An Unmentionable Election
EDITOR’S NOTE — For the serious political observer, regardless of stripe, it was an extraordinary outcome. A first-term Republican, a quiet former banker who nonetheless stood up to the local Chamber of Commerce and a phalanx of economic-development interests, was reelected while being outspent three-to-one in both the primary and the general. And this was done in a gale of hostile media coverage (he finally declined to meet with the newspaper’s endorsement board). This included disapproval, even derision, from both Republican and Democrat political columnists plus the afternoon radio talk show. The New York Times sent a reporter and photographer to corner him on the campaign trail before suing to obtain his official email. After all of that and a Nov. 5 victory over an accomplished, popular, woman opponent, the punditry had nothing to say. Crickets. There were a dozen election analysis pieces in the local papers, several by defeated candidates and of course by the political columnists, but none examined this race. No, that’s not exactly right; on election night the newspaper publisher wrote an embarrassing column in which she wrongly claimed that the councilman had refused to meet with her (a subsequent correction acknowledged that she had forgotten a more than one-hour meeting only months before). So it became “the unmentionable election” with the unbearable details sent down the memory hole. The foundation, therefore, asked the councilman for his own analysis. There should be at least something on the historical record. — tcl
by Jason Arp
This is to express my sincerest thanks to supporters and to share some of the details of what we were able to accomplish in our electoral victory on Nov. 5.
I have spent the last four years advocating for the residents of Fort Wayne, often in opposition to the desires of the “in crowd” at the local Chamber of Commerce and the old entrenched media. Anyone who proposed milking the taxpayer could expect Jason Arp to be at City Council asking questions. The questions themselves were enough to derail some of the plans of the powers that be. Often they were not, but for many of Fort Wayne’s rich and quasi-famous our voice on Council took the fun out of soaking the taxpayer.
Our ideas centered on individual freedom, private property rights, all under attack of late. We’re blessed that we have had the opportunity to take up the battle for them on many different fronts — be it tax policy, funding for projects, right to carry a firearm or even being able to own chickens. These things may not sound related but all get to the questions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for which our founders risked so much.
These positions earned us the ire of a broad array of adversaries, from the crony capitalists embedded in the political parties to the radical leftists of the Planned Parenthood variety.
Campaign finance filings assembled prior to the November election reveal just how much the left wanted us gone. After Greater Fort Wayne Inc. (aka the local Chamber of Commerce) poured nearly $25,000 into the May primary candidacy of Rachel Lott (we don’t have final numbers from that campaign), it regrouped and joined the Democratic contender Patti Hays to help raise over $70,000 against me. Chuck Surack, founder of Sweetwater Sound, who likes to say that he doesn’t usually “get involved in politics,” put $5,000 into the Lott campaign and another $7,500 in the Hays campaign. A corporate investor in the troubled Electric Works project, Ambassador Real Estate (aka the Eric Doden family), chipped in $1,000 for Hays after putting up $12,500 for Lott. When all the filings come in, I believe we’ll see over $100,000 spent by my challengers in the 4th District — a record for any municipal district race in Indiana, to my knowledge.
Despite this three-to-one funding disadvantage, we persevered. Thanks to you, our volunteers, donors and supporters, the campaign had enough money to buy some fliers, post cards, postage, signs and even a little bit of radio. Our team of nearly 200 donors, volunteers and sign hosts provided needed boots-on-the-ground support.
Fundraising was not the only headwind we overcame. In all elections the top of the ticket has significant down-ballot effect. As can be seen in the table below, the Republican candidate for mayor performed extremely poorly. Tim Smith lost every district and all but 19 of the 191 precincts in the city on his way to collecting only 39 percent of the votes citywide and less than 42 percent in the 4th district. In fact, Mayor Tom Henry won all but one precinct in my 4th district.
Despite this titanic collapse at the top of the ticket, the Arp campaign managed to win 25 of the 33 precincts (11 of 16 polling places) for a surprisingly broad victory considering the closeness of the outcome. We did better in Aboite, winning 19 of 22 precincts, pulling five of seven in Waynedale and only losing in the more urban setting of Time Corners (one of four precincts).
If we look at the Clerk and the Council-at-Large races relative to four years ago, the generic Republican brand took a beating. In the 4th District at-large elections, Republicans fell 6.5 points from 61.6 percent to 55.1 percent and in the race for Clerk shed a whopping 14.6 percent from 72.9 percent in 2015 to 58.3 percent. Republican mayoral candidate Mitch Harper in 2015 received 48.5 percent in the 4th District. This year, Smith received only 41.7 percent, roughly the same drop as seen in the at-large council races.
There was a lot of money spent on all sides relative to four years ago. This translated into a 27 percent increase in mayoral ballots cast citywide, and a 26 percent increase in voters in the 4th District City Council race from four years ago. Though our margin of victory was trimmed, we had 1,110 more voters casting ballots for Arp in 2019 than in 2015.
In summary, not only did we face a mountain of money and an ill-fated mayoral candidate we overcame a media that spent four years shading our efforts and promoting a left-of-center agenda. The morning daily newspaper proclaimed that “Arp is a councilman who needs to be retired” with scant mention of the issues raised during a hour-long interview this spring with its editorial board.
On election night, Journal Gazette Publisher Julie Inskeep rushed to print a screed castigating me, the campaign and by inference the 4th District voters. In its misinformation and false assertions, her column was an accurate reflection of her newspaper’s performance throughout.
Indeed, it was made clear that the media in Fort Wayne has now applied the tactics adopted in its pursuit of President Donald Trump’s destruction to the district City Council level. If the media doesn’t get the desired result in an election, we have learned, it will try to destroy the public’s perception of the character of its target.
The next four years will bring new challenges. We will continue to have a Democrat mayor and the makeup of the Council has degenerated from 7-2 Republican to 5-4. Time and the direction of GOP leadership will determine how this plays out.
Jason Arp, formerly a trader in mortgaged-backed securities for Bank of America where he worked for nine years, represents the 4th District on the Fort Wayne City Council.