By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
I have no idea when I first met Bobby Kennedy; perhaps it was at a late 70s Young Democrats meeting where his late sister was the chairwoman, or maybe it was helping him heave sandbags during the Flood of 82, or maybe it was in his mom’s city clerk’s office, or it was at a Democratic Party event of one sort or another, or during a blizzard when he was responsible for getting the roads cleared.
Win Moses, the affable mayor of the early 1980s, scratches his head about whether he hired Bobby or not, but adds that the outgoing chair of the powerful Board of Public Works seems always to have been at one post or another serving his community.
Seems Bobby has been around for many more than the 30 years he has worked in various capacities for our city, but in all those years never have I heard anyone criticize his work, his management or his personal demeanor. In the rough business of politics, where every move it watched, where the other party is praying for a faux pas, where informants wire themselves up, Bobby Kennedy has been the epitome of the honorable and capable public servant.
But, don’t take my word for it, ask any neighborhood leader, ask consulting engineers, city workers, or his many bosses; over the decades Bobby has gotten the work job done with dignity and a wry smile. Even the many ever suspicious city council members he has worked with, who over the years have tried to find the pork in his budget would agree he has exceeded expectations. Those who worked with Bobby over the years came to admire his unflappable persona, and stewardship of the common wealth.
And, as deeply political as his roots were, as political as his job could well be, he avoided showing signs of partisanship. Certainly, privately, he cheered his fellow Democrats on, he supported Mayor Henry, Mayor Richard and Mayor Moses with his time and money, but he never ever slighted someone who needed the help of his street department or, later, his board of public works. At council he met every criticism with a respectful answer, even when it was clear the council member was out to get him. And, after he left that contentious council table he was careful not to criticize the body or the members. He just went back to his job and pushed ahead.
Speaking of those political roots, his mother served as city clerk for a generation, his sister was a diligent worker in the police department and Bobby was likely named after the beloved Robert F. Kennedy who would have been president, except for a terrorist’s gun.
So, Bobby recently announced his resignation to take a “really good opportunity,” he told us, in the private sector. His new boss is elated and the company will, no doubt, thrive.
Bobby’s departure reminds us that we are witnessing a critical changing of the guard as this administration faces retirements of more than a few key leaders. Al Moll at the Park Department is still there because the mayor made it clear the city needed Al at this crucial time in our history. Same with Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer who, with fifty years experience in Fort Wayne politics, holds the city workforce together and sets the course. And, there is the mayor, himself, who is in his third term, his face showing the victories and losses of a half-century of fighting first as a councilman for his Third District, and now, after ten years, of leading the city. But, it goes deeper. In the ranks are the likes of Mario Trevino, Tom Pallone and Pam Holocher who are all nearing that time when retirement whispers on the wind. They are the people who have given face to the administration’s resigned pride in “doing more with less,” and who have brought our city from a dying, backbiting, rustbelt city to one that gets plenty of positive national press for being a hidden gem, a hipster mecca, the new music city, and that old accolade reprised, “a great place to raise a family.” Thanks to Bobby and his many city co-workers, Fort Wayne truly is a great place to raise and family.
And, just a footnote, about Mr. Kennedy, a few years ago Bobby was recognized by his national peer organization as the very best in the city infrastructure management business, America’s top, number one, primus inter pares director of public works. At the time Mayor Tom Henry wrote: ““He has an amazing knowledge of Fort Wayne’_ infrastructure (and) a gift of working with his employees and the public to create effective solutions that save money and satisfy residents.” All true.
So, when in the coming decades when you travel the roads of Fort Wayne, walk the sidewalks and bike into work you will use the foundation for Fort Wayne’s prosperity that have been carefully laid by Bobby Kennedy in his three decades of dedicated service to our community. Thanks, Bobby.