224 voter precincts in Fort Wayne. With his 23,769 votes citywide, support for Henry increased by only 603 votes compared with 2011, when he earned 23,166 votes. 

Henry had more that he was able to campaign on this year than in 2011, said Steve Shine, chairman of the Allen County Republican Party.

"During (Henry’s) second four years, the downtown renovations and rehabilitation became much more obvious, the physical improvements to the downtown central business district were more readily visible to the eye," Shine said. "I’m not saying the mayor alone should be credited, but the improvements began to take an outward appearance, concepts became brick and mortar. As a result of that, regardless of whether the mayor is a Republican or a Democrat, they’re going to get credit for that on his or her watch."

The controversy surrounding the Fort Wayne city clerk’s office may have hurt the rest of the Democratic Party’s municipal races, but not enough to change the outcome, said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW.

The office came under scrutiny after videos recorded, edited and captioned by former parking enforcement supervisor Colin Keeney, appeared to show former longtime City Clerk Sandy Kennedy threatening employees’ jobs if they did not contribute to or participate in the election campaign of then Deputy City Clerk Angie Davis. Davis ran to replace Kennedy, who announced earlier in the year that she would not seek another term after 32 years as clerk. 

"When this all started, I was guessing that it would not have much of an effect," Downs said. "It probably had more of an affect than I was guessing it would originally, but given the margins I don’t think it changed the outcome (of the election)."

John Court, the head of the Allen County Democratic Party, said he thinks the election results speak to the mayor’s record, despite what happened in the city clerk’s office. 

"I think with the additional four years that Mayor Henry has had in office, people see his track record," Court said. "They saw the momentum and wanted to keep that momentum going by re-electing Tom Henry to office."

Downs said it’s hard to run as a challenger, since voters nationwide tend to support incumbents.

"For challengers, it’s not enough to say, ‘This is why you should elect me,’ " he said. "Part of that has to be, ‘This is why you should not re-elect my opponent.’ "

Shine said despite his party losing the mayor’s race, he couldn’t be more pleased with the other results. He pointed to Republican support in the city’s three at-large races and the city clerk’s race as examples. 

Henry’s vote count isn’t wildly different compared with 2011, but there were some changes in whom voters chose in 2015. 

Precincts are determined using census data and district lines for city, state, federal and school board elections. The Allen County Election Board draws the precinct map and sends it to state election officials for approval. 

In City Council District 1, Henry and Harper each won 19 of the 38 precincts, though Harper came away with 76 more votes than Henry. Despite this, Henry fared much better this year than he did in 2011, when Hughes took the district with 1,253 more votes than Henry. Hughes, who won 32 of 40 precincts that year, earned 5,800 votes in District 1. 

The fact that part of Hughes’ County Council district included City Council District 1, played a role in why Hughes decisively won that district four years ago, Downs said. That overlap didn’t exist in this election, meaning Henry fared better than he did in 2011, despite not winning the district. 

Shine noted that the inclusion of first-time City Council candidate Paul Ensley may have affected the mayor’s race this year in District 1. Ensley defeated Democratic candidate Mike Conley for the District 1 seat. 

"There was a newcomer on the general election ballot coupled with the other element of the appearance of physical improvement," Shine said. "I think that had an effect to lower the Republican vote (in that district)."

It was a similar scene in Districts 2 and 4, which also voted Republican in 2011. On Nov. 3, Henry earned 4,148 votes in District 2 and 4,743 in District 4. Harper earned 3,387 in District 2 and 4,448 votes in District 4, which he represents at City Council. In 2011, Hughes garnered 5,186 votes in District 4, while Henry earned 4,388. Henry carried 24 of 37 District 4 precincts in 2015. 

When it comes to the 4th District, Downs said he believes the quality of the Harper campaign ultimately decided who would win on Fort Wayne’s southwest side. 

"Hughes was better funded, much more visible than Harper was, and I think that carried a lot of weight," Downs said. "Campaigns do matter."

Similarly to District 1, Shine said pairing first-time City Council candidate Jason Arp against Public Safety Director Rusty York for the 4th District seat may have had an effect on the number of Republican votes in both the City Council and mayoral races. 

The results in Districts 3, 5 and 6 weren’t drastically different from 2011. Henry again garnered overwhelming support in Districts 5 and 6, two deeply Democratic areas of the city. Though Henry won District 3, both candidates actually garnered fewer votes in 2015 than either candidate did in 2011. Henry got 3,350 District 3 votes this year. He earned 3,562 in 2011. Harper earned 3,087 District 3 votes in 2015. Hughes earned 3,694.

Collectively, voters chose Henry over Harper in every City Council district except District 1. In 2011, Henry lost every City Council district except for 5 and 6, which are deeply Democratic. Henry was able to win re-election that year because he won big in Districts 5 and 6, and kept the margins as close as possible in the other four City Council districts, Downs said. 

"I think it’s just as simple as people feel like things are going a lot better in the city overall than they did four years ago and that’s not just a 1st District thing, that’s an every district thing," Henry campaign manager Rob Dible said. "I think we also did a much better job this time of targeting the independent voters."

Dible said if anything was clear to him when looking at the 2015 results, it’s that there were many Republican voters who crossed party lines to support Henry. 

There isn’t a specific reason why historically Republican districts decided to support Henry this time around, Downs said, noting that local issues tend to be harder to paint as partisan than state or national issues. 

"In local elections, people are more willing to split (votes between Republican and Democratic candidates) much more so than in a presidential election," Downs said. 

dgong@jg.net