Fort Wayne City Councilman John Crawford said Tuesday he plans to focus on five issues during his campaign for mayor next year.
Those issues, the at-large Republican said, are fiscal responsibility, addressing Allen County's opioid epidemic, crime, economic development, and collaboration among elected officials.
Crawford, who has served almost 20 years on the City Council, formally announced plans to run for mayor during last month's Lincoln Day Dinner hosted by the Allen County Republican Party.
Mayor Tom Henry, a Democrat, has not announced whether he plans to seek a fourth term. Crawford is expected to face businessman Tim Smith in the May 2019 primary.
“The mayor's office has been held by the same party for 20 years,” Crawford said during a speech at the Republican Party headquarters. “Every organization after a time becomes complacent and inflexible. After asking citizens for feedback on whether they think it's time for a change, the answer was yes. And I agree.”
If elected, Crawford said he would cut expenses by changing some of the city's spending priorities. He would implement a spending freeze for discretionary departments.
“The bureaucracy can be reformed by cutting or merging some departments to save money while increasing efficiency,” Crawford said, noting this proposal would not apply to public safety budgets.
The concept of zero-based budgets isn't new, said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW. Former President Jimmy Carter once explored the concept at the federal level.
Essentially, under a zero-based plan, the city budget would be crafted each year from zero, rather than by referencing the current year's budget to estimate spending for the next year. Departments would have to justify all proposed spending each year under a zero-based plan, Downs said.
“The way some people describe it is it's a good thing to happen every now and then because you get back to the core of what you want to do, what you expect to do,” Downs said. “The problem with doing it on a regular basis is that realistically governments won't flip (spending) that much in a year.”
Crafting a budget from zero would be “much more labor intensive” than the current incremental system, Downs said. It would also present a logical opportunity for City Council members to be more involved in the process, which is something several council Republicans have wanted for years.
Public health, crime
Addressing Allen County's opioid epidemic primarily requires increasing the availability of treatment for residents battling opioid addiction, Crawford said.
Crawford, who is an oncologist, is an alumnus of Louisiana State University Medical School. He opened his medical practice in Fort Wayne in 1976.
“Treatment must be the priority. Doctors should use opiates only as a last resort for pain,” Crawford said. “Treatment programs need to offer more medication-assisted treatment, which is now the standard of care and effective.”
To help address the problem, Crawford said Fort Wayne can pursue new federal funding designed to fight the epidemic and organize local resources to get results.
Crawford referenced his 2007 vote for Fort Wayne's public smoking ban – a move that cost him re-election that year. Crawford was voted back onto City Council in 2011.
Reducing rates of opioid addiction in Fort Wayne will help reduce the crime rate, Crawford said.
But he also said 49 homicides in Allen County last year means law enforcement “must evolve to be more effective” through more aggressive arrests of drug dealers and gang members, as well as new strategies to deter at-risk residents from crime.
Police and prosecutors must find ways to encourage witnesses to come forward, Crawford said.
“The biggest problem in solving homicides is that witnesses won't come forward to tell what they know. Sometimes witnesses fear for their own safety, and we should provide more witness protection to reduce that fear,” he said. “The police and prosecutors will have great difficulty bringing these killers to justice unless we change the reluctance of witnesses to testify.”
Crawford criticized Henry for the slow pace of the planned Electric Works development south of downtown, charging that Henry's administration has “shown a lack of leadership on this and by moving slowly will possibly jeopardize this development.”
“If I had been in (Henry's) position in December, by Christmas, we'd be meeting with the county commissioners and moving things forward and deciding, are we for it or against it. Just come on out and say what it is you really feel,” Crawford said. “This ambivalence and moving things slowly will eventually kill it unless we can put some more pressure to move it along.”
To that end, Crawford said if elected, he plans to meet regularly with the Allen County commissioners, City Council president and other elected officials and community leaders in the county. Crawford said he would also make appearances at the council table, which is something Henry has not done in years.
“Fort Wayne is not an island; we must all pull in the same direction,” Crawford said. “I have always worked in a bipartisan fashion on council and will continue to do so as mayor. We are all on the same team and all want Fort Wayne to succeed.”
Reached for comment late Tuesday, mayoral spokesman John Perlich said he cannot comment on statements made during political events. However, Perlich did say Henry met Tuesday with RTM Ventures, the firm developing the Electric Works site.
Perlich said Henry is “very active in doing all we can to assist the Electric Works project.”
“He's been meeting regularly with them and our internal team continues its daily due diligence in working with the Electric Works team to (move) things forward,” Perlich said.