Dave Gong|The Journal Gazette Outgoing City Councilman and former Republican mayoral candidate John Crawford congratulates Mayor Tom Henry Tuesday night. Crawford lost to Tim Smith in the May Republican primary.
Wednesday, November 06, 2019 1:00 am
A ringing affirmation
City's steady progress wins Henry fourth term
Mayor Tom Henry's challenger, Tim Smith, ran an aggressive race, portraying Fort Wayne as an unsafe city drowning in debt and being held back by old-fashioned – and decades old – leadership. But Henry, who has learned a thing or two about campaigning over the years, mostly kept his cool and stayed on message, emphasizing the successful efforts he's led to remake downtown and make the city an attractive place for new residents and new businesses. Smith offered a blizzard of promises; Henry pledged to stay the course. In the end, Fort Wayne decided to go with the solid record of achievement and experience Henry offers.
Coming at the end of a year in which Promenade Park and a renovated Landing became realities, and with other projects on the horizon, the election was in many ways about Fort Wayne's future. But it was also a referendum on Henry's personal leadership. Over the years, there have been times when he has acted imperiously, as when he attempted to push through an annexation plan without appearing to consult many of the stakeholders. He pushed too hard on a downtown arena – a project-too-far for many residents – and, initially at least, not hard enough on Electric Works. The administration seemed slow to react to substandard garbage service last year.
But Henry is a leader who seems to learn from his mistakes. He backed off on the arena; he's gotten behind Electric Works; he empowered a citizen-driven council to work through solutions to the garbage crisis.
Though the remaking of downtown is clearly closest to his heart, Henry has responded to the growing sense that neighborhoods and their infrastructure needed equal attention. “My biggest regret was not figuring out a way to spend more money on our neighborhoods more quickly than we did,” he said during an October interview with our editorial board.
Fort Wayne has reelected a mayor who clearly doesn't intend to rest on his laurels. Henry has been thinking a lot about what's ahead. “I wouldn't run if I thought it was going to be a farewell tour,” he said during that same interview, listing four areas he wants to give more attention: the city's serious health challenges; the downtown arts campus; developing alternative sources of energy; and continuing to build Fort Wayne's trails system.
But Task No. 1 for the victorious mayor is sustaining the process of making all of Fort Wayne the kind of place where new people want to live and current residents are happy to stay.
“We've got a hell of town,” Henry said. “We went through some real tough times, and look where we are now.”
Indeed. Four more years, Mayor Henry.