Capital Improvement Board and Government & Economic Development and Sports Business

Fred Glass brings city's 'to do' list to life

April 16, 2007

Fred Glass spent his youth sweeping floors and washing dishes at his dad's tavern on East and Washington streets. He saw his father break up more than a couple of barroom brawls. Glass hitchhiked from work to high school.

"I basically grew up in the back of a skid-row bar," Glass said. He watched his father rule George's Liberty Bar with an iron fist--and a tender heart.

"He carried a blackjack in his pocket," Glass said, recalling the leather club his dad hefted to help keep the peace. But the elder Glass also served holiday dinners at the tavern to those with no place else to turn. Fred Glass didn't know that those early life experiences were laying the foundation for a career that would change the city.

Glass headed historic transitions in both the mayor's and governor's offices and has become the go-to guy for some of the city's biggest initiatives, most of them sports-related.

Glass became then-Gov. Evan Bayh's chief of staff in 1989 at age 30. He later helped transition from 36 years of Republican mayoral rule as one of Mayor Bart Peterson's top lieutenants. He also served as adviser to other Democratic candidates and office holders, including Lt. Gov. Kathy Davis and County Assessor Greg Bowes.

Glass, 48, president of the city's Capital Improvement Board, still serves, but not all his causes are partisan.

On April 10, he was in Philadelphia to discuss the city's 2011 Super Bowl bid with top National Football League officials. And Glass is at the center of discussions surrounding the Convention Center expansion, Lucas Oil Stadium operations, the convention center hotel project and more. He is the point person for the CIB-owned Conseco Fieldhouse and Victory Field as well.

In the last three years, he helped usher in a deal that will keep the Indianapolis Colts in town for the next three decades, and assured the construction of a $625 million new stadium and $275 million convention center expansion. He was also a point person in assuring the NCAA Final Four and Big Ten basketball tournaments continue to come to Indianapolis on a regular basis.

"He's literally and figuratively changing the face of this city," said Mayor Bart Peterson. "He's one of this city's great unsung heroes."

Driven to serve

Glass' official public service started unceremoniously with a gig as a glorified chauffeur--wheeling Bayh around the state as he campaigned for Indiana secretary of state.

"I was his driver," Glass said with his trademark smile. "It sounds pedestrian, but it was really a great opportunity."

Luckily, Glass, like his parents, was never too proud to tackle grunt work. That commitment to service, Glass said, was sewn in the shadows of the downtown bar and nurtured by his parents and educators at St. Thomas Aquinas Elementary and Brebeuf High School.

"My parents were great believers in the ways of the Jesuits, not only their educational values, but commitment to helping others," Glass said.

Glass' dad--who died in 1984--attended Marquette University on the G.I. Bill, exposing him to the Jesuits and deepening his belief in public service.

Along his own path, Fred Glass learned opportunity can be found at unexpected times and places.

There was more than swilling beer and puffing on unfiltered Camels going on at the neighborhood bar, that's for sure.

It was there that Glass, whose parents were both die-hard Democrats, learned firsthand the meaning of service. The tavern was his dad's livelihood, but he also used it to reach the homeless and other disenfranchised.

"We spent a lot of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinners there serving people who didn't have anywhere else to go," Glass said.

Glass' mom, Rosemary, was also a presence at the bar and was a social worker employed more than three decades by Indianapolis Public Schools.

Cultural crossroads

At the tavern, Glass said, he learned to communicate with and understand the viewpoints of a broad range of people.

Growing up in the integrated neighborhood at 54th Street and Kenwood Avenue in the 1960s and 1970s, Glass further grew his appreciation of cultural diversity.

"I was exposed to a real cross section of people," Glass said. "It was a unique education."

In addition to serving the city's disenfranchised, Glass' parents also worked as Democratic precinct committee members, beat the streets campaigning for candidates, and worked tirelessly to register voters and at the polls. They never ran for office, though.

"My parents always said I was a prenatal Democrat," Glass said. "Politics aside, they always showed me why service was important. For them, it was a way of life."

For Glass, too, it has become a lifestyle. And though he, like his parents, never sought the limelight of elected office, almost every influential area Democrat from Evan Bayh to Bart Peterson has leaned on him at some point. Bill Clinton tapped Glass to lead his Indiana campaign.

Glass admits he was pretty burned out on public service when he departed Bayh's staff for a partnership position at local law firm Baker & Daniels.

Ride 'em cowboy

It wasn't long before the same characteristics that drew Bayh to Glass also attracted the eye of Peterson, who met Glass when they both worked in the Governor's Office.

Glass jumped at the chance to lead the transition team after Peterson was elected in 1999.

"I felt like I was getting another shot at the rodeo," Glass said. "It had been a long time since a Democrat had been mayor, and I thought we could use a lot of the lessons that we learned with Gov. Bayh."

Glass said that while working with Bayh he learned which "windmills could be tilted" and which quests were quixotic. He also better learned how to deal with the press, when to speak up, and when to keep quiet.

Glass also learned to handle criticism that is inevitable when dealing with public projects and public money.

"It gets easier because I feel I know so much more than I did in 1989," Glass said. "[Criticism] still hurts, but I have a better perspective on it now."

Even after all he's accomplished, Glass said he still has critics, including those who say trying to bring the Super Bowl to Indianapolis "is like beating your head against the wall."

To those critics, Peterson simply says, "They don't know what Fred's capable of."

In January 2000, Peterson appointed Glass to the nine-member CIB, and he immediately took over as president for Republican Pat Early, who remains on the board.

Early, whom former Mayor Steve Goldsmith appointed, said the transition was eased by Glass' nonpartisan approach.

"By its nature, the president of the CIB has considerably more influence than anyone else on the board, make no mistake," Early said. "But part of Fred's success is due to his open-mindedness and willingness to reach across the aisle to get things done. He's shown he's bipartisan in the way he approaches his decisions."

Glass said he had only minimal knowledge of the projects he was about to tackle as CIB chief. He is an unabashed sports fan who rooted for the Indiana Pacers and Green Bay Packers in his formative years. Now, of course, he's a huge Indianapolis Colts fan. Glass was also active coaching his four kids' youth sports teams. But that's a long way, he said, from sitting across the table from Colts owner Jim Irsay and negotiating a multimillion-dollar lease deal.

"I'm not there because I'm a capital improvements or sports genius," Glass said. "I'm there because I'm the mayor's guy.

"I have that perspective. I take my job seriously, but not myself. I've tried to stay grounded and know why I'm there."

Those who have sat across the table from Glass admire how he conducts himself in such negotiations. Colts owner Jim Irsay called him "tough, but fair."

Glass is still guided by lessons from his past.

"I got over letting a lack of experience scare me from taking a job a long time ago," Glass said. "It's your judgment that is critical to sizing things up. And it's your work ethic that will see things through."

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