The Journal Gazette
Thursday, September 13, 2018 1:00 am

The wrong message

Divisive social issues no path to mayor's office

Timothy Pape

A few years ago, Jim Clifton, the CEO of Gallup, visited Fort Wayne to discuss the data behind his book, “The Coming Jobs War.”

Clifton's mission was to alert all Americans that we are in the fight of our lives globally for living-wage jobs, and that the most important factor is to attract talented employees to our community. To do so, he said, we must be open to all types of people, beliefs and backgrounds. Clifton warned that being perceived as discriminatory sends a message, for example, to the talented engineer from India that he is not welcome.

Yet, Republican Tim Smith wants you to elect him mayor because he is very anti-abortion. Last week, within minutes of announcing his candidacy, Smith intentionally began to drive a wedge into our community on one of the more divisive issues of the last 45 years. In answer to a question about what differentiates Smith from his opponent, city councilman and cancer doctor John Crawford, Smith drove the wedge home:

“Social issues. I'm very anti-abortion. I'm not sure where Councilman Crawford stands.”

Vote Smith, his argument goes, the anti-abortion candidate for mayor. Smith is a lawyer. He knows the mayor's office has no legal authority over abortion. He knows not a single city government penny is spent in any fashion on abortion.

Yet, Smith uses religious exclusion and community division as a strategy to win office, rather than addressing the vital community and economic issues that shape our opportunity and future.

The most important message any mayor can send is that he/she works for every person who calls this community home, not just the elite or those who practice a particular faith. Promoting a litmus test on one sensitive social issue, not even in the mayoral purview, positions Smith as a willful divider. This is the greatest risk Smith poses to our shared future. In contrast to Smith, we have a long history in Fort Wayne of bipartisan leadership. Even now, over 20 years with a majority-Republican City Council and a Democratic mayor, our leaders have never introduced such divisive, exclusionary, hostile issues into city government where they simply don't belong.

There's another enormous risk Smith's identity-based politics pose to our shared future: alienating the business owners, decision-makers and talented employees any mayor must attract if we are to gain and maintain living-wage jobs. We know successful, creative companies today seek the best talent with open arms, without reservation.

Apple, Salesforce, Angie's List, Eli Lilly, Cummins, Anthem, IU Health, PayPal, Yelp, the NCAA, NBA, WNBA, Indiana Pacers, Indiana Fever, and Butler and Purdue universities are just a few of the Indiana-based and national businesses and institutions that stood against the religious bigotry at the foundation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the ill-considered legislation that would have allowed businesses, because of their religious beliefs, to refuse to serve certain customers, as did Jim Crow laws. Such legislation and past attempts to amend Indiana's constitution to ban gay marriage cast Indiana as intolerant, exclusionary and just plain mean. Religious intolerance is an economic development killer.

Smith thus owes the citizenry answers on the social issues he strategically and, I fear, cynically introduced into the mayor's race:

• Did Smith support Gov. Mike Pence's RFRA legislation? Would Smith as mayor seek to introduce such legislation in Fort Wayne?

• Did Smith support efforts to pass an amendment to Indiana's constitution to ban gay marriage?

• What policy does Smith intend to introduce as mayor to further his “very” anti-abortion position?

Divisive social issues are bad for economic growth, the future and our stated community objectives. We are best served by leaders who recognize we need more tolerance and humility, leaders who understand that diversity makes us stronger, our imaginations make us smarter and our care for and investment in one another makes us safer. A life full of faith is one that honors the rich and varied tapestry of people in our community and focuses on our common core of humanity.

Neither Smith nor any other mayor can lead us to a brighter economic future while saddling us with ancient tribalism grounded in religious-based exclusion and discrimination. Rather, to win the future economically, Fort Wayne must exemplify in all measures Christ's command to love all our neighbors equally, without reservation. Love and exclusion cannot co-exist.

Smith should immediately reject promoting such exclusionary social issues and pledge to do so no further.

Timothy Pape is an attorney and former member of Fort Wayne City Council.

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