FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A heated mayoral debate Tuesday night on Fort Wayne’s Southeast side let Mayor Tom Henry and Republican challenger Tim Smith go head to head at True Love Missionary Baptist Church.
“I am appalled at the status of the infrastructure in city council districts five and six compared to the rest of the city,” Smith said. “I am appalled at the hundreds of millions, not tens of millions of dollars, that have been invested downtown to the exclusion of the Southeast side of town.”
Henry passionately responded.
“His comments saying that we have not invested in Southeast Fort Wayne are wrong,” he said. “You know darn well we’ve invested millions of dollars in south, southeast. Councilman Hines and Councilman Paddock, the at-large city council members, they hold me to task on that.”
Those in attendance wanted to hear concrete plans of how the candidates would make the southeast side economically stronger. They found Henry and Smith smart and passionate, though sometimes vague.
Smith said he planned to bring viable big business to the area that would in turn attract restaurants and smaller businesses. Henry blamed suburban sprawl for no one wanting to build businesses in the southeast, but expressed plans to build a sit-down restaurant in the sector.
“It was a great debate,” said attendee Veronica Townes. “It got a little hot, but it’s expected.”
The debate was unique because the questions posed to the candidates by WANE 15’s Alyssa Ivanson were actually from True Love congregation members and Southeast Fort Wayne constituents. The debate was hosted by the United Pastors of Fort Wayne.
Henry and Smith butt heads on the definition of diversity, with Henry saying his track record proves he cares much more about providing opportunities to people of color.
They also disagreed on how safe of a city Fort Wayne is. Smith called out Henry for not pushing hard enough for community-oriented policing.
The majority of the room believed Henry had their best interest at heart.
“I honestly think there could be room for improvement, but out of his answers I do believe that he will try to make that happen,” said attendee Jasmine Bennett.
Some are curious to hear more from Smith.
“You know how they say if you keep doing the same thing you keep getting the same results?” said Townes. “I would like to see somebody else do something different, to give them a chance. So Tim Smith, he sounds good. He sounds like he’s coming with the fresh perspective that can help us.”
Morgan Williams felt similar.
“Absolutely I like Mayor Henry,” he emphasized. “He’s committed his life to serving the community for a number of years so you have to take your hat off to him, but a breath of fresh air into an administration never hurts.”
Some attendees didn’t trust either candidate.
“It becomes very frustrating sometimes because it feels like the lesser of two evils and both people seem to be really out of touch with the people, the real people,” said Karen Staton.
True Love’s pastor Robert Bell says that no matter who wins, he hopes they will come back to the Southeast side once they’re mayor to continue the critical conversations started at this debate.