In his biggest victory since 2007, Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry was elected to another four-year term Tuesday, making him the only mayor in city history to be elected to four consecutive terms in office.
According to unofficial results from the Allen County Election Board, Henry, a Democrat, was elected with 61.21% of the vote. Republican challenger Tim Smith came away with 38.79% of the ballots cast. Henry earned 56.8% in 2015; 49.85% in 2011; and 60% in 2007.
At least two other mayors have been elected to four terms – William J. Hosey and Harry Baals – but neither served all four terms consecutively.
In remarks to the assembled crowd at Grand Wayne Center, Henry thanked Smith for having the courage to run for mayor.
“I realize that this particular campaign was very aggressive and very strong and at times contentious,” Henry said. “But I will not say anything against candidate Smith. He had the courage to step up and run for an office. Not everyone can do that.”
Henry was joined in victory by four Democrats who were elected or reelected to the Fort Wayne City Council: Geoff Paddock, Sharon Tucker, Michelle Chambers and Glynn Hines.
Starting next year, Henry will be working with a City Council comprised of five Republicans and four Democrats, meaning he could be insulated from having any vetoes he might issue over the coming term overturned. Per City Council rules, a veto override requires six votes.
Speaking at Allen County Republican Headquarters downtown shortly after 8 p.m., Smith said he called Henry to congratulate the reelected mayor and offer to help improve the city. Smith thanked God, his supporters and campaign staff and his family for their support during the campaign.
“One loss, politically, means nothing in the grand scheme of things,” Smith said. “It is quite obvious the people of Fort Wayne are very pleased with how things are going.”
Some prominent Republicans were dismayed over Smith's loss. Councilman Tom Freistroffer, R-at large, was elected to a second term Tuesday but said he was “also saddened. I've never seen anyone work like Smith.”
Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, who narrowly lost his reelection bid, echoed Freistroffer's comment, noting that the city “lost out on a chance for Tim Smith to lead this community.”
Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, was one of the most vocal Tuesday, urging his fellow Republican council members to fight back against “liberal” Henry. Ensley defeated Democratic Party Chair Misti Meehan for the District 1 seat.
But one outgoing Republican city councilman was on hand at the Democrats' election night party at Grand Wayne Center. At-large Council President John Crawford congratulated Henry on his victory and provided reporters with his thoughts on why the election turned out this way.
Smith defeated Crawford in a contentious Republican mayoral primary this year.
Crawford said Fort Wayne residents believe the city is doing well because of efforts by City Council and the mayor.
Smith's tone throughout the campaign, Crawford said, “was just all wrong.”
“You can't say Fort Wayne is a hellhole when everybody thinks it's doing well. There's an old Groucho Marx joke, 'Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes,'” Crawford said. “People didn't believe it because they didn't feel it.”
Crawford added that Smith's tone may have caused problems for down-ticket Republican candidates and added that many of his own supporters could not coalesce behind Smith because of how he handled the primary.
Still, Crawford said he would have lost as well.
“Once we divided the Republican Party in the primary, I couldn't have got the far right to come back to me,” he said.
Matthew LeBlanc of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.