He is South Bend's longest serving mayor and this is his last week in office. Steve Luecke's shoes are soon to be filled by a man just 29 years old, a 29-year-old for whom the mayor gives his total support.
Maureen McFadden recently sat down for a conversation with Mayor Luecke to talk about his five terms as mayor of South Bend, an experience he calls a "great ride."
Mayor Steve Luecke explains how he knew it was time, "You know I felt it was the right time."
The right time for this one-time cowboy who grew up in Freeport, Illinois to step down as mayor. Never expecting that his first day in office in 1997 would lead to his last day in office five terms later.
Mayor Luecke describes his feelings about working for so long, "I didn't expect to run as many times as I did when I first became mayor of the city."
Mayor Luecke responds to when asked if he believes the city is better then when he first took office, "Absolutely, when you look at downtown and the vitality of downtown, there's still a lot of work to do, we want to see more things happening yet"
But he points to the positives during his tenure, the renovation of the Morris Performing Arts Center, Blackthorn, the redevelopment of West Washington Street, the KROC Center, Eddy Street Commons and a development he believes will lead South Bend back to a sound future.
Mayor Luecke describes all of the projects that are helping the city grow, "I think when we look to the promise of Innovation Park and Ignition Park and looking to expand our local economy to bring addition high paying, high tech jobs to South Bend, that's a great legacy that will carry on."
Mayor Luecke responds after being asked if there are too many abandoned houses and crime in the city, “They're right. There is too much crime and there are too many abandoned."
Regrets this mayor, who got his start in neighborhood development, has for the neighborhoods still waiting. But he says the city faced a number of hurdles including suburban growth, the economy, foreclosures and just not enough resources.
Mayor Luecke explains how he's also proud of the mark they are making on crime, "When we look at the long term crime statistics we've been able to decrease crime 40 percent in the city of South Bend during my time as mayor, but it's still too much"
He points to the newly formed Detective Bureau that works exclusively on home burglaries.
He thinks the new ownership of the South Bend Silverhawk's guaranteeing a minor league team downtown for the next 20 years is another draw.
And while we may not see the retail, those of us who grew up here in the 60's and 70's knew, he believes the downtown will thrive, in a new way.
Mayor Luecke describes how downtown is thriving in a new way, "New info housing on the northeast side, I think the new St. Joe High School is really a great addition both for the northeast neighborhood, also the east bank and downtown. In particular we will see the opportunity for our Research Parks to have blossomed for new companies to grow and create new jobs. I think what we're seeing is more interest in moving back into the city we have the wonderful new townhomes on Colfax at the river, there'll be additional townhomes built on Niles Avenue."
They mayor is convinced that rebirth will help South Bend Schools, although he says more parents need to step it up and get involved in their kids education.
The mayor's darkest days? The loss of three South Bend police Officers under his watch.
Mayor Luecke explains why those days where the darkest for him, “That was absolutely the worst experience of being mayor. I really admire the Police Department for how well they responded
Mayor Luecke explains what’s next for him, "I'm going to take some time off, Peg and I hope to go someplace warm in February and then when I come back we'll start talking to people in the community to see where I can fit in well. So I'll be looking for work but look for something that's perhaps a few less hours per week and maybe fewer phone calls. How many meals or chicken dinners do you have to eat a week? Let's just say the mayor has a chance to grow in the job.”
Mayor Luecke gives his thoughts on how the new mayor will do and also gives some advice, "I feel Pete [Buttigieg] is going to do a great as mayor. Keep a sense of humor, to do the best you can everyday and then get up and do it all over again
Something Steve Luecke did passionately for nearly 15 years.
Mayor Luecke says he also suggested the incoming mayor hire a Chief of Staff so he can step away from some of the nitty gritty details of the day to day operations of the city, and focus on his long range vision for South Bend.