It would appear Mayor Tom Henry picked a bad week to go to Washington, D.C., in search of federal support for Fort Wayne.
Congress and the White House are in a fiercely partisan battle over whether to revamp, delay or proceed with $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts due to start taking effect Friday.
But Henry said Monday that making a trip or two each year to Capitol Hill, regardless of what is happening in Washington at the time, is important for keeping the city’s needs in front of federal lawmakers.
“It’s all about relationships. The more you get to know elected officials, I think the better your chance of making progress,” he said in an interview at his Citizens Square office.
“When we go to Washington, I think they listen to us,” he said.
The mayor and three city officials will be in the nation’s capital today through Thursday. They plan to meet with Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, and their staffs, as well as assorted officials with various federal agencies.
“I’m not going with just small projects. These are huge,” Henry said.
The mayor’s to-do list includes:
•Promote the return of passenger rail service to Fort Wayne and the necessary infrastructure improvements that might be eligible for federal funding.
•Seek federal money to build a rail grade separation on South Anthony Boulevard near Wayne Trace to relieve traffic tie-ups caused by frequent freight trains crossing the road.
•Look for programs that might aid riverfront development in the city.
•Ask for a clarification on regulations requiring tree removal from river levees.
“Do we have a challenge in front of us? Yeah,” Henry said about the hunt for federal assistance. “Because we’re there with ultimately hundreds of other mayors and city council members, too, in some cases, and town managers – they’re all asking for money.”
In some cases, notably with levees, the city is searching for guidance, not money.
“It’s more to stabilize the rules, the regulations and the protocols that we thought were in place when we first started all of these projects,” he said. “And now there appears to be some discussion on changing some of them.”
Henry, a Democrat, said Fort Wayne has seen benefits when members of both parties of Congress work together. He cited efforts by two former senators from Indiana, Republican Richard Lugar and Democrat Evan Bayh, to secure federal funds for the construction of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge over the St. Marys River.
Stutzman said in a statement about Henry’s pending visit: “My office is always open to mayors and community leaders from across our state. I am looking forward to meeting with Mayor Henry and will do whatever I can to help our Hoosier communities in a fiscally responsible way.”
Ben Ray, press secretary for Donnelly, said in an email that Donnelly’s priorities include “building strong relationships with community leaders and elected officials of all parties.”
Coats’ meetings with local government officials, “are an opportunity to strengthen relationships and learn about local priorities,” his press secretary, Matt Lahr, said in an email.