The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, September 10, 2019 1:00 am

Test of leadership

Mayoral candidates will show character by tone of campaign they lead

John Crawford

Fort Wayne approaches a decision point in the Nov. 5 mayoral election. Thankfully, the city is doing well now. The big question is which candidate can better continue this positive momentum and even improve upon it.

This election must be about ideas. What are each candidate's specific plans? What are their detailed strategies to maintain and further improve upon our current path of economic success and progress? To fund our infrastructure and our great parks? To deal with both everyday public safety issues and emergency preparedness? What career experiences and talents does each candidate bring to the job? Do they have a record by which voters can judge them?

The candidates' websites should include complete white papers on all these important issues and not just empty slogans and platitudes. Citizens should use the candidates' stances in these critical areas as the measuring stick to make their decision in November.

This election must not be about attacks and negative campaigning. We are disgusted with the current state of political discourse in our country. An April 2019 Pew Research Center Poll showed 85% of citizens feel political debate has become more negative. Large majorities feel political discourse is less respectful, less fact-based, less focused on issues and less entertaining. In my 20 years of public service, Fort Wayne politics had been an exception to such destructive campaign tactics. I, for one, will be watching carefully to see whether our candidates debase themselves and this great city by engaging in these tactics of half-truths and divisiveness.

Negative campaigning generates more heat than light. Endless attack ads on the other candidate's record don't tell us much about plans for the future and often distort and misrepresent the past. When political attacks descend into character assassination of the other candidate or even their family, most citizens are repulsed and tune out.

But, such tactics often “work” and are gratifying to politicians who only care about winning and believe the end justifies the means. However, there are dire consequences that come from excessive attack-based campaigns.

The robust cooperation between Republicans and Democrats has been the foundation of our current momentum. This community has talked about developing the riverfront for 100 years. Now, Promenade Park is a reality because we worked together and believed in one another. Neither mayoral candidate can build us a better future by driving us apart.

Many citizens are so turned off by divisiveness that they just don't vote. Using tactics that get fewer citizens to vote is un-American. We will certainly also decrease the number of good citizens who would consider running for office to serve the community. They will now think twice before risking their good reputation being dragged down and the effects on their family.

It's a vicious cycle with lesser candidates being elected by a shrinking contingent of the electorate.

The great thing about Fort Wayne politics is that we are better than Washington, D.C. We are neighbors first; Republicans and Democrats and independents second. We have known how to disagree without attacking the reputation or the character of our opponents. That's why the two parties have been able to accomplish so much in Fort Wayne working together.

Candidates should not stoop to negative attacks on each other or their families. Otherwise, we are looking at the Ghost of Christmas Future of Fort Wayne politics with endless negative ads and citizens growing more disgusted with politicians of both parties.

It's especially important that each candidate avoid the temptation to launch the first attack because then the other campaign is forced to defend and counter. Before long, insults are flying both ways like third graders on the playground. Then, total dysfunction sets in like the mess we are tired of in Washington. While this negative approach may be taken in an attempt to win the election, the result will be a loss for everyone – voters and candidates alike.

So, I implore our mayoral candidates to pledge to run a positive campaign based on their ideas and plans for our community. Fort Wayne must consider not just whom it will elect but how it will be done. Candidates set the tone for better or worse.

Choose the high road – we expect more from our mayoral candidates. By focusing on issues and ideas instead of spouting venom and vitriol, you will show our city what kind of leader you will be.

John Crawford, an at-large city councilman, is a Fort Wayne physician. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for mayor.

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