John J. Henry is, in a way, looking to his past as a way forward.
The candidate for Fort Wayne City Council once had a job recording and replaying meetings of the local governing board. He watched closely and observed council members who he said had close relationships with constituents and keen understanding of the needs in their respective districts.
A renewed focus on each member’s respective district can happen again, Henry said.
“I really saw more of a community atmosphere with the City Council members and their districts,” he said. “They focused more on their district. Now, I see the City Council is really all over the place.”
The 64-year-old Democrat is vying to represent the 3rd District, which covers much of the city’s northwest, roughly from about Spring Street north to Carroll Road.
He faces a formidable opponent in the Nov. 5 election. Incumbent Republican Tom Didier is seeking a fifth four-year term and has served twice as council president.
In 2015, Didier bested GOP challenger Mark Stafford by nearly 800 votes in a primary and ran unopposed in the general election.
Henry is an account manager for Your Promo People, a company that offers customized promotional materials such as plastic cups, foam fingers and sunglasses. He is betting his marketing experience and willingness to consider new ways of reaching out to and interacting with constituents will appeal to voters.
He envisions a “crisis center” in the district where residents can find help – addiction problems or assistance with the death of a loved one, for example – with “any kind of crisis that might affect a family.” The center ideally would operate in donated space, with a volunteer staff, he said, and could be run with donated money.
The center also could be funded by an improvement district aimed at the 3rd District, he said.
He also wants to make it easier for residents to access information about city services and programs and would put in place incentives such as tax breaks for home ownership.
“I will be a full-time city councilperson,” said Henry, a second cousin to Mayor Tom Henry.
Didier, 58, a salesman for U.S. Foodservice, is relying on his 15 years of experience and describes himself as conservative but pragmatic. He’s cast tough votes – voting for a local income tax increase two years ago was one – and helped guide road projects including the widening of Dupont Road, which was completed this year.
“They’ve helped the community,” Didier said. “We’re growing.”
Didier said he will continue to look closely at council business such as development plans and options to improve trash pickup for residents. He’ll also continue to evaluate himself.
“You’re only as good as the last sale that you had,” Didier said, referring to his job. “I’m only as good as the last council meeting I went to.
“I’m constantly refreshing myself and trying to get better.”