The third forum in the Fort Wayne mayoral race took place at Purdue Fort Wayne’s Rhinehart Music Center Thursday night between Democratic incumbent Tom Henry and Republican challenger Tim Smith.
Thursday’s discussion focused on quality of life in Fort Wayne, and was hosted by Arts United, PBS39 and the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics.
The discussion lasted just short of an hour, and largely centered on how the influence of local art can drive business growth and facilitate improvements in areas of need.
Both candidates sparred over job growth and talent retention, and the most effective ways for attracting people to live and work in Fort Wayne.
Smith says the loss of manufacturing jobs -- and lack of viable replacements -- aligns with the city’s difficulty keeping young people around. He says the mayor’s job is to “convene resources” and inform the public of opportunities.
“What I will do as mayor -- what I think we should have been doing for 20 years -- is traveling around the country and looking at our own backyard including in southeast Fort Wayne for businesses that focus on data, IT and analytics," said Smith.
"And you ask them, ‘Do you want access to 7,000 trained employees and $7 billion in revenue? Come to Fort Wayne.'”
Henry followed by saying Fort Wayne used to be a “one-horse town” with regard to its industry and suffered when those jobs went away. But he added that the city has continued to support manufacturing while looking beyond that industry to diversify the city's job pool.
“We’ve also developed jobs in healthcare, and the hospitality business. We’re often teased about having so many restaurants in this community, but try getting a reservation on a weekend," Henry said.
"But that’s a good thing -- the more restaurants that are built, the greater the message is outside of our community.”
This led to a heated debate about the city’s southeast side, which Smith says has been abandoned during Henry’s tenure as mayor. He suggests that every stakeholder knows it needs “attention” and “stimulating,” it just… has to be done.
“The mayor’s absolutely right: all he needs to do is run infrastructure out there and we can develop the corridor between downtown and 469," Smith said in one of the few attacks on Henry's record. "The mayor and other officials have had literally decades to improve the southeast side of town to whatever extent it needs.”
Henry countered by admitting that, yes, southeast Fort Wayne has struggled during his time as mayor, but emphasized the potential of that region of the city.
“Wouldn’t it be great if you could envision south, southeast Fort Wayne being a real center for artists, musicians, actors? To be able to take a section of our city and be able to dedicate it to the development of the arts… what a great statement that would make,” Henry said.
You can listen to the full debate with analysis during WBOI Presents Saturday at 7am.