The Third District City Council race between Tom Didier and John Henry pits a personable, pragmatic Republican against a think-out-of-the-box Democrat. Level-headed experience should be the determinant in this contest.
Republican Didier has served more than 15 years under Democratic mayors, but he believes Fort Wayne is moving in the right direction. Indeed, he is one of several local leaders who can share credit for that progress.
Didier is part of the bipartisan coalition that built Promenade Park and is backing Electric Works, and he is a key advocate for increased spending for infrastructure and neighborhood needs. In the interest of building a more attractive and economically competitive city, he's tossed the traditional Republican playbook aside to vote for increasing the local option income tax, creating a city wheel tax and tapping deeply into the Legacy Fund.
“I like to have public-private partnerships because there's some skin in the game for both of them,” he told the editorial board recently. “I don't believe that you could actually get some of these projects done if you did not do this because they would just go to another city like Des Moines or Grand Rapids – they would gobble it up in a second because that's how the 'system' works.” He compares governmental tax abatements to discounts salespeople may offer customers in the business world – all part of getting the job done.
Didier's people skills make him ideal for building consensus on thorny issues. Last year, he was part of a mayor's taskforce that eased Fort Wayne's garbage-collection crisis by suggesting new routes for Red River's trucks. “I really try to keep an open mind, all the time, with everything,” Didier told us. “Get people in a room and say, let's work this thing out, take off the boxing gloves and let's try to make this thing work.”
Henry, a marketing specialist who is a second cousin to Mayor Tom Henry, believes Didier is “a great guy” who has nonetheless become ineffective. “You just don't see any creativity,” Henry said. In fact, he told our editorial board, the whole council “needs a shake-up.”
A former salesman as well as a local radio personality, Henry sounds much like his Republican opponent in wanting to see progress on neighborhood improvements as well as downtown development. But Henry has a plan to make government more responsive at the council-district level that would if anything slow the city's momentum.
“Each council person should just focus on their district,” he proposes, and their jobs should be made full time. Henry wants to enroll the almost 40,000 residents he would represent in a kind of club that would encourage them to patronize merchants with the Third, a sprawling, economically diverse district that comprises much of northwestern Fort Wayne. “People really, really like the thought of buying local and getting to know their neighbors,” Henry said. Other ideas he advances include creating and staffing a District 3 crisis center, educating voters on what their property taxes go for and giving out tax breaks to encourage new home ownership.
If elected, Henry might quickly learn some of his ideas are too expensive and impractical to get much traction on the council. He would likely focus on the nuts-and-bolts issues he says he has been hearing about as he campaigns and attends neighborhood association meetings.
But Didier has delivered that kind of representation during almost four council terms. An easygoing man who is sometimes underestimated, he has an instinctual grasp of how his constituents' needs mesh with the city as a whole.
“Most people,” Didier told us, “just want their sidewalks fixed, they want the water coming to their house, they want their sewage collected, they want the snow plowed from their streets and they want their trash picked up. I have to ... make sure that we're growing ... to try and bring more people to the community, so that we thrive and we grow and the tax base grows.”
We endorse Tom Didier.
Oct. 3: Huntington school referendums
Oct. 4: Fort Wayne city clerk
Oct. 6: Fort Wayne Council at large
Oct. 7: Fort Wayne Council District 1
Today: Fort Wayne Council District 3
Wednesday: Fort Wayne Council District 4
Thursday: Fort Wayne Council District 5
Friday: New Haven mayor
Sunday: Fort Wayne mayor
*Candidates in Fort Wayne City Council Districts 2 and 6 are unopposed
Find endorsements online at journalgazette.net/Opinion/Endorsements