UPDATED: John Crawford makes mayoral run official; utility reform a goal if Steve McMichael elected New Haven mayor; City Clerk Keesling seeks 2nd term

City Councilman John Crawford says his pay-to-play ordinance will survive a legal challenge. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger)
Steve McMichael
Lana Keesling

Wednesday was the first day candidates could file for the May Allen County primaries, and three Republicans wasted no time in making their interest official. In successive morning news conferences, Fort Wayne mayoral candidate John Crawford, incumbent City Clerk Lana Keesling and New Haven mayoral hopeful Steve McMichael were all expected to outline their platforms and qualifications.

Crawford, who announced his intent to seek the city’s top job last April and will serve as City Council president this year, said his campaign will focus on four central themes: fiscal conservatism, public health, crime reduction and economic development. Crawford said his successful efforts to end collective bargaining for most employees have saved the city at least $3 million, and he believes more savings could be found by adopting a zero-based budget, which essentially would rebuild the city budget from scratch. Crawford noted the city reached a near-record in homicides in 2018, which will be discussed in a special crime-focused council meeting Jan. 29.

An oncologist, Crawford said his support for the city’s anti-smoking ordinance has prevented more than 1,000 premature deaths over the ast 20 years and pledged to combat opioid abuse. He also pledged to focus on job creation “with minimum taxation and regulation in order to create the best environment for private business to thrive. Crawford also touted his early advocacy of the Electric Works project.

Crawford said his campaign will be one of the most vigorous in city history, focusing on reasons to vote for him instead of tearing opponents down. “We will have a positive message to tell people the ways we can make citizens’ lives better,” he said.

Businessman Tim Smith is also expected to be a candidate in the GOP mayoral primary, with the winner likely facing incumbent Democrat Tom Henry, who is seeking a third term. Smith’s campaign manager, Nick Lauritsen, said Smith will file his candidacy next week and “looks forward to letting the voters decide who the best Republican to represent them is.”

Allen County Right to Life is expected to endorse Smith, but Crawford said he does not plan to state a position on abortion because the issue is not pertinent to the mayoral race.

McMichael, who owns a real estate firm and currently serves as president of New Haven’s City Council, announced in June he hoped to succeed Terry McDonald, who is not seeking re-election. Many of the initiatives McMichael was expected to outline at Republican headquarters were introduced at that time, but he added a potentially major issue to the list: New Haven’s sewer and water service, which is currently supplied by Fort Wayne City Utilities and has experienced some large rate increases in recent years.

“It’s a concern because residents keep bringing it up, and in my real estate role it is also an issue when talking to people about New Haven,” said McMichael, who pledged to assemble a “citizens” panel to discuss and evaluate possible solutions.

“This needs to be a community decision, but all options need to be on the table,” he said.

McMichael did not rule out the possibility of the creation of an independent New Haven utility. After years of planning and contentious discussions with City Utilities, Huntertown opened its own $20 million sewage treatment plant last year, giving it more control over rates and future development.

“Despite all the good things happening in New Haven, I think there is still room for even more growth and expansion,” McMichael said. Other previously announced ideas are intended to promote that vision, including: “New Haven 2025,” which seeks to boost the population of Allen County’s second-largest city from the current 15,700 to 20,000 by 2025; a “Five Million Sparks” campaign which would encouraging each resident to do one act of kindness per day, totaling more than 5 million in a year; a “citizens’ academy” for Millennials and Next Generation make the community more attractive to young residents and “NextGen New Haven” to “educate residents on how to become civically and politically engaged.” He also wants to implement a zero-based budgeting process that will review all city spending and create a community engagement director position to better promote the community and to build a stronger partnership with council.

East Allen County Schools Board President Bob Nelson has also said he will be a candidate in the May New Haven mayoral GOP primary.

Keesling, who succeeded longtime Democratic Clerk Sandy Kennedy in 2016, said she has worked to modernize the office in order to make it more efficient, accountable, transparent and ethical. Today, she said, citizens can find City council agendas easily available prior to meetings and in accordance with state law; clear procedures and guidelines that establish consistency for the office, enhanced technology and a conservative fiscal approach that has led to a 21 percent decrease in spending, bringing an end to the office’s years of deficits.

In the future, Keesling said, the office plans to introduce a phone app to enable citizens to locate available metered parking and pay meter fees; expand neighborhood parking enforcement to evenings and weekends; provide digital access to Fort Wayne’s ordinances and bills from decades past; and streamline City Council agendas and the voting process.