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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Reader interview: Ex-mayor reads about presidents

Paul Helmke
Paul Helmke
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Saturday, October 06, 2012 12:01 am
Editor's note: This week's Page Turner reader interview is with Paul Helmke, a three-time former mayor of Fort Wayne.“I just finished a book by Ann Patchett. I had read her book 'Bel Canto' years ago and liked it, so I read 'Run.' It covers a short period of time in Boston — the mayor and other characters — and it's very descriptive.

“Now I'm reading the fourth book in the series about Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro. He is such a good writer, and LBJ was such a fascinating character. It covers the period from 1960 through the assassination of President Kennedy. It covers LBJ trying to put things in shape for the civil rights legislation and the 1964 campaign — and then behind the scenes taking steps to keep Kennedy folks on the staff, when he knew how they felt about him.

“There was the Civil Rights Act and getting a tax bill through and dealing with Congress. He was so good at doing some things, and then was a little bellicose in dealing with the Cuban missile crisis. Then came the Great Society and dealing with the Kennedy folks. LBJ had a mean streak in him, too. This is a fascinating read. The whole series has been excellent.

“Then just before that I read 'Team of Rivals,' by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I hadn't read it when it first came out about seven years ago but wanted to because I have such admiration for Lincoln. Reading this, I have been newly impressed, especially by the way he handled competing interests.

“Then I read 'A Puritan in Babylon,' written in 1938 by William Allen White. It's a biography of Calvin Coolidge. The times were similar to ours: Economically there were good times, and then came the crash.

“Coolidge had earned a good reputation when he helped break the police strike in 1920. Some bosses picked Coolidge for the national ticket. Then Harding died and Coolidge became president. He had a lot of self confidence. 'Silent Cal' is how many remember him. He ran again in 1924.

“You know, there is a lot in common here with the LBJ transition to the presidency. Harding died in August, Kennedy in November. Coolidge had kept his hands off; let the legislature do what it was supposed to do. His mantra was if things are good, leave them alone; practice laissez faire.

“The book is not necessarily complimentary. Coolidge, he feels, helped contribute to the Great Depression. There was a need for checks and balances in the overheated economy. He was lucky he got out when he did!

“I have also read 'The Greater Journey.' It is by David McCullough, one of my favorite writers. And I really enjoyed 'Unbroken' and 'In the Garden of Beasts.' One last one: Stephen King's book about '11/22/63' is a very good read. I like time-travel books.”


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