Mark GiaQuinta

His cause is public education

Mark GiaQuinta, photography by Neal Bruns

There are few people in Fort Wayne’s political arena who don’t have an opinion about Mark GiaQuinta, the former city councilman and current president of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board. And sometimes, that opinion can be, shall we say, less than kind. But love him or hate him, GiaQuinta is a forceful advocate for both his clients and his community. These days, he’s helping FWCS navigate declining revenues and increasing costs. Find out what keeps him sane and how he really feels about his wife Susyn as we play 20 Questions.

1. How did you get involved in public service?
I became interested in the late ’60s for the same reason many of my generation did. We wanted change, and (former mayor) Ivan Lebamoff spoke the language of change in the 1971 mayor’s race. I became attracted to his vision for Fort Wayne, and as a high school student I stood next to him at factory gates handing out literature and was bit by the political bug. Next came Tim Borne’s state senate campaign, and that was the real jumping-off part for me. I was his volunteer coordinator and hitchhiked back from Bloomington every week until the election in the fall of ’72. That experience introduced me to Win Moses and all the Democrats of the day. It was Tim who suggested to Win that I run for his place on City Council in 1979.

2. Why did you decide to leave the council after 16 years?
It dawned on me that none of my children had been in a household without their dad serving in elected capacity, and I just wanted a little more normal family life. I was out (of politics) for
10 years.

3. Why the school board?
I liked the school board because it was non-partisan. I decided during those
10 years I’d had my fill of partisan politics. I was very dissatisfied with the direction of FWCS’s high school curriculum plan, which was known as the four by four. That curriculum plan allowed for math classes once a year, and it did not align with college testing. It did not give teachers, in my opinion, the opportunity to move achievement, and there was an unwillingness on the part of the school administration to listen to parents.

4. What does public education need that it’s not getting?
Support from the Republican legislature. They have decided to privatize public education. They who control public education have made a decision to outsource public education to private religious groups or large corporate concerns, undermining the basic principle of public education.

5. What do you wish people knew about FWCS?
The passion of our teachers to drive students to meet their potential.

6. Does a part of you thrive on controversy?
A part of me thrives on honesty, and I’ve never had a problem with a debating partner who is willing to make her points honestly, because that’s how I learn and the person on the other side of the conversation learns.

7. Why do you think people have such a love-hate relationship with FWCS?
I don’t see a love/hate dichotomy in those who have made the effort to learn firsthand what occurs inside our buildings. However, not all have the opportunity, and when our opponents are spending millions of dollars to misrepresent public education, it’s difficult to counteract that with so little money in the budget for public relations.

8. What’s your secret ingredient?
Perseverance.

9. We understand you are quite into physical fitness. Tell us about that.
I don’t do “physical fitness.” I have a VIP appointment every night at the Y, and the VIP is me, and my appointment is my workout with (the Pilates class teacher) and me and about
15 women. When I become grumpy, Susyn says to me, “You need to go to the Y.” It’s my antidepressant. It’s my meditation, and the reason I can still hit a golf ball 275 yards off the tee.

10. Would you do better on “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars”?
American Idol.”

11. What are you listening to?
Boy, I listen to so much. I’m rediscovering Joni Mitchell. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed her music and her songwriting.

12. What’s life like with an empty nest?
Wonderful! I love my kids, but rediscovering one’s spouse after the last (child) leaves is very fulfilling. She considers me an adventure. In 61 years, there’s nobody who comes close to Susyn’s spiritual essence. We met at Bishop Luers. We were in Joan Uebelhoer’s study hall. She told me she was going to Florida over Christmas, and I told her a really stupid knock-knock joke about oranges and she came back with an orange for me – and a great tan. I asked her out, and she kept making excuses. She didn’t want to go out with me!

13. Who is your hero?
My biggest hero is my wife because she handles things in a way I wish I could and has dealt with me in a way only she could. Without Susyn as a partner, I’d be in a very different place, and it would not be as good a place.

14. Have you ever thought about running for higher office?
Yes. The only office I would ever consider running for would be a federal office. I think about it, but I know too much about politics and demographics to do it. The gerrymandered district would never allow me to (win). You do what you can to make a difference in your community based on the cards you’re dealt, and I’m doing that. So I’m pretty happy. I don’t wake up saying, gee, I’m not in Congress.

15. What keeps you up at night?
My cases. My litigation, my depositions. I rehearse every argument I give over and over. When it’s over, I crash. I crater big time. I don’t sleep for a week!

16. What’s the worst advice you’ve gotten?
Oh, boy! I think that’s a hard question because I’ve been good at avoiding bad advice. I’ve made mistakes, but I don’t think there’s bad advice, because even bad advice allows you to think it through.

17. What would your superpower be?
To recreate the spark of love in the soul of every human being.

18. What’s best about being a grandfather?
The unconditional love. Every time they see you again (they are) jumping up and down and running into your arms, and that’s pretty special.

19. What do you want your legacy to be?
To have saved public education from those who would otherwise outsource it to big companies.

20. What do you say to your detractors?
Get to know me. But it’s OK. It’s fine.  I’m not everybody’s cup of tea. And that’s OK.

First appeared in the September 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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