Republicans barely maintained their majority on the Fort Wayne City Council in Tuesday's municipal election.
They saw their advantage shrink from 7-2 currently to 5-4 next year as Democrats picked up two at-large seats to give Mayor Tom Henry veto power over GOP ordinances he dislikes. It takes six votes on the council to override a mayoral veto.
The Democrats' gains also make for the city's most diverse council ever. The new group will have female representation for the first time since 2011 with the election of Sharon Tucker and Michelle Chambers. Tucker and Chambers also are the first African American women ever elected to the council.
“I am so stoked. Today we get to tell her story,” Tucker said at the Democrats' election watch party at the downtown Grand Wayne Center.
Three African Americans will sit on the council with Tuesday's election of Tucker, Chambers and Democratic incumbent Glynn Hines, elected this time as an at-large candidate after representing for two decades the 6th District where Tucker ran. Hines has been the only African American on the council in recent years.
Voters citywide re-elected Republican Councilman Tom Freistroffer to a second term and chose Hines and Chambers in narrow balloting among six candidates for three at-large seats. Freistroffer received nearly 18% of ballots, Hines 17.5% and Chambers 16.8%.
Chambers edged out first-term Republican Councilman Michael Barranda, who received 16.4%. Democrat Steve Corona received nearly 16%, and Republican Nathan Hartman got 15.5%.
“I'm looking forward to another four years on City Council to rebuild the city of Fort Wayne and keep the momentum going,” said Freistroffer, 68, owner of realty and appraisal companies.
Hines, 68, a retired high school teacher, said voters “have confidence in me that I can continue the same path of progressive development, supporting economic development, supporting neighborhoods, supporting the trails and those kinds of things.”
He said he plans to introduce legislation to restore collective bargaining rights for city employees.
Chambers said in an interview that “it's an honor” and “it's overwhelming” to be among the first two African American women elected to the council. Chambers also ran in 2015.
“I'm not a politician. I'm the people's candidate. And (voters) believed in that,” said Chambers, 51, who works for a notary service and is a former interim city clerk.
Barranda said City Council Republicans will “hold the line” and counter Mayor Tom Henry, whom he accused of not working closely enough with the council.
“We have to do better,” said Barranda, 41, an attorney for an insurance company.
First-term Republican Councilman Paul Ensley received 58.4% of the vote to 41.6% for challenger Misti Meehan, chairwoman of the Allen County Democratic Party, in the east-side district.
Ensley urged Republicans gathered at GOP headquarters in downtown Fort Wayne to band together to fight what he called Henry's liberal agenda.
“Now is the time we need to come together as a party,” said Ensley, 30, a financial controller for a local chain of nutrition stores.
Meehan, 43, said she was happy despite her loss.
“After this election, our City Council is far more representative of the people who actually live here,” she said. “We added some women, we've added some people of color.”
Republican Councilman Russ Jehl, 39, ran unopposed in the northeast district.
Republican Councilman Tom Didier was easily re-elected to the northwest seat he has held since unseating Henry in the 2003 city council election. Didier won 64.1% of the vote to 35.9% for Democratic challenger John J. Henry, a second cousin of the mayor.
“I'm humbled. It's not easy” campaigning, said Didier, 58, a sales representative for a food distribution company. “We're worked hard over the last six months to make sure we talked to constituents.”
Didier said he wants the city to see continued economic growth.
“I just want to stay positive,” he said.
First-term Republican Councilman Jason Arp won 51.3% of the vote to defeat Democratic challenger Patti Hays, who received 48.7% in the southwest district.
Arp, 45, is president of a proprietary investments management firm. Hays, 64, is chief executive officer of a nonprofit foundation that helps people who have disabilities.
“I really enjoyed so many of the people I met during this process in the neighborhoods I walked,” Hays said. “And I heard concerns that really were meaningful to me. I hope that those people who had concerns continue to share their voice and that they have their voices represented at City Council.”
The Journal Gazette was unable to reach Arp for comment.
Democratic Councilman Geoff Paddock received 74.3% of the vote to Republican challenger Taylor Vanover's 25.7% in the central and south-central district.
“We really talked about the positive issues of this campaign,” Paddock said at Grand Wayne Center. “We heard from so many folks out there who say we've got to keep what Fort Wayne is doing, we've got to keep that going, we've got to keep the momentum going in this community. I'm very pleased to have played a small role in that.”
Vanover was the first openly gay candidate to seek a City Council seat.
“We brought to light the need of a community advocate,” Vanover said Tuesday. “I'm proud that we brought significant issues to light.”
Democrat Tucker, 47, a member of the Allen County Council, ran unopposed in the southeast district.