For the first time in Fort Wayne’s history, a Democrat has been elected to the mayor’s office three consecutive times.
Fort Wayne voters on Tuesday voted to re-elect Mayor Tom Henry over his Republican challenger, District 4 City Councilman Mitch Harper. In the months since the May primary, Henry’s campaign touted riverfront and downtown development, as well as investments in neighborhood infrastructure, as examples of the mayor’s vision for the future of Fort Wayne.
The last mayor to win three straight terms was Paul Helmke, a Republican who served from 1988 through 1999. Henry is the first Democrat to win a third straight term as mayor.
For months, the Henry camp has said Fort Wayne has been experiencing unprecedented momentum directly caused by Henry’s leadership.
By a margin of 5,702 votes, the city’s voters apparently agreed. Henry earned 23,769 total votes, or nearly 57 percent, while Harper earned 18,067.
"What a day, what a day," Henry said, taking the stage to thunderous applause from the Democratic Party faithful assembled at Grand Wayne Center on Tuesday night. "Thank you, Fort Wayne, for giving me the privilege of serving you again for the next four years as mayor of the city of Fort Wayne. I am humbled to be in that position again."
Henry said he’s now going to look to the future.
"Fort Wayne now more than ever is poised for change. We have positioned ourselves to take advantage of the present, while laying the foundation for a bright and exciting future," he said. "Today in our great city we have great and enthusiastic projects already in motion."
Henry said the city has access to capital, private investments and corporate involvement "like we haven’t seen in decades."
"Over the past four years we have created a momentum, excitement and enthusiasm unheard of anywhere in our state," he said.
In his speech, Henry also acknowledged Harper’s campaign, noting that both sides knew the campaign for mayor would not be easy.
"You went the distance and you certainly made my staff and I stay on our toes," Henry said. "Mitch, thank you for running. Few citizens choose to run for office and so for that you certainly should be congratulated."
Speaking to the crowd at GOP headquarters Tuesday night, Harper wished Henry well in his next four years as mayor. Harper also noted that during his campaign, he raised important issues.
"We talked about the fact of treading water in terms of public safety, that we don’t have any more officers than we did seven years ago. That we’ve got a reserve program that has gone from 60 to six officers. That needs to be changed," Harper said.
He also said the Legacy Fund is not growing.
"The most frustrating thing is that people out there in Fort Wayne, they know what the job situation is, because regular people feel it, and they know the job loss that’s here in the community. We need to build real jobs."
Harper noted that while he didn’t win, his campaign ran a good race.
"I’ve always enjoyed being a bit of an outsider and an underdog, and that’s exactly what we were here. But we didn’t have perhaps the resources of the others, but we certainly gave it a good fight," he said.
Quoting the late New York Yankees great Yogi Berra, Henry said his vision for Fort Wayne will continue for the next four years.
"(Berra) once said, ‘It ain’t over till it’s over,’ " Henry said. "My fellow citizens, it ain’t over."
Brian Francisco of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.