Image: Harry Baals
Harry Baals won four terms as mayor of Fort Wayne in the 1930s and 1950s.
updated 2/8/2011 6:51:55 PM ET 2011-02-08T23:51:55

A former Indiana mayor who won four terms in the 1930s and 1950s is proving less popular with modern-day city leaders, who say they probably won't name a new government center for him because of the jokes his moniker could inspire.

Harry Baals is the runaway favorite in online voting to name the new building in Fort Wayne, about 120 miles northeast of Indianapolis. But Deputy Mayor Beth Malloy said that probably won't be enough to put the name of the city's longest-tenured mayor on the center.

The issue is pronunciation. The former mayor pronounced his last name "balls." His descendants have since changed it to "bales."

Supporters said it's unfair that the former mayor can't be recognized simply because his name makes some people snicker. But opponents fear that naming the center after Baals would make Fort Wayne the target of late-night television jokes.

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"We realize that while Harry Baals was a respected mayor, not everyone outside of Fort Wayne will know that," Malloy said Tuesday in a statement to The Associated Press. "We wanted to pick something that would reflect our pride in our community beyond the boundaries of Fort Wayne."

An online site taking suggestions for names showed more than 1,300 votes Tuesday for the Harry Baals Government Center. That's more than three times the votes received by the closest contender.

Jim Baals, 51, who has lived in the city his entire life, said it's unfortunate that his great-uncle's name won't be considered for the building.

"Harry served four terms and was a wonderful mayor. I don't know what the problem is," he said. "I understand people are going to poke fun at it. That's OK. I've lived with that name for 51 years now, and I've gotten through it. I think everybody else can, too."

City spokesman Frank Suarez said the city has no regrets about opening the name selection up to people online.

"It is a new way of reaching out to the community," he said. "The fact that 17,000 votes have come in tell us the buzz created by this is really good. When was the last time somebody could say they had fun with their government? We've had fun with this."

Suarez told The Journal Gazette that Mayor Tom Henry will meet with local groups and choose from up to 10 finalists from the suggestions submitted. Online voting ends Friday.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Official, voters collide over Harry Baals building

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