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Monday, January 23, 2017
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Thursday, July 11, 2013 1:16 PM
MERRILLVILLE – You know the saying that if it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all. I suspect Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority have that feeling right about now.
    
That’s because it was announced last week that completion of a $166-million expansion project was being delayed – again. Rather than being ready at the end of this year, it now is estimated that the project, largely runway expansion, won’t be completed until September 2014 at the earliest.
    
Despite the delay, the Airport Authority will proceed with plans to attract a private investor willing to put up at least $100 million as part of a private/public partnership. The expansion project involves railroad relocation and remediation of polluted soil and groundwater to allow for runway expansion.
    
The irony is that the very thing that led to Northwest Indiana becoming an industrial giant is now blocking the area’s future. The land around the airport is among the most polluted in the country. And that obviously didn’t happen overnight.
    
  • GARY – The annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in Gary is more than just a tribute to the great civil rights leader. It also is one of the biggest political events held in the Steel City. For Gary politicians, the breakfast is an opportunity shore up support within the city. For the outsiders, it is an opportunity to reach out for the backing of Gary’s heavily Democratic vote. Some of those attending the Jan.14 event said it may have been the first time they have seen long-time suburban Democrat James L. Wieser in attendance. Wieser is a Schererville attorney. He has worn a number of political hats during his 40-year political career in Lake County. He has served on the Highland Town Council and the county council.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Perhaps it was only fitting that President Barack Obama gave his last national address within a stone’s throw of Indiana. He never referred to the state by name, but some of his references about the future could well have been promoted by Hoosier history. Obama’s talk was essentially a civics lesson as he encouraged people to revisit the same political roots that got him elected. “Democracy is threatened when taken for granted,” the president said. Obama talked about the U.S. Constitution being a wonderful document but is little more than a piece of paper. “We the people give it power,” Obama said. And then his hour-long civics lesson hit home in Indiana. “We should be making it easier, not harder, to vote,” the president said. Almost a decade ago, Indiana made it more difficult to vote when it passed the voter ID law that requires a voter to show a government photo ID before being allowed to vote.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  I guess the reality hasn’t set in. For the life of me, I still can’t embrace the fact that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will soon be vice president of the United States. After all, it was a mere eight months ago that Pence launched his campaign for reelection as Indiana’s governor. And, at the time, things didn’t look especially promising for Pence, who had drawn the ire of a number of groups around the state. Among those groups was the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Pence denied state civil rights protection to the LGBT community. Pence’s stand set off a firestorm across the nation as several organizations cancelled conventions in Indiana. That national response drew the ire of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which issued a rare criticism of Pence. Pence’s stand on a number of pieces of legislation also drew the wrath of the state’s teachers and labor organizations. And, in Northwest Indiana, Pence was widely criticized for not directing enough money to that corner of the state, especially in terms of road projects, including the rebuilding of the Cline Avenue Bridge.
  • MERRILLVILLE – It seems like yesterday, but alas, it has been 20 years since the first casino opened in Northwest Indiana. It was June, 1996, when the Majestic Star Casino opened in Gary. A day or so later, Trump Casino opened its doors adjacent to the Majestic Star. Showboat Casino soon followed in East Chicago, with the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City and Empress Casino in Hammond rounding out the five casinos in the northwest corner of the state. They, of course, were competing with a couple of casinos just to the west in Joliet, Ill. It seems hard to imagine at this point, but the Joliet casinos were charging admission when they first opened. There is something wrong with having to pay to gain the right to lose your money. With the gambling industry still relatively new in Lake and LaPorte counties, already there is trouble on the horizon. And those likely to suffer the most are the Gary, Hammond, East Chicago and Michigan City casinos that opened with the intent of returning luster to the industrial rust belt in that corner of the state. Now, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians has started construction on a second Four Winds Casino in South Bend.
  • MERRILLVILLE – There are some Lake County Democrats who are reluctant to talk about the future of the party. At least they are reluctant to talk on the record. The party is at its lowest point in decades, considering what happened Nov. 8 and has happened since. The two strongest party leaders over the last half century are gone. Stephen R. Stiglich, who served as county sheriff, died a decade ago while heading up the party. And, longtime chairman Robert A. Pastrick passed away a couple weeks ago just short of his 89th birthday. The only other chairman in recent years was Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. Buncich was elected chairman when McDermott stepped down. He said being chairman could hurt his planned run for governor. Yet, McDermott is riding high as his lock on Hammond continues to get stronger. And in the May Democratic primary, his wife, Marissa McDermott, ousted Lake Circuit Court Judge George Paras. Marissa McDermott, a political newcomer, acknowledged that her victory was a result of her husband’s name-recognition. So, the McDermott name is riding high. Could 2020 be the year Thomas McDermott actually runs for governor as opposed to just talking about it?
       
