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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, October 31, 2019 1:00 am

Maintain the MOMENTUM

Experience valuable asset for next four years

Christopher Guerin

Christopher Guerin was president of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic for 20 years and a vice president at Sweetwater for 12 years.

I was glad to read my friend Eric Doden's opinion piece critical of Mayor Tom Henry (“Henry impediment to city's success,” Oct. 22). It gives me the opportunity to provide voters with an opposing, and more accurate, picture of a remarkable leader.

Though I have been president of the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission for 15 years, I am not speaking for them. I write to use that background to express how my experience of the mayor is nothing like what Doden describes.

The most succinct comparison I can make between Doden and the mayor is that they share many of the same qualities and both are devoted to the success of the city. But Doden fails to understand that the mayor's job is 10 times harder than Doden's former position at Greater Fort Wayne Inc. ever was. Both men pushed ambitious projects. The difference is that Doden's approach was aggressive cheerleading, while Mayor Henry's position was consistently thoughtful, realistic and sometimes not sufficiently knee-jerk optimistic to satisfy Doden. The mayor didn't cheerlead; he got the job done.

Voters should be thankful we have a mayor who has driven hard bargains, as he did with Electric Works. Doden's approach was to give the developers everything they wanted. The mayor's was to guarantee that if the city was going to make the single largest commitment of dollars to any economic development project in its history, the city's investment would be protected.

If he appeared at times to be skeptical, he had good reason to be. He offered the developers $50 million, but that wasn't good enough. They held out for $63 million, which is the main reason the negotiations lingered. I'm sorry, but when someone offers you $50 million, you say, “Thank you” and get to work. Likely emboldened by Doden, they held out for what amounted to 5% of the entire project and implied that the mayor didn't really want the project at all. That is simply not true.

Mayor Henry's “skepticism” was in fact a determination to get the best deal possible for the benefit of taxpayers and the community, and that's what he achieved in the development contract, the deadline of which has been extended twice by the mayor. He's had to make tough decisions every day, while Doden stood on the sidelines frowning. Not surprisingly, he supports Tim Smith for mayor.

Mayor Henry is a man of faith, as is Smith; Tom just doesn't wear it on his sleeve. He's a man of deep and thorough experience in all the many departments under his charge. Smith has no experience in government. None.

I know Mayor Henry to be a man who thinks things through, who respects and listens to his employees, and as a man of vision.

For example, Mayor Henry created Fort Wayne United and hired a young “force of nature,” Iric Headley, to run it. Fort Wayne United's primary mission is to help curb the murder rate among young black males. Fort Wayne United has too many programs to itemize here. Its flagship program, the Ten Point Coalition, was one year old on Oct. 25. With 22 contract employees, all paid for by a state grant and local donations, the coalition's teams have been walking the Oxford neighborhood on most nights, helping to solve problems and prevent crime. The result has been a 30% decrease in crime in the Oxford area.

Mayor Henry has significantly increased the number of police officers on the street; he has prioritized the spending in our neighborhoods, particularly in improving streets and sidewalks; and he has, leveraging the extremely successful Harrison Square, brought about two new hotels, the Skyline project, the Landing, Superior Lofts, the Clyde Theater and Promenade Park. Two more major projects have just been announced.

The mayor's championing of BAE, Sweetwater, Sirva and others has led to retaining thousands of jobs and the creation of thousands more.

And then there is Electric Works. Yes, Doden deserves some credit, but nothing like what the mayor deserves.

Smith says he supports Electric Works, but that we paid too much. One has to wonder whether he'd have had the courage, the knowledge or the conviction to see the project through. And that's the problem; we just don't know.

The operative word in this mayoral election is “momentum.” Mayor Henry has it. Smith, learning on the job, and with the precious few plans he's mentioned in his campaign, will not. He will be lucky to sustain what Mayor Henry has already created.

There's much at stake in this election. Smith, standing in front of the Harvester buildings (already closed when I moved to Fort Wayne in 1985), likes to talk about what happened in the last 25 years. He should have been talking about what's been happening to job creation and retention, cost of living, safety, new initiatives and economic development over the past 12 years under Mayor Henry. But that would have been inconvenient for Smith.

I'm voting for Mayor Henry, and I hope you will join me. We need a strong, proven leader, a thinker, and a doer, like Mayor Tom Henry, to continue to keep Fort Wayne moving forward.