At a glance
City of Fort Wayne primary election
John Crawford, R
Matthew McLaughlin. R
David Christopher Roach, R
Tim Smith, R
Gina M. Burgess, D
*Thomas C. Henry, D
Tommy A. Schrader, D
*Lana R. Keesling, R
Katie Zuber, D
City Council at large
*Michael Barranda, R
*Thomas Freistroffer, R
Nathan Hartman, R
Eric Tippmann, R
Joseph (Joe) Townsend, R
MaryClare Akers, D
Michelle Chambers, D
Steve Corona, D
Curtis Nash, D
Council District 1
*Paul Ensley, R
Council District 2
*Russ Jehl, R
Council District 3
*Thomas F Didier, R
Mike Thomas, R
Palermo “Pal” Galindo, D
John J. Henry, D
Council District 4
*Jason Arp, R
Rachel Lott, R
Jorge Fernandez, D
Patti Hays, D
Council District 5
Taylor Vanover, R
*Geoff Paddock, D
Council District 6
Tom M. Cook, D
Hakim Muhammad, D
Sharon Tucker, D
Still fatigued by the seemingly endless stream of negative campaign ads lobbed in last year's Senate race? If so, you can be excused for dreading the very thought of the upcoming municipal election campaigns.
But local elections don't have to be negative. In fact, they should not carry the vitriol now commonplace in state and national contests. Local candidates – winners and losers – will continue to live and work here after the primary and general elections are past. If serving and improving their communities inspired them to run in the first place, all candidates should be prepared to run constructive, issue-based campaigns.
The best way to avoid the acrimony is to insist candidates avoid polarizing topics with no real bearing on the job sought. Candidates should focus on issues that will make a difference. Before the upcoming contests for mayor and City Council begin in earnest, I asked some community leaders what they would like candidates to address in the months ahead. Their ideas reach far beyond the usual talking points of political campaigns.
Ryan Twiss, a vice president at Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, would like to know the candidates thoughts on Fort Wayne's role in the region. “How do they see their administration interacting and collaborating with surrounding communities and counties?” he asks.
“I believe the city and region have clearly ramped up the momentum in quality-of-place investment through the Road to One Million and other programs that have focused on transforming the community into one that really attracts and retains talent,” Twiss writes in an email. “I'd be curious to hear what the candidates' positions are on collaborating with the private sector to build on the successes of the Road to One Million. Can we risk taking the foot off the gas?”
The Electric Works project at the former General Electric site is also on his mind.
“What plans do the candidates have to partner with the development team, economic developers and private sector business leaders to advance the long-term success of that transformational project?” Twiss asks.
And he is curious about their thoughts on public investment in arts and culture and how it might fit into their plans for talent attraction.
Wendy Robinson, superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools, hopes city candidates recognize the relationship between the city of Fort Wayne and the state's largest school district is one of the community's strengths.
“Our elected officials have long understood the connection between a strong public school district and a thriving city,” she writes, noting the partnerships with the police department in providing school resource officers and with the public works department in identifying areas where sidewalks are needed for students walking to and from school.
“As the city looks to the future with the Riverfront development, Electric Works and continued economic development, it is critical to remember that public schools are a critical component of having a strong workforce development,” Robinson advises. “Success is sustainable when it has a strong foundation, and for Fort Wayne Community Schools, that starts in pre-kindergarten. Public education has been the bedrock of this country and a cornerstone in our community, and we cannot afford to chip away at that foundation.”
Latrell Lapsley, a senior at New Tech Academy, wants city leaders to connect with young people.
“Fort Wayne is growing in a huge way by building these great attractions, and that's what attracts the younger generation,” he writes. “But build more attractions that have more fun and physical activities.”
Lapsley, a member of Superintendent Robinson's student advisory council, also hopes new amenities won't all be located in the same place.
“Improving Fort Wayne to make it more appealing to the younger generation is an easy accomplishment. Just ask us, we won't bite.”
Continued development of the city's trail system and park development, particularly in the northeast and northwest parts of the city are, not surprisingly, high on Kent Castleman's list. But the executive director of Fort Wayne Trails has plenty of other ideas about improving city government.
For one, he would like to see New Haven and Fort Wayne collaborate to improve the gateway into the city along East Washington Boulevard/Indiana 930, focusing on the stretch between New Haven and Memorial Park.
Castleman, who played a key role in NewAllen Alliance's successful Indiana Stellar Communities designation, said his work there and as a board member for Greater Fort Wayne showed “how much the county and the city do not talk.”
“It is more like dictating to each other how they are going to do something,” he observes. “(The city and county) have gotten really comfortable with being reactive instead of proactive.”
“My last thought is an increase in philanthropy and private investment,” Castleman writes in an email. “A lot of public funding is going into private development – how can we get more private development so the public dollars can be used for some of the community needs?”
Allen County Health Commissioner Deborah McMahan acknowledges public health issues such as smoking, obesity or drug addiction would be the likely issues for someone in her position to promote. Tracing those problems to their chemical root to encourage healthy choices is what she would like officials to do.
“What I think leaders need to do is identify the resources that are necessary for folks to make good, healthy decisions on a regular basis and make sure that for those resources, the system levels the playing field,” McMahan writes in an email. “Not to coddle but rather to equip folks to follow through with the decisions and choices that they will be happy with both in the short term and long run. The easy choice will always be the preferred route and especially if it is accompanied by a nice dopamine rush! The individual and the community will lose more often than not.”
She would like officials to identify the resources – medical, mental, social and environmental – “necessary for residents to enjoy a sense of health, well-being and purpose and design infrastructure that makes those resources more easily accessible.”
“The leverage of county funds by the County Council and commissioners to support the private and public funding already committed toward a recovery center, using evidenced-based practices to deal with the drug crisis, is an example of innovative collaborative utilization of resources to ensure individual access to critical services that will generate an outcome we all want – working folks taking care of their families,” McMahan writes. “An infrastructure that utilizes the best of the public and private sector is what will be needed to address a crisis of this magnitude.”
As executive pastor of Associated Churches, Roger Reece points to the city's most vulnerable when suggesting campaign issues.
“When we think about who and what we want to be as a community, I believe that kind of introspection and self-evaluation is rooted in the way we care for each other,” Reece writes in an email. “How do we care for the disenfranchised and the marginalized in our community? How do we help empower people? These questions are not just for the citizens of our community, but also it's a culture that must be exemplified starting at the mayor's office.”
Reece suggests the good work of Allen County's 373 human service nonprofits could be enhanced with assistance from the city.
“What if the mayor's office was a convener-in-chief? Bringing together these outstanding nonprofits that are coached and trained by foundations encouraging excellence (like the Foellinger Foundation) to help focus collective impacts,” he suggests. “The mayor's office could encourage and incentivize without government-knows-best mentality, and foster and facilitate ways to provide for a greater system of care that encourages self-sufficiency and growth for those receiving support.”
Such an initiative could bring volunteers, faith groups and resources together in stronger collaboration, Reece notes, citing a program in Cincinnati called CityLink, which “leverages the strengths of various social service agencies in Cincinnati and continues to build support from a broad base of faith-based, corporate, foundation and individual supporters who do some amazing work in their community.”
The ideas shared by these community leaders represent just a few of the approaches candidates might take in improving Fort Wayne. The challenge for voters between now and May 7 – and again before Nov. 5 – is to resist being pulled into shallow, meaningless fights and to insist on substantive campaigns worthy of a bright future.
Karen Francisco is editorial page editor at The Journal Gazette