Saturday, December 27, 2014




Mayor's Christmas wish for Fort Wayne is ancient, but still relevant: peace, good will

Lower homicide rate, economic growth highlighted a mostly positive year for city, he says

Thursday, December 25, 2014 - 12:01 am
Mayor Tom Henry's hoped-for Christmas gift to his city echoes the angels' message to those shepherds in a field near Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago: Peace on earth, good will to men.
The daily headlines from New York and elsewhere scream how rare and precious that tranquility can be, and how blessed Fort Wayne is to have it.
"My hope is that we get through Christmas and the New Year with a peaceful transition," Henry said, alluding to the angry and sometimes violent street demonstrations protesting the deaths of blacks at the hands of police officers -- demonstrations some believe contributed to the execution-style shooting deaths of two New York City cops last week. As Henry enters the final year of his second term, still officially unsure as to whether he will seek a third (despite more than $300,000 in his campaign coffers as of Jan. 13), this year's relative calm following a record-tying homicide rate in 2013 is a source of pride and thankfulness but also concern, because he knows how fragile it can be.
In fact, the relationship between police and minorities and the challenges facing Fort Wayne's southeast side were very much on the 63-year-old mayor's mind as we sat down for an end-of-the-year interview that made it clear Henry is as proud of his administration's record as he is optimistic about the city's future, whether he leads it or not.
"I'm really proud of what Garry Hamilton has done (as police chief). He's opened up dialogue with (minority) neighborhoods, and we've had an increase of calls to the police and Crime Stoppers. And the (anti-gang) task force has done an unbelievably good job. The color barrier was a general concern, and Rusty (York) fought with it a little," Henry said. Henry selected Hamilton as the city's first black chief late last year after York was promoted to safety director. Some critics say relations between law enforcement agencies and minorities suffer from a lack of diversity on some police departments.
That relationship is in stark contrast to New York, where open warfare has broken out between police and liberal mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been critical of his own department. Henry, in fact, said he is planning a "ride-along" with police -- one that will put him in a car with an officer, not the top brass, and on the more-active night shift instead of broad daylight.
Even so, Henry's biggest disappointment of the year is the lack of economic growth on the southeast side -- a condition that contributes to the poverty that often accompanies crime. "We've put a lot of effort and money into it, but we still have a lack of retail and hospitality businesses there," he said, adding that he's still trying to convince restaurants especially to "take a chance. Where do you go to eat (right now)?"
Overall, however, Henry said he is pleased with progress being made on the economic and community development fronts. Although the area's below-average wages remain a concern, many well-paying industries have announced expansions this year, including Dana, Deister Machine and BAE. Improvements continue downtown as well, most notably construction of the Ash Brokerage headquarters and a riverfront development study to be released early next year. But downtown's true potential and its ability to attract young residents is still being hindered by a lack of housing, he said. Several projects are in the works to address that shortage, including loft-style apartments on the Landing, a project west of Parkview Field and a residential component to the Ash project, a developer for which could be announced next month. A study on the feasibility of a mid-size downtown arena could also be announced next month.
As for the future, Henry expects 2015 to include another $20 million or so in neighborhood improvements ("we're so far behind," he said), and an education-employment summit that will provide access to both jobs and the skills and knowledge needed to land a job.
Whether that future beyond 2015 should include a Mayor Tom Henry is something he'll discuss next week with wife Cindy. "We'll get out of town to talk and pray about it," said Henry, who admits to being hesitant about seeking the job in the first place. "I love my job. This is the greatest job in the world, but my wife has paid a significant price. But for a while (Fort Wayne residents) were our own worst enemy. I want people from other cities to start coming here to see how well we're doing."
Put money on it: Henry seems happy, healthy and confident, and will want to be around to see it..
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at or call him at 461-8355.

KB1 (Report abuse)
DECEMBER 25 2014 2:22 PM
Tom Henry said that he expects to include 20 million next year in neighborhood improvements and "we're so far behind".

Seems like we just spend 20 million dollars on a parking garage that takes up one block in downtown. We all know where the money is going, and the mayor just told us. Maybe we could spend some of it on the southeast side, the side that got abandoned by the ones who participated in white flight, instead of on parking garages.

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