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Turning Rust To Gold

By Jim Sack

I’ve read the recent book on Fort Wayne’s last 30 years of economic resurgence entitled Turning Rust to Gold. It is more a memoire than a documentary, more a draft than a finished product, more a hatchet job than a history.

But, I recommend it on a number of levels. First, it is a useful example of what’s called the vanity press where someone seeking to self promote, but with limited writing skills, commissions a professional writer to paint a glorious picture of the sponsor’s exploits. Second, the book could be used by creative writing teachers to illustrate sloppy, rushed writing. Third, local politicians should take note that self-promotion, the purpose of this book, can backfire if done badly. Fourth, we now know Eric Doden, the hero of the book, and its sponsor, is running for another office.

The book follows the exploits of Eric Doden from his eureka moments concerning the fallow General Electric plant on Broadway in Fort Wayne to September of this year when Eric opined that the project was near collapse, despite his super-human efforts. But, instead of being just a piece of history, a single informative perspective, the book muddles the timeline with lengthy side argument by Doden that non-profit hospitals invested their billings in profits to benefit their host communities. In that it leans more toward the beginnings of a political platform than mere memoir. Eric wants to be governor.

Were it well written, more a balanced book of history than a puff-piece, it would have lasting relevance. It hardly meets that bar. Key participants, mostly foils for Doden’s epiphanies, usually the nemeses of his noble efforts, are not quoted and barely paraphrased. Substantiation is missing, the rational that may have led to actions are not examined. Some participants report factual inaccuracies.

Another disappointment in the book comes after locals are named as shining examples of one thing or another, but their contributions to the betterment of the city are not explained. It is a book of loose ends.

And, there are misspellings, colloquialisms, syntactical problems and awkward sentences that make for tedious reading.

In short, the book seems to have been printed before it was done.

In writing there are structures that serve as vehicles to weave a story. One leading method is described as “tell them what you plan to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” In simple, a thesis is presented, that thesis in the body of the work, and the thesis is repeated within the conclusion. Turning Rust to Gold book fails to present a concise thesis, rambles from topic to topic without useful linking explanations, and then trails off at the end into a whimper.

Eric Doden is the hero. After all, he paid for the book, thus it is a vanity piece. The villains are Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer and Mayor Tom Henry, along with anyone who supports them, or who fails to support Eric. The head of Parkview Hospital, Michael Packnet, is painted as a traitor in the ranks. It is explained that Packnet was an early supporter of Doden during the transformation of the old Chamber of Commerce into Greater Fort Wayne, Inc. in 2013, but has since failed to put the full might of Parkview behind Eric and the central concern of the book, the redevelopment of the dormant GE campus.

I have known Eric since he came to Fort Wayne in the early 2000s and almost immediately ran for mayor. I have known Karl Bandemer since the early 80s. I knew his father before I met Karl. I have known Tom Henry since he came onto city council in the 1980s and his father before that. Tom and Karl have the very best interest of Fort Wayne at heart. They are true stalwarts of the city. Eric is in a big hurry to impose his will on the community. In the book, Eric is the only clear thinker, while Tom and Karl are portrayed as deceitful, the stodgy defenders of an entrenched, conservative “do-nothingness.” That is absolutely inaccurate. For those of us who have been around Fort Wayne for decades we can tell stories of the newspapers downtown blowing from vacant doorway to vacant doorway. We remember when no one was downtown at night, when neighborhood streets, alleys, sidewalks, parks, and homes were in decline.

As the writer points out in Eric’s book Fort Wayne has reversed her fortunes largely because of the vision of a series of mayors who kept pushing us to do better: Win Moses, Paul Helmke, and Graham Richard. Win was the great cheerleader. He pushed dozens of ideas on improving Fort Wayne. After the truly do-nothing Armstrong Administration, Win began the uphill climb. Paul likes to say he laid the legal basis for the policies Graham would advance. Graham was Mister Energy, he demanded excellence and foresight, and he provided the catalyst for downtown development with his four-phase plan for redevelopment centered on the location of what is now Parkview Field. What has come since has been less about Doden and more about Graham Richard. Tom Henry has taken the plans that Graham left, closed the deals and created more deals and projects to make the center of our community shine. Failures a few, successes in abundance.

What you see in Fort Wayne now is in great part Tom Henry’s work, and that of his major domo Karl Bandemer.

But don’t leave out Tim Pape, Glynn Hines, Don Schmidt, Dr. John Crawford, Jimmy Stier, Ben Eisbart, Ian Rolland, Mac Parker, Helene Foellinger, and the many others who have sincerely tried to advance the betterment of Fort Wayne. Council, civic leaders, neighborhood leaders and regular citizens have greatly contributed to our renaissance. Look back just this year at the string of national accolades that showcase Fort Wayne as a town on the move, and you have to know our progress is a team effort. Eric knows that, was a big part of it, but along the way he pissed off scores of others, among them the very leaders from whom he needed help. Eric

famously threatened Councilman Russ Jehl with a primary challenger if he didn’t get in line with Eric’s program. As could have been predicted relations with council soured. Conversely, Eric has more than a few supporters who think the world of him and his leadership. That, too, was missing from the book.

So, I don’t recommend the book. It feels rushed, ill-researched, more a second draft than a finished book. It is a mess. It is more a political swipe at Tom Henry, with a goal in the short term to help mayoral challenger Tim Smith, and in the longer run to provide Doden a platform to run for higher public office. It is a draft document rushed out to affect the coming 2019 election. Wait for the book.


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