MISHAWAKA—Republican Mayor Dave Wood and his Democratic challenger, Craig Fry, both profess a deep love for their Mishawaka hometown.
But, seat them next to each other in front of about 160 voters and supporters, and the two mayoral candidates start to show differences in how they’d make it better.
They did that Wednesday and took a few jabs in the first mayoral forum of the campaign season.
“We have to revolve everything around jobs,” said Fry, lamenting that “I haven’t seen any jobs come to Mishawaka.” Particularly, he talked about attracting jobs to Mishawaka “that pay a living wage.”
Wood was elected by a Republican caucus a year ago to replace Jeff Rea, who became the local Chamber of Commerce CEO.
Wood said he’s already been working to “create an environment that’s conducive to growth.” That includes building the infrastructure throughout the city, he said. Without naming businesses, he mentioned existing companies that have recently expanded the number of workers.
WSBT-TV reporter Dustin Grove posed prewritten questions to each candidate in the forum at the Riverside Terrace banquet hall. It was organized by the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County, the Young Professionals Network, The Tribune and WSBT Stations.
What would you do in your first six months in office? Fry said he’d bring in economic development people with state and national experience, adding, “I know these folks.” He works as director of apprenticeships across the state for Ivy Tech Community College.
He also said he’d ensure preschool for all families with 4-year-olds.
And he said he’d work on neighborhoods. “You drive down some of these streets,” he said. “Neighborhoods are in disrepair. Criminals are selling drugs. This is not our Mishawaka.”
In his first six months, Wood said he’d invest in technology to make city offices more efficient and invest in neighborhoods, saying, “Mishawaka has the best redevelopment anywhere.”
Fry iterated several efforts he’d make to improve schools, like vocational education and offering dual college credits for high school students in Mishawaka.
Wood, who gives lectures in several history and government classes, said that education is about “making personal connections with students.”
Wood said he made a “tough decision” to change the fire department’s structure “so we can provide service to your doorstep.” By that, he meant the third ambulance shift that was added early this year. This was done to deal with the growing number of calls that were causing the city to rely more and more on ambulances from outside of the city.
But Fry suggested that mechanical problems meant that only two of the city’s ambulances were working for much of the summer.
“Help is on the way,” Wood responded, saying there are three ambulances working “most of the time.”
Fry was asked how he’d choose between spending money on a new ambulance or hiring two extra firefighters. Fry said he’d have both.
“I’d make the cuts elsewhere,” he said
But where? He replied, “It’s more important to have public safety.”