A local Republican has received an endorsement from a powerful business political action committee for the mayor's race in 2019 – before he's even officially in the race.
The Northeast Indiana PAC for Better Government gave its support to Tim Smith – an executive with MedPro Group in Fort Wayne – even though a number of well-known GOP politicos are still weighing a run.
Also, Democratic Mayor Tom Henry hasn't said whether he will seek re-election.
“The PAC has made its decision early because Fort Wayne is at a critical point in history,” said a letter from Jim Marcuccilli, chairman of the committee. “Supporting the right candidate early makes more likely a victory in 2019.”
Other Republicans considering a mayoral candidacy include Fort Wayne City Councilmen John Crawford and Russ Jehl, along with Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters.
Marcuccilli did not respond to a call and email seeking further comment Friday. It is unclear whether the PAC spoke with other candidates but Smith said he talked individually with key members and was invited to two meetings.
“I haven't announced yet but obviously I do have the endorsement and I'm delighted,” Smith said.
“They are business leaders and have been for decades. They typically don't get involved in primaries – especially not 18 months out. And supporting a complete outsider when there are likely to be insiders who step in.”
The Northeast Indiana PAC is supported by some of the area's largest Republican donors – such as John Tippman, Keith Busse, Nate Golm, John Popp, Don McArdle and Marcuccilli. It is a formidable force in campaigns – funneling cash to key GOP candidates.
Smith, 49, said he filed an exploratory committee in September but converted it to a full campaign committee this week so he can actively raise funds. He said he has already received donations but declined to disclose his supporters until reporting is required.
The PAC is hosting an event Dec. 14 at Busse's Corvette Museum on behalf of Smith.
“His extensive management experiences, together with his visionary ideas for the future of our city, uniquely qualify him to serve as our next mayor,” Marcuccilli's letter said.
Allen County Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine said Smith is an excellent candidate – noting his business experience and conservative credentials.
But he thinks it's too early to be picking candidates.
“While I encourage people to get out there and start promoting their views and a positive agenda for the city of Fort Wayne there will be other individuals looking at this and there probably needs to be time for all of these people to be considered by donors and supporters,” Shine said.
Peters and Crawford were surprised by the early endorsement of Smith – a relative unknown.
“Not a clue,” said Peters when asked what Smith might stand for. “I don't think he's been tied into the organization,” he added, referring to the Republican Party.
Crawford said he'd met Smith once at an event. “I don't know if he has – I don't think he has any political experience.” He said Smith has very little name recognition, and that makes a run at mayor more difficult, even with financing.
Crawford said he had not yet decided whether to run. “I'm getting close. I'm gathering data and gaging support.”
Smith said he likely won't officially announce until late spring or early summer.
In 2004 he lost a political caucus to replace Sen. Bud Meeks in the Indiana Senate. He also in the past helped run Paul Helmke's successful re-election campaign for Fort Wayne mayor in 1991.
Fort Wayne GOP Sen. David Long isn't endorsing anyone in the mayoral race yet but has met with Smith and called him an “impressive guy.”
“The PAC wants to unify behind one candidate. They feel like Republicans have split themselves up in the past,” Long said. “The idea is to coalesce behind one candidate and put resources there.”
He noted support of the PAC is very important but that Smith lacks name recognition.
Smith has a bachelor's degree in political science and a law degree. He is vice president of operations and IT for MedPro Group – one of the nation's leading health care liability insurance companies.
He said an “outsider with my business experience and education will be well suited to lead Fort Wayne to where it has the potential to go.”
Smith said he expects a competitive race even after the early endorsement.
He also declined to talk about specific policy stances until later in his campaign. But since the North River property acquisition is in the news he did address that topic.
“I believe the North River property is a significant piece of the economic development puzzle for Fort Wayne” and it's good for the city to acquire it. But he said the process lacked transparency, coordination with the City Council, and the city is paying too much.
Journal Gazette reporter Rosa Salter Rodriguez contributed to this report