FORT WAYNE – Planning might not be exciting for many people, but it’s vital for communities to grow, according to Fort Wayne’s new deputy mayor.
Mark Becker returned to his spot as the city’s No. 2 this month, about four years after leaving it. A planner by training, Becker said it’s critical for the city to focus its efforts.
Without years of creating plans for the downtown, Becker said Harrison Square would have been much more difficult to achieve. That project’s final piece is under construction now.
We’ve got to sustain momentum, said Becker, who will earn $120,000 annually. We’ve got to be bold.
In his first two weeks back in city hall, Becker said he’s been drinking from a fire hose consuming information.
The deputy mayor’s position has a history of burnout. Handling all the small daily crises of city government can wear on anyone. Mayor Tom Henry’s last two No. 2s each lasted less than two years. Despite that, Becker said he was eager to get back.
You can’t be involved in this kind of work and leave it and not miss being engaged in some of the important decisions being made, he said.
Officials past and present praised Becker’s rehire.
Mark is a leader who has excellent strategic thinking combined with a passionate persistence for moving issues forward, former Mayor Graham Richard said.
Richard brought Becker into city government as the director of community development before promoting him to deputy mayor.
In speaking with Becker, he can come across as more professorial than executive – especially now that he’s in the on-again stage of his on-again, off-again relationship with facial hair.
The soft-spoken deputy appears fully engrossed in any topic, whether it’s the benefits of planning to the best positioning in front of a window for a photograph.
Parks Director Al Moll said Becker is excellent at building consensus. Becker replaced Moll as deputy mayor in 2005.
He comes across somewhat laid back, Moll said. He can drive hard decisions home in his own way.
During his first term as deputy, Becker helped with the city-county comprehensive plan, Southtown revitalization and Harrison Square, Richard said.
A fan of baseball with quarter-season tickets for the TinCaps, Becker said going to Parkview Field is one of his favorite things to do, even if he doesn’t always pay attention to the game on the field.
His laidback style also includes a sense of humor, Moll said. He recalled one trip the two made to Poland, when Moll said he was hesitant about eating some of the local cuisine. Becker, whom Moll called a good friend, pushed hard for Moll to try some sausage. Unfortunately for the parks director, it came up as quick as it went down, much to the delight of the new deputy mayor.
After graduating in 1977 from the University of Cincinnati, he returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh to work until he took a job in 1980 as the first city planning director in Logansport. In 1987, he came to Fort Wayne as economic development director for the Moses administration.
He later worked for NIPSCO and the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, in development positions, and in 1996, accepted an offer to become executive vice president of strategic development for the Greater Greenville Chamber of Commerce in South Carolina
Richard then persuaded Becker to return to Fort Wayne in 2001 – when he was thinking about moving to Indianapolis – to become the director of community development. He was promoted to deputy mayor in October 2005 before leaving his post in 2008 to become director of regional development for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.
Becker, 57, said there is another, less subtle reason Fort Wayne has become home.
My wife is from here, he said.
Cheri Becker serves as executive director of Leadership Fort Wayne and has held numerous top posts in the past, making them one of Fort Wayne’s power couples.
Getting to work
Becker said he is aware of numerous issues that need to be tackled right away. In his first few days on the job, for example, the state announced an accounting error that will mean $8.5 million in unexpected revenues for the city this year.
He said he is more concerned, however, with how to address long-term problems, mentioning regional wage decline multiple times during a brief interview.
Becker seems excited to become involved with a committee Henry created to examine the long-term financial plan for the city.
Fortunately, Fort Wayne is in a better position than many communities, which were forced to cut employees or services, he said. That is why Becker agrees with Henry’s goal to do something big and bold with the proceeds from the city’s lease and sale of its electric utility to Indiana Michigan Power.
You’ve got to look at opportunities that are transformational, he said.
Three subcommittees are examining recommendations for how to use the estimated $75 million.
While he understands his position as deputy mayor is to help implement the mayor’s vision, Becker said he also needs to push other members of the administration to expand what they think is possible.
Only that kind of thinking, which he said is being assisted by the Vision 2020 planning group, will truly help the city reach its potential.
Nothing worth doing is ever easy to accomplish, he said.