During his campaign for reelection last fall, Tom Henry promised not to take his eye off the basics of a well-run city that had gotten him through three successful terms as mayor: public safety, infrastructure, economic development, downtown development and improvements in the parks system.
But good leaders learn and change along with their constituents. Henry acknowledged the city could do more for neighborhoods, and he promised to widen the scope of what a mayor's role could be if he won a fourth term.
At his State of the City speech Wednesday, Henry signaled his intent to move forward on such fronts as addressing local health problems, building trails, protecting the environment and promoting our arts community. He also laid out some specific targets to make the long-neglected southeast side a part of the city's renaissance.
This is noteworthy, because Henry could have basked in his resounding win last November without emphasizing new initiatives. Voters were pleased with the direction he had already set for community development; Henry won reelection by pledging to stay the course.
The mayor began his annual address by reviewing some of what Fort Wayne has already accomplished. As he noted, what's being achieved is “the type of transformation that has made us the envy of others across the Midwest and the entire country, for that matter.” Promenade Park, new multiuse developments and hotels, new detail on the recently announced Ruoff headquarters, the resurrection of The Landing and planned reimagining of the GE campus – the list goes on and on. Central Fort Wayne is pulsing with excitement, new jobs are being created, investments in neighborhood improvements have grown and the real estate market is thriving. Crime is down, convention business is booming and progress continues on a massive project to clean up our rivers.
But Wednesday's speech was much more than a victory lap.
• He got specific on southeast-side development, naming three targets for investment and development: the Pontiac Street-Weisser Park, McKinnie Avenue-Anthony Boulevard and Southtown areas.
• He announced plans to bring health care leaders together to find ways to address our disturbingly high rates of infant mortality, type 2 diabetes and tobacco and drug abuse.
• He committed to help create a downtown arts campus and showed the audience a rendering of how beautiful the area could be.
• He enlisted Fort Wayne in the fight to save the environment. Emphasizing “progressive cities need to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels,” he pledged to look for solar-power options for government buildings. He also reemphasized the importance of river and trail development to the city's quality of life.
With strong public support, a more diverse and politically balanced City Council and a wider vision of his own role, the mayor seems poised to help make Fort Wayne an even better place to live.