The rise and fall – and rise – of Win Moses

Moses resigns
News-Sentinel file photo

Moses resigns
As part of a plea bargain in a campaign-finance scandal, Win Moses resigned as mayor of Fort Wayne in July 1985. Moses has since shrugged off controversy to win a seat in the General Assembly.
By MIKE DOOLEY of The News-Sentinel

Standing behind the meat counter at Pio Market on East State Boulevard one day in late October 1987, butcher Jack Didier offered an insightful observation on local politics.

"You can say what you want to about Win Moses," he said as he wiped his hands on his apron, "but you can't say he's been dull."

That's probably the last adjective anyone would use to describe Moses or the seven years he served as Fort Wayne's mayor. His two terms in office were marked by some of the city's greatest accomplishments, and by some of its biggest setbacks.

During his tenure large portions of the city fell victim to an epidemic of gang- and drug-related violence; its biggest employer shut its doors and left for Ohio; and a campaign-finance scandal surfaced that briefly forced him from office.

It was during those same years, though, that the city won an "All America City" designation, gained a reputation as the "City that Saved Itself" for the 1982 efforts of thousands of flood-fighting volunteers, and saw its downtown rejuvenated with numerous construction projects.

If he's remembered for anything, it might be that Moses seemed to have a knack for turning even the worst news into something favorable.

When civil rights leader Vernon Jordan was shot by a sniper at the Marriott Hotel on Coldwater Road in 1980, national media rushed into the city to cover the reaction — as in riots — reporters from around the country expected. Instead, Moses' image appeared in national publications and on the network news a few days later as a mayor who managed to keep the peace despite the circumstances.

Two years later, a heavy snow melt sent the city's three rivers to near-historic levels, flooding large areas of Fort Wayne and forcing thousands from their homes. Once again, Moses got national attention as the city mustered an army of volunteers whose sandbagging efforts finally stemmed the flood.

Come 1983, it was International Harvester's decision to close its local plant and move the operations to Springfield, Ohio, that bruised the city's psyche. After a few false starts, that news was tempered as Moses and state and county officials revealed General Motors would build a new truck plant in southwest Allen County.

Smelling like a rose

Even Moses' greatest humiliation had what the fairy tales would call a happy ending.

Indicted in 1984 on charges his campaign organization failed to report its donations to Republican sheriff candidate Boris Jeremenko in 1982, Moses pleaded guilty in July 1985 and resigned from office. But he was back in office 11 days later, after a caucus of Democrat precinct officials — charged with selecting a new mayor — decided he was the right person for the job, despite his troubles.

Some of Moses' minor deeds and misdeeds also had their flip sides. In 1984, life on the rubber chicken circuit had sent his weight ballooning, and some people were starting to compare him to the then-less-svelte Azar's Big Boy. "I was beginning to look like an obese chipmunk," he announced one day, then promptly went on a diet and shed more than 25 pounds.

In fact, it seemed like Moses came out of just about any situation smelling like a rose. About the only thing he couldn't give a positive spin was his reputation for having a larger-than-life ego.

When the mayor was roasted by the Indianapolis Press Club at its 1984 gridiron dinner, state Sen. Louie Mahern told the crowd that Moses "calls Dial-a-Prayer to see if there are any messages."

A hometown boy who struck it rich in the apartment-building boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Moses developed a reputation early on as a consummate politician. Taking on causes such as higher utility rates and the state's politically run license branches won him praise from liberals, while his proposals for government assistance to businesses and the cold shoulder he sometimes gave organized labor earned high marks from conservatives.

His re-election in 1983 was the pinnacle of his political career up to that point, as he buried Republican Charles "Bud" Meeks in a landslide with more than 70 percent of the vote. That year, in what was seen as a preview of a widely expected 1984 gubernatorial bid, his campaign chartered several buses to carry out-of-town reporters around to polling places on Election Day.

That campaign never materialized, as Moses announced a month after his re-election that he wouldn't challenge state Sen. Wayne Townsend of Hartford City forthe Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

‘On to other things'

Moses made a run for a third term as mayor in 1987. This time Republican Paul Helmke defeated him with 51 percent of the vote.

Although he ran a credible campaign, many of Moses' friends and supporters say there was something missing from his last mayoral bid. He seemed to lose some of his steam after the campaign-finance scandal, they say, and even more went out of him late in the final mayor's race when police identified his brother, Michael, as a suspect in a yet-unsolved murder case.

When he left the mayor's office, Moses said he didn't see "a major political impact for me in Fort Wayne." Almost as an afterthought, he added, "It's time to go on to other things."

As the last decade of the 20th century comes to an end, it looks as if those "other things" may be familiar ones for the former mayor. He stayed out of politics for a while, then in 1992 jumped back in and defeated former city Councilman Charles Redd for an Indiana House seat representing Fort Wayne — a seat that had been specifically drawn for Redd.

Despite questions about his residency — he still maintains his Fort Wayne apartment but has also built a home on a private lake in northeast Indianapolis — Moses has easily won re-election to the legislature every two years and now chairs the powerful House Rules Committee. Some mention him as a possible speaker of the House one day, and others predict the day will come when Hoosiers use the term "governor" when they refer to him.

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