FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The year was 1983, and Fort Wayne would soon be introduced to one of this year’s mayoral candidates.
“At that time, we had nine councilmembers, eight of whom were Democrats,” said Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry about his start in city council.
Henry would enjoy 20 years serving in the city’s 3rd District before losing reelection in 2003 to this election cycle’s other mayoral candidate.
“Sam Talarico who was on council goes, ‘Tom, I’d really like to see you run for council,'” said Tom Didier, 3rd District councilman.
In the end, Didier beat Henry, who was running for a sixth term in the district.
In Didier’s victory speech, he said the win was “bittersweet,” a sentiment that revealed more about a relationship between the two men that spans most of their lives.
Now, Henry and Didier find each other as political opponents for the second time since 2003, but the two share history outside the confines of policy and party lines.
The Didier and Henry Families
Henry and Didier share more than their first name; both are men of Catholic faith hailing from large families.
Didier is one of 12 and Henry one of 17.
“We just had a family reunion, and I think there was close to 180 of us,” Henry said.
“We grew up in a four-bedroom house,” Didier said. “There was seven boys in one bedroom.”
The families lived in the confines of a Fort Wayne that was much different than it appears today, at just over 133,000 residents in 1950, about half of today’s population, the much more intimate city meant it was only a matter of time before the families who shared a common faith, shared friendship.
“The Henrys and Didiers have known each other for a long time,” Henry said. “I think our parents may have gone to high school together.”
“I’ve known Tom since I was 10 years old,” Didier said. “Occasionally I’d see Tom, he’d pop into the store on Huffman Street.”
Both candidates have a bevy of family-friend antiques including Henry going to college with Didier’s brother and Henry’s parents babysitting some of the Didiers.
“It’s kind of crazy that we’re in this situation,” Didier said. “I knew a lot of Henrys all my life.”
Tom Henry served on Fort Wayne City Council in the 3rd district for 20 years after being elected in 1983.
“I thought I had done a pretty admirable job,” Henry said.
Henry served on a board dominated by Democrats, but he said finding compromises with the sole Republican on the council was something he strived for.
“Don Schmidt was the only Republican on council, but Don and I became close friends,” Henry said. “If you don’t have a good trusting relationship… it’s extremely hard to get things done.”
He won reelection several times, including a very close race in 1995 only beating Laura Lee Waterman by five votes in a recount after initially losing by just two votes.
Henry’s historic run came to an end in 2003 when he ran against a young Tom Didier.
In 2003 WANE 15 interviewed Didier after the election, and was seen sharing a hug and conversation with Henry and his wife Cindy.
“I told him if I win it’ll be bittersweet Tom, and he said ‘same for me’,” Didier said in 2003.
That 2003 win sprung a city council career, that as of this year matched Henry’s own 20 years in the third district.
When talking about his accomplishments Didier spoke at length about how he has been able to secure several wins for his district, but he also keyed in on large city development that he voted for.
“The big moment came when we had the baseball stadium,” Didier said. “We needed to put our baseball stadium downtown because it was going to be an anchor for the community.”
Didier says that downtown would look entirely different without the baseball stadium and without his vote.
“I knew back then, 17-18 years ago that if I voted yes for this then all these other things that we’ve had happen over the course of the last 15 years were going to come to fruition.”
The 2003 loss was a blow to Henry who had a historic run in the third district.
“I did not expect to lose the council seat,” Henry said. “I worked very hard as a city council member… I was happy with the job I did.”
But the loss turned into an equally historic run in the Mayor’s office after beating Matt Kelty in 2007 and winning reelection in 2011, 2015 and 2019.
A look at the history of Fort Wayne mayors, as kept by the city, shows that Henry is one of only three mayors to serve 4 terms (William J. Hosey served 4 nonconsecutive terms [1906-1910, 1914-1918, 1922-1926, 1930-1934] and Harry W. Baals who died while holding the office [1934-1947, 1952-1954]).
With a fifth, he would stand alone in Fort Wayne history.
In his time, Henry told WANE 15 that he has been proud of many projects, but ultimately he points to being nationally recognized as a sign of growth, improvement and excellence on all fronts.
“Our city has won over 2 dozen state and national awards,” said Henry. “Everything from the greatest place to raise a family, to a great sporting venue, to the best run city and I can go on and on.”
Rematch for Mayor
Both Henry and Didier faced competition to win the nomination from their respective party after declaring for the race.
Didier squared off against fellow Councilman Jason Arp, food truck vendor Eddie Ribel and Jesse Crammer winning with 64.05% of the vote while Henry soundly beat Jorge Fernandez with 78% of the vote.
Despite the buildup to the race with Henry looking at a historic 5th term and Didier being the last person to hand Henry a political loss, the race has been marked by relatively little hostility and name-calling.
“There isn’t back and forth that we sometimes see at the national level,” said Purdue Fort Wayne Professor Mike Wolf about the candidates following a debate the two candidates had on WANE 15.
“I think that’s why it’s been so cordial,” Didier said. “We’ve known each other for so long.”