  • MERRILLVILLE – Lake County’s traditionally weak Republican Party thinks it can now play with the big boys. County GOP Chairman Dan Dernulc and others think they did a heck of a job during the Nov. 8 election. Not so fast. Republicans lost a state representative race they had won two years ago, but they did win a seat on the county board of commissioners, something the party hadn’t done in 20 years. Lake County Republicans haven’t grown as much as they would like you to think. It’s not that they have made the gains on their own. That’s hardly the case. No, Big Brother in Indianapolis gets the credit for making it possible for Lake County Republicans to make some advances. They craftily drew districts to favor Republicans following the 2010 Census.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Democrats across the country took a hit during Tuesday’s election, but nowhere was it felt more than in Northwest Indiana. NWI had the most riding on the Indiana governor’s race. Democrats in that corner of the state were high on John Gregg, the party’s candidate for governor. Just as he couldn’t overcome the plurality of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012, Gregg couldn’t make up for Donald Trump’s huge plurality this year. According to NWI Democrats, Gregg was to be the area’s link to Indianapolis and the massive amounts of money resting in state coffers. Gregg made a considerable number of stops in the area, hoping to raise money and energize the region’s Democrats. Lake County Democratic Chairman John Buncich, who also is county sheriff, led the push for Gregg, working hard to bring out the area’s huge union vote. While the region’s vote for Gregg was substantial, the pluralities of the past were diminished by the unexpected turnout for Trump and the residual effect for Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Holcomb.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Politically speaking, East Chicago was the capital of Indiana during the 33-year career of Mayor Robert A. Pastrick. Statewide candidates coveted his endorsement. Republicans feared his power. Democrats bathed in the city’s massive voter turnouts. Pastrick, who left office in 2004, passed away Oct. 28. He would have been 89 later this month. Pastrick loved his native East Chicago where he served as city controller and city councilman prior to being elected mayor. He was elected mayor nine times until losing to George Pabey in a special election in 2003. His only other political loss was a bid for secretary of state. Besides the residents of East Chicago, Pastrick was rich in close friends. Foremost among them was the late James Knight. Knight not only was city controller, but also advised Pastrick on a number of key interests, both governmentally and politically. Had Knight still been living, there are those who contend the sidewalk scandal of 1999 never would have happened.
  • MERRILLVILLE – If the voters reject Donald Trump and Mike Pence on Nov. 8 – and it appears that they will – is there a political future for either man? I can’t imagine that there will be for Trump, who has been an embarrassment for the Republican Party. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there will even be a place for Trump in the Republican Party of the future. Pence is another matter. There are political commentators across the country who have speculated that Pence would go after the GOP presidential nomination in 2020. After all, Pence has looked presidential during this campaign. It doesn’t too much matter that he hasn’t sounded presidential. If Pence wanted a future in presidential politics, he should have distanced himself from Trump. Pence would have done well to reject Trump’s notion that the election was being stolen from him. Pence should have rejected the notion that the media had the ability to steal an election, as Trump claimed. And, Pence should have rejected Trump’s claim that America no longer is prepared militarily.
  • MERRILLVILLE – When the 30-day rule kicked in around Northwest Indiana last week, it became increasingly clear who was tagging his wagon to whom. Most area communities have adopted an ordinance limiting the placement of political yard signs to the 30 days prior to an election.Those ordinances lately have come under fire and there is a move afoot to get rid of them. Lake County Commissioners Attorney John Dull recently said the ordinances are unconstitutional. Until the ordinances are wiped away, municipalities seem to be adhering to the 30-day provision. Accordingly, the yard signs sprouted last weekend and it is interesting to note whose signs are being paired. At the heart of the matter is John Gregg, the Democratic candidate for governor. It’s interesting whose signs appear with Gregg’s. There are Gregg and Shelli VanDenburgh signs together as well as Gregg and Tom O’Donnell signs side by side.
