Henry wins 4th term by routing Tim Smith; Democrats pick up two City Council seats

Mayor Tom Henry address supporters at the Grand Wayne Center Tuesday after his landslide victory over Tim Smith. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
GOP mayoral candidate addresses supporters at Republican headquarters as party Chairman Steve Shine looks on. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
City Councilman John Crawford, who lost to Tim Smith in the May Republican primary, speaks with Councilman Tom Freistroffer, left, and Tom Didier, both of whom won Tuesday. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Michelle Chambers. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger)
Glynn Hines currently represents the 6th District on City Council but will represent the entire city as an at-large member come Jan. 1. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)

In an electoral tsunami that rippled throughout the ballot, Mayor Tom Henry won a fourth term Tuesday by crushing Republican challenger Tim Smith in a race that wasn’t close despite the record amount of cash spent on it.

So overwhelming was Henry’s victory that his coattails nearly wiped out Republican dominance on City Council, turning a 7-2 supermajority into a mere 5-4 GOP edge Democrats are already planning to use to their advantage. Even some of the Republicans who won Tuesday did so by narrow margins.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” Henry told a crowd at the Grand Wayne Center that was every bit as jubilant as the gathering at nearby Republican headquarters was subdued. In his fourth term, which Henry has said will be his last, he challenged supporters to “break out of their comfort zone” by tackling issues not normally addressed at the city level, including health, energy and the arts. Henry said he will investigate converting city-owned buildings to alternative fuels and called upon local employers to pay a “living wage” of at least $15 an hour.

His agenda was issued from a position of undeniable political strength, as Henry won 32,571 votes, or about 61 percent, to Smith’s 20,643 votes, or 39 percent. The “Henry effect” was also evident in the City Council at-large race, where all three members are currently Republican. Come Jan. 1, however, two of the three will be Democrats.

Incumbent Republican Tom Freistroffer led the at-large ticket with 26,311 votes (18 percent), but incumbent Republican Michael Barranda was defeated by receiving 24,160 votes (16 percent) and GOP newcomer Nathan Hartman finished with 22,756 votes (15 percent). Current 6th District Democrat Glynn Hines will represent the entire city come Jan. 1 after winning 25,731 votes (17 percent), while Michelle Chambers was also elected with 24,719 votes (17 percent). Democrat Steve Corona received 23,472 votes (16 percent).

In the 1st District, Republican Paul Ensley was re-elected with 6,851 votes (58 percent) to 4,874 votes (42 percent) for Misti Meehan, who is also Allen County Democratic Party chair. Republican Russ Jehl was unopposed in the 2nd District, and Republican Tom Didier was easily re-elected in the 3rd District with 5,289 votes (64 percent) to 36 percent for John Henry.

In the 4th District, Republican Jason Arp was re-elected with 5,892 votes (51 percent) to 5,584 (49 percent) for Patti Hays. Incumbent Democrat Geoff Paddock Handily defeated Taylor Vanover in the 5th District, winning 4,941 votes (74 percent) to 1,709 (26 percent) for Vanover. Democrat Sharon Tucker, currently an Allen County Council member, was unopposed in the 6th District.

With the election of Chambers and Tucker and another term for Hines, City Council will now have three African-American members for the first time — a fact Chambers celebrated.

“You’ve elected three African-Americans. The magnitude of that means we are leading by example. We’re in for a real interesting four years,” she said.

“It’s been miserable being part of a 7-2 minority,” Hines said. “We’ve gotten things done because of collaboration and because we had a good president this year (At-large Councilman John Crawford, who did not run again because he unsuccessfully sought the GOP mayoral nomination in May).

Crawford, in fact, showed up at the Grand Wayne Center to congratulate Henry after withholding support for Smith — a sign of the lingering impact of the often-bitter primary campaign. Crawford’s wife, Marcia, contributed $2,500 to his campaign and appeared in a commercial for him.

“The tone of Smith’s campaign (against Henry) didn’t match what people are feeling. Fort Wayne is doing relatively well,” John Crawford said.

That division within the party did not help the results, said Chairman Steve Shine, who said several previous mayoral elections have also been negatively affected by internal schisms. “And some of the people who have complained about that in the past have been part of it (this year),” he said. “I’m sorry we didn’t have the opportunity to elect someone of Smith’s stature, but under the circumstances, with Henry so strong, we did very well, keeping council and the clerk’s office.”

In a brief speech at GOP headquarters, Smith said he will be willing to help Henry in any way he can and did not rule out another run for office some day. “Obviously, people are pleased with the way Fort Wayne is moving even though parts of Fort Wayne need to be better,” he said.

Smith said there had been indications Henry was in the lead but believed he could cut into that margin even though “I hired the best team Fort Wayne has ever seen, and we had the best process. It just didn’t work.”

The campaign was the most expensive in city history, with Smith raising $1.4 million this year and spending $1.16 million. Henry raised $1.22 million and spent nearly $687,000.

Didier said voters may have been turned off by the negative tone of some of Smith’s ads but said he will continue to “take conscientious votes.”

Barranda said Democratic gains on council may indicate voters believe council and Henry have failed to work together in the past — and blamed Republicans more than Democrats for that.

Keesling saw her victory is a validation of improvements she has made during her first term.

In New Haven, meanwhile, Republican Steve McMichael was elected to succeed Terry McDonald by winning 1,797 votes (65 percent to Democrat Darren Peterson’s 949 votes (35 percent). “I’m excited to be the seventh mayor in New Haven’s history,” he said, praising McDonald’s 20 years in office.