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Women's Campaign Institute leaders reflect on Mayor Sharon Tucker's historic election

"Women represent 51% of our community and now have a leader at the highest level of Fort Wayne."
Women's Campaign Institute leaders reflect on Mayor Sharon Tucker's historic election
Candidate Stephanie Crandall, Mayor-elect Sharon Tucker and candidate Michelle Chambers at Saturday's Democratic precinct caucus. (Photo courtesy of FortWaynePolitics.com)

On Saturday, former City Councilwoman Sharon Tucker (D-6) was elected mayor of Fort Wayne in a special Democratic precinct caucus, following Mayor Tom Henry's recent death. She is the city's 36th mayor and will serve out the remainder of Henry's term until 2027, likely competing in that year's mayoral election.

Tucker will be the first Black mayor of Fort Wayne, and the first (longserving) female mayor. (Former City Controller Cosette Simon was acting mayor for 11 days in 1985 during the only previous mayoral caucus in Fort Wayne.)

While Tucker may be the first Black woman to lead the Summit City, she's only the latest in a wave of Black women elected mayor in Indiana cities last fall, including Mayor Stephanie Terry down in Evansville, Mayor Deb Whitfield in Lawrence and Mayor Angie Nelson Deuitch in Michigan City.

"All first women and first Black mayors in their counties and cities," Allen County Democratic Party Chairman Derek Camp tells The Journal Gazette. “So it’s just continuing that tradition now with Mayor Sharon Tucker."

In Fort Wayne, one group working to diversify local leadership in recent years is the nonpartisan AVOW (Advancing the Voices of Women), which has hosted a Women's Campaign Institute since 2018.

We spoke with three of its four leaders about what Mayor Sharon Tucker's election means to them.

"As a co-founder of AVOW, I could not be more excited to see this history be made. Women represent 51% of our community and now have a leader at the highest level of Fort Wayne. Congratulation to Sharon Tucker for all her work to get here. She has all the skill and energy to move Fort Wayne forward, to carry out late Tom Henry’s legacy and to set a new vision over the next 3 years. When women are represented at the highest level of government, we then make the connections to be able to continue at these levels and bring other woman along either as a role model or through assisting them to get involved."- Rachel Tobin-Smith
"AVOW tries to focus on the skills and process in having women more active voices in their communities. The caucus process this week highlighted the role of the precinct chair with Indiana politics. This virtual entry-level position is targeting not a political machine, but the vote of a 'neighborhood.' We saw the diversity of our community in both the candidates who stepped up as well as with the precinct chairs. There was no mud slinging or vitriol. Each person highlighted their history and their vision for their potential term(s) as mayor. It was a model of civility, leadership and democratic process. I was proud to be a part of it." -Patti Hays
"As Chair of the AVOW Women's Campaign Institute, I am absolutely over-the-moon about Mayor Sharon Tucker's win! Eight years ago, when we began the Institute, we knew that we needed to build a deep bench of strong, qualified, capable women for government leadership. Sharon has been a big part of this initiative as a professor of the Institute since its inception. And she, along with Institute Vice Chair Nicole Keesling, have made the Institute what it is today. I am also so proud of Institute alumnae Stephanie Crandall and Michelle Chambers, who "knocked it out of the park" in the words of one precinct committeeman, in exhibiting their capabilities as leaders. What a story we have to tell this year's Institute participants when they gather August 2nd - 4th." -Marilyn Moran-Townsend