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Posted on Thu. Feb. 06, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

COLUMN

Here's 'State of the City' speech the mayor should give

Our biggest problems require frank talk, not more programs

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Bad weather caused Mayor Tom Henry to postpone Wednesday's scheduled “State of the City” address. But because some of you were looking forward to our coverage, what follows is the speech Henry should give next week – if he wants to make the more memorable than usual.

Dear friends and residents of Fort Wayne,

Thank you for joining me today, a week later than planned because of yet another blast of cold and snow that has taken a heavy toll on the city's hard-working employees, equipment and budget, not to mention our collective emotional health. Consequently, I have instructed my staff to review our policies for any “green” initiatives intended to reduce greenhouse gases – and eliminate them.

I suspect we could all use a little global warming right about now.

I would like to tell you today what politicians always say at a time like this: that the state of our city is strong, and that I will propose a slew of new programs to make it stronger still. And, in fact, there is much to celebrate today. Downtown continues its rebirth, our economy and incomes appear to be slowly rebounding and, thanks to the work of my fiscal advisors, City Council and the generosity of taxpayers, our budget now allows us to hire more police officers and firefighters, fix more streets and do other things to improve our quality of life here in Fort Wayne.

In all candor, however, most of what I say here today will soon be forgotten (who remembers “Bank on Fort Wayne” from 2010?). Far more meaningful is the fact that this “City of Churches” has just set a record for homicides. I could try to reassure you that everything is fine, that the city possesses the power to make this a safer year, that new Safety Director Rusty York and Police Chief Garry Hamilton will implement programs to keep people from shooting each other.

But you and I both know they can do only so much.

Politicians are good at promising results and perhaps even better at avoiding responsibility when the expectations they created are not met. And so, today, I will not stand here and talk about what the city will do for you in 2014. Instead, I will talk about what the good people of Fort Wayne can and must do for themselves, with the city's help.

Despite the very real progress we have seen and will continue to see in many areas, there remain too many places in which that progress has been slow, or absent altogether. Politicians don't often talk about such things, for obvious reasons, which is precisely why we should address them today.

The city can't order the owners of private businesses to operate where they don't feel safe or can't make a profit. But it can provide the infrastructure, protection and incentives that can offset and, over time, erase those concerns.

The city can't prevent every crime, and no one wants to live in a police state. But we can be more aggressive when dealing with perpetrators and more sensitive when dealing with victims and potential witnesses. Chief Hamilton, who grew up on the southeast side, has offered some good ideas in this regard and deserves to be met halfway by people who might have been suspicious of the police in the past.

More to the point, the city can't raise your children. It can't be there to play with your kids, help them with homework, counsel them about morality or provide them with a goal for their lives or careers. It may indeed “take a village to raise a child,” but no village, however well-equipped, can compensate for absent or indifferent parents. The carnage on our streets last year, more than anything else, represents an abdication of parental responsibility.

But I can talk about our damaged families and culture. I can work with the schools, social agencies, Board of Health and others to promote strong families, marriages and, especially, at-home fathers. I come from a very large but very loving family, and I know how important that love and guidance is.

It doesn't cost anything to use my “bully pulpit.” No new revenue sources are required, and we can somehow restore a degree of shame, civility, personal responsibility and virtue, it will be impossible to credit a specific program or person for the improvement. And that's fine, because this isn't about me – it's about you, and how you choose to live your lives.

My true “legacy,” then, will not be how we spend the millions of dollars gained from the sale of the old City Light utility. History will judge me on the basis of how Fort Wayne's people fared during my days in office, even those not likely to buy condos downtown.

And if lives are improved even indirectly by what we do or say, good policy may indeed prove to be good politics. If so, I will be proud to stand before you in the years to come and say with conviction that the state of our city – the entire city – is indeed strong.

kleininger@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.


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