‘Most expensive primary’ is official as Tim Smith challenges Councilman John Crawford in GOP race for Fort Wayne mayor

Tim Smith (courtesy photo)

Officially kicking off what he expects to be the most expensive primary contest in city history, insurance executive Tim Smith Tuesday confirmed he will run for mayor next to make Fort Wayne the “safest, smartest, strongest city in the Midwest.” City Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, announced in April he will also compete in the May 2019 Republican primary that will select the candidate to face three-term incumbent Democrat Tom Henry that November.

Smith, senior vice president/operations and technology at Medical Protective, had previously said he planned to run and made it official during a press conference at the former site of the 10,000-employee International Harvester truck plant. The plant’s closure in 1983, he said, symbolizes Fort Wayne’s loss of high-paying jobs, past failures and future opportunities.

“Fort Wayne will be a Midwest magnet for jobs, people and non-profits,” Smith predicted.

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To make the city safer, Smith said he would address the large number of unsolved homicides by reintroducing a commitment to community policing and by putting more officers on the streets, in part by reorganizing a command structure he considers top-heavy. He would also offer bonuses to officers willing to live in higher-crime areas, believing the increased presence of police and their marked vehicles would build trust and deter bad behavior. “We’ve had 100 murders in three years, and three-quarters of them are unsolved,” he said. “We have people overdosing in Freimann Square. Many believe we aren’t as safe as we should be, and people ought to be angry.”

He would make city government smarter by doing what many businesses do: pull diverse constituencies together to create a long-term plan to boost efficiency by eliminating “islands” that too often fail to work together. Smith said all spending and regulations would be be justified from scratch, possibly saving millions of dollars that could be spent more effectively elsewhere. The city’s employee health plan represents an especially fertile opportunity for savings, said Smith, who is also troubled by a growth in city debt under Henry.

And Fort Wayne would become stronger, Smith insisted, by creating an environment in which employers and employees alike can thrive. “Employers will come here if they believe their money will multiply faster and their people will be happier,” he said, referring not only to tax policy but good schools and qualify of life. “Half of my time (as mayor) will be working to retain and attract jobs,” said Smith, who would also work as “convenor-in-chief” to facilitate cooperation among local social-service agencies.

Smith insists his business background would benefit the public more than Crawford’s experience in politics and medicine and pointed to several initiatives Crawford supported but he would oppose, such as two increases in local income taxes, a new city wheel tax and City Council’s decision last year to pay $4.63 million for the 29-acre “North River” property despite the chance of environmental contamination for which taxpayers would be liable. Smith agrees the site is desirable for redevelopment but believes Crawford and other council members should have driven a harder bargain.

Like Crawford, Smith supports the $220 million Electric Works project but believes the $65 million in local public funds being sought by developers is too much — a lack of private investment Smith said has marred other redevelopment projects as well.

Finally, Smith said, he will be unabashedly pro-life.

Despite a lengthy political career that Smith concedes gives Crawford a huge advantage in name recognition, Smith promised the coming campaign will change that. And both men have plenty of money with which to make their point. According to campaign-finance reports, Crawford had about $267,400 cash on hand at the end of last year; Smith $232,000.

Henry had about $465,500 — with no serious primary challenger in sight.

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