Interview #3: Fort Wayne, IN Reporter Dave Gong

After last week’s Fort Wayne city council meeting, I had some questions. And who better to ask than the lucky S.O.B. who gets to watch EVERY Fort Wayne city council meeting: Journal Gazette reporter (and high school friend of mine) Dave Gong.

He talked to me about surprises, being fair, and his reaction to a salty-mouthed councilman.

Q: On a scale of “fun” to “extremely fun,” how would you describe the council meetings?

A: Extremely fun…they are the highlight of my week.

Q: Noted! No sarcasm! What are you watching and listening for at these meetings?

A: Pretty much everything. You listen for back-and-forth and pointed arguments and the whole deal. Part of politics is we love a good show. Especially the media–we love a good show.

Q: Are there some councilmen whom you can depend on to say something…”out there?”

A: Well, “out there,” yeah. There are councilmen who are very consistent. Sometimes they’ll surprise you, which is always great. I like to be surprised.

Q: How do they generally treat each other?

A: Actually, to be honest–pretty well. I read your thing about Baltimore

Q: Yeah, that was wacky.  Some of them visibly can’t stand each other.

A: They get that way. All city councilmen are like that when you’ve got ideologies–they clash. One guy will be insulting another one week and they’ll be best of friends the next. Fort Wayne, Indiana is one of the most functional cities I’ve ever worked in.

Q: Are they pretty friendly with you?

A: I think they know I can be fair with them. You’ll get reporters and outlets that specific councilmen don’t like. As far as I know, no one has ever told me that they absolutely hate me. Generally if you’re a journalist, someone somewhere hates you.

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Fort Wayne, IN city council reporter Dave Gong

Q: Did I seem cool in high school?

A: Yeah…as cool as any of the rest of us were in high school. I don’t remember any of us going to a bunch of parties. There was a lot of laser tag.

Q: Mmhmm.

A: Whatever my judge of “cool” is, it’s probably wrong….But from my standpoint, you were f*cking awesome.

Q: What’s the weirdest thing that you’ve seen happen?

A: That’s a hard one. Ninety percent of them are super mundane. After the election in November, the council was even more Republican. This guy got up and he starts railing about how all the Democrats are socialists and the Republicans should show backbone.  And [Councilman] Glynn Hines, through his hands, coughed “BULLSH*T” into his hot mic.

Q: Whoa!

A: In other places–you go to Chicago–you see swearing on the floor. I saw lawmakers, state elected lawmakers hurling insults at each other. But in Fort Wayne, that was unconscionable. It spurred a blog post from me–because I like that sort of crap–caused public apologies, and it was…beautiful, actually.

Q: Do you ever gossip about the councilmen to other reporters?

A: Sometimes. Paul Ensley was wearing a bow tie the other day and kind of looked like Pee-wee Herman.

Q: I saw that! So creepy.

A: He’s a fun one. He beat a 12-year incumbent  in the primary.

Q: Are you gonna go to the reunion?

A: I’ve been on that alumni website and–

Q: No one told me about that…

A: …I imagine somebody will call.

Q: …


Follow Dave Gong on Twitter: @DGong89

#22: Fort Wayne, IN 5/24/16

A group of nine men can do two things: (1) field a baseball team or (2) conduct the People’s Business.

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, because this week, the Fort Wayne city council played a double-header–a committee meeting AND council meeting in the same night. Pitching for the home team was Councilman Glynn Hines.

“Is there anyone in the audience that would like to speak in favor of or in opposition to resolution 16-05-04?” he hollered, scanning the bleachers.

“Second call.” (A swing!)

“Third and final call.” (And a miss! No takers.)

Representing the visiting team was a lady from the Ward Corporation. Resolution 16-05-04 was to give her family’s company some tax relief. “We’ve been in business for 52 years,” she explained, brandishing a picture of her relatives.

“Is that Vern?” Councilman Hines squinted. “I played golf with Vern.”

“I actually don’t think that you should have to pay taxes on this property,” Councilman Jason Arp confessed. “I don’t think anybody should have to pay taxes on business personal property.” But before this modern-day Ayn Rand could hit a home run against taxes, he added: “But I’m gonna vote against it because not everyone gets it.”

Despite his “nay,” the rest of the team approved Ward Corp.’s tax relief.

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Your disgruntled libertarian stepdad, Jason Arp

What happened next was truly bizarre: an apology. From the chamber of commerce. For threats. “With regards to the potential intimidation of elected officials, our board was most troubled by this,” their balding representative read from a statement. “If any of you ever felt that there was intimidation, it is no one’s intent. We will at no time use our position as chamber of commerce to threaten electoral retaliation.”

Whose feet did they threaten to put in cement? Whose home did they promise to cut the gas line? “Nice little city council you got here. It’d be a shame if someone were to drag a key across it!”

“I think the conflict was: when you have a project, you’re often very passionate,” Councilman John Crawford murmured carefully. “Some of the advocacy before was like…it was a little too far.”

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Please don’t kill this nice councilman’s puppy.

Heading into Game 2, the councilmen jogged to a new room. Now in the luxurious council chambers, a man in knee-high socks and a yellow “FORT WAYNE” t-shirt stepped to the mic.

“Gentlemen, I’m gonna tell you something: Sunday morning, I felt like dying because the noise was so great. They were shooting fireworks off.

“They’re four men [who] live there, four women that live there, and a whole pack of kids,” he explained. “They’re all Mexicans, as far as I’m concerned.”

Channeling his inner Donald Trump, he concluded, “we don’t need something like this in Fort Wayne. We need to clean up this town. Gentlemen, have a great evening, and the lord bless all of you.”

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This man merely wants peace, quiet, and deportations.

Steering far away from the crucial matter of cleaning up the Mexicans, Council President Thomas Didier gave a mini-pep talk. “Fireworks are gonna start happening. Fireworks for Memorial Day. Fireworks for Fourth of July. It’s all the holidays…New Year’s Eve. I’m just forewarning you now.”

Final thoughts: If you’re going to be in Fort Wayne between Memorial Day and New Year’s Eve, you might want to bring some earplugs. At least, around the Mexicans.