Municipal elections across Northeast Indiana will take place on May 7, and some voters may have already gotten a head start, thanks to early voting.
Fort Wayne’s Republican primary for mayor has been a particularly heated race between At-Large City Councilman Dr. John Crawford and local businessman Tim Smith.
The candidates participated in a debate on March 7, showcasing a variety of similarities in platforms, with one sometimes agreeing entirely with the other and opening debate to more questions. The message was for the local Republican Party to join together -- no matter who wins the May 7 primary -- to unseat Democratic Mayor Tom Henry, who will be seeking a fourth-consecutive term in November.
But that tone changed in mid-April, when the Smith campaign issued a TV commercial and mailer ad criticizing Crawford’s tax history, which Crawford took exception to and Smith says does not change his support for Crawford were he to win.
WBOI’s Zach Bernard got to sit down with both candidates last week to discuss their campaign platforms, their goals for the City of Fort Wayne and why they believe they are best suited to unseat Henry.
Crawford, a radiation oncologist, has been a presence in Fort Wayne government since his first term as a member of City Council in 1995. He is currently on his fifth term with the body, and is also serving his fifth year-long term as the appointed body president.
Defining himself as a “fiscal conservative,” Crawford has been a leading voice for local Republicans on issues of public smoking, Parkview Field and, more recently, a 0.13% increase to the local income tax to help fund riverfront and infrastructure improvements.
His campaign platform focuses on four areas:
- Fiscal conservatism
- Improving public safety and health
- Economic development
- Collaborative leadership
You can hear Crawford outline his priorities and walk us through them in the full conversation with WBOI.
Smith has grown up and worked in Northeast Indiana since his family moved to New Haven in 1972. He gained some political experience in the late-eighties and early-nineties, interning for Vice President Dan Quayle and Senator Dan Coats before managing Paul Helmke's 1991 re-election campaign.
Defining himself as “a proven business executive -- not a politician,” Smith now serves as the senior vice president of operations and technology at MedPro, where he leads a staff of roughly 350 employees.
His campaign slogan is “Expect Better,” and highlights three areas of importance:
- Ensure school and community safety
- Zero-sum budgeting and better negotiation
- Attract new, higher-paying jobs
You can hear Smith outline his priorities and walk us through them in the full conversation with WBOI.
While Fort Wayne’s Republican primary election has captured most of the attention during this cycle, the Democratic side is also contested.
Incumbent Mayor Tom Henry is in the midst of his third term as Fort Wayne mayor, and announced in January that he would be seeking a fourth. Henry has centered the early stages of his campaign on his achievements in areas of development and downtown over the last 12 years, but he’s spoken at length about bringing down crime in the city.
Henry’s campaign focuses on six areas:
- Public safety
- Economic development
- Neighborhoods and infrastructure
- City utilities
Henry is challenged by Gina Burgess, who filed more 23 challenges to Democratic seats in this year’s election. Burgess earned an associate’s degree in paralegal studies from Ivy Tech in 1995 and a bachelor’s in business management from Trine in 2015.
Burgess entered Fort Wayne politics in 2015, coming 800 votes short of Mike Avila and failing to place in the top three of the At-Large Democratic Primary for Fort Wayne City Council. She ran again for Allen County Circuit Court clerk in 2018, getting 34 percent of the vote in the primary but losing to Danielle Anderson (44 percent). She placed ahead of perennial candidate David Roach (13 percent) and her husband, Dave Burgess (8 percent).
Burgess describes her campaign as a “Game Changer” focused on “getting back to basics, reprioritizing needs over wants, and creating a community where everyone feels included.”
Voters will see two familiar names on the ballot on May 7. Tommy Shrader will once again appear on Democratic ballots, despite massive losses in congressional races in 2012, 2014 and 2018, as well as a poor showing for a City Council seat in 2015.
In 2016, Shrader somehow earned the Democratic nomination for the 3rd District U.S. House seat, but was roundly pummeled by in the general election by Republican representative Jim Banks, who earned 70 percent of the vote.
David Roach also reappears on the ballot, this time on the Republican side. In 2015, Roach ran in the Democratic mayoral primary, receiving only 128 votes -- a 1.7 percent share.