Visiting Democrats gave Fort Wayne strong marks for the city's performance at hosting the party's first state convention ever held outside Indianapolis, paving the way for other Hoosier cities to host the event in the future.
About 2,000 party delegates descended on the city for the convention, many visiting Fort Wayne for the first time. Even those who drove nearly six hours for the convention said their experience proved worth the trip.
“I've never been in Fort Wayne, per se, to stay,” said Rita Long, a former party chairwoman from Warrick County in southwest Indiana. “The committee and mayor (Tom Henry) have been so welcoming and so wonderful.”
Long said she enjoyed shopping and visiting the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory. Before Friday, she had only passed through Fort Wayne on Interstate 69, she said.
"It was fun to visit a larger city that was actually walkable," said Bloomington City Clerk Regina Moore.
Carmen Darland, chair of the Fort Wayne 2012 host committee, said the weekend was only the culmination of nonstop work since state Democratic Party officials announced Fort Wayne as the host city in 2010.
“Fort Wayne did an outstanding job, and not just the city but the entire region,” she said. “We definitely put ourselves on the political landscape.”
Volunteers from all 12 northeast Indiana counties helped make the convention a success, Darland said.
Almost every speaker who took the stage Saturday at the Grand Wayne Center, including gubernatorial candidate John Gregg and U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, the Democratic candidate for Senate, also praised Fort Wayne.
“Is this the most wonderful, exceptional venue you can imagine?” Donnelly said.
State Democratic leaders said Fort Wayne's performance would likely help determine whether or not the convention would move from Indianapolis in the future. The city's performance matched the excitement, Indiana Democratic Party spokesman Ben Ray said.
“Fort Wayne did an incredible job,” he said. “I have no doubt the convention will rotate for years to come.”