  • MERRILLVILLE – There were many who thought Northwest Indiana would fall apart in 1976 when Adam Benjamin defeated longtime U.S. Rep. Ray Madden, who was an institution in Congress. Actually, things got better for the Region because of Benjamin’s legislative brilliance and ability to get along with elected officials on both sides of the aisle. When Benjamin died of a heart attack on Labor Day weekend in 1982, there were many who thought the Region wouldn’t be able to recover from a second blow. After enduring two years of  U.S. Rep. Katie Hall, Northwest Indiana got it right in 1984 when it elected U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky to Congress. Visclosky, who was on Benjamin’s staff, discovered his body in his Washington, D.C., apartment. It pretty much has been all good since. Within two years, Visclosky found his way onto the House Appropriations Committee where he continues today.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Judging by the initial comments from Lake County government officials, it’s going to be a long time before a substantial convention center is built. Talk of the convention center has escalated since it was announced that the Radisson Hotel and Star Plaza Theater will be razed later this year and early next year. A new hotel is planned, but there won’t be any convention facilities to replace those that will be eliminated. Speros Batistatos, the president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, has proposed the imposition of a 3-percent food and beverage tax to help pay for the new facility. Such a tax would have to be approved by the Lake County Council and Commissioners. The large convention centers around the state, including one in Indianapolis, are funded in part with food and beverage taxes. Lake County government officials essentially said they want it all but don’t want to pay for it.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  While the latest poll shows Democrat Evan Bayh leading Republican Todd Young by four percentage points in the race for the U.S. Senate, the margin likely is much different in Northwest Indiana. For two generations, this corner of the state has been Bayh country. It began with Birch Bayh, Evan’s father, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962 and reelected twice. Birch Bayh, of course, lost a 1980 bid to become the first Hoosier to be elected to four terms in the Senate, falling victim to the national push in 1980 to throw out the most liberal from the Senate. Bayh’s loss, of course, had a substantial impact on history, in that he was defeated by Dan Quayle who went on to become vice president. The senior Bayh had a host of backers in Northwest Indiana, particularly then-East Chicago Mayor Robert A. Pastrick, who had a knack for turning out huge Democratic pluralities on Election Day. If Pastrick wanted something out of Washington, Bayh provided it. In fact, it was Pastrick who was on hand to greet Evan Bayh when he made his first Northwest Indiana appearance after announcing he intended to seek the Senate seat both he and his father formerly held. Besides Pastrick, the senior Bayh was the darling of labor unions who controlled the Region politically until their numbers began to dwindle in the 1980s.
  • MERRILLVILLE – It is becoming increasingly clear that Griffith doesn’t want anything to do with Gary. Even though the two Lake County municipalities abut each other, Griffith seemingly wants to build one of those walls Donald Trump wants to erect along the Mexican border. First it was Planned Parenthood. When the agency was about to lose its facility in Gary, it located property in Griffith for its new headquarters. But Griffith Councilman Rick Ryfa led the charge and blocked Planned Parenthood from moving into his town. And then Ryfa and the rest of the town council, which is controlled by Republicans, launched a move to have Griffith pull out of Calumet Township. The Griffith officials said they were tired of paying for public assistance to help the poor people in Gary. Calumet Township is made up of Gary, Griffith and unincorporated Calumet Township. With 39 percent of Gary residents below the poverty line, most of the township assistance money is going to Gary. Griffith residents at one point were paying about $3 million a year for public assistance. That now is down to about $1 million annually.
  • MERRILLVILLE – If Lake County Democratic Chairman John Buncich has said it once, he’s said it a hundred times. “We can’t take four more years of Mike Pence,” is Buncich’s standard line. With Labor Day just a few days away, Lake County’s once dominant, but still powerful, Democratic Party is ready to launch the two-month campaign leading up to the Nov. 8 election. But, of course, it won’t be Pence who Democrats will be facing. But that doesn’t matter to Buncich, who doubles as county sheriff. “You look at (Eric) Holcomb and you see Pence,” Buncich said of the lieutenant governor who is Pence’s replacement on the ballot for governor. Holcomb, in fact, has vowed to campaign on Pence’s record. The fall campaign will culminate with a late October victory rally at the Greek Hall in Merrillville with some 800 expected to attend. U.S. Senate candidate Evan Bayh, governor candidate John Gregg and the rest of the state ticket will headline the rally.
  • MERRILLVILLE – There doesn’t seem to be an end to the saga of Randy Palmateer and a March drunken-driving arrest. So widespread is the story that it extends this week to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Palmateer is the business manager of the 25,000-member Northwestern Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council. The March arrest was the second in five years. And, as was the case with the first one, this one was reduced to reckless driving, as are many drunken driving charges in Lake County. It wasn’t terribly surprising that Palmeteer had his March drunken-driving arrest reduced to reckless driving even though it was his second in five years. The Building and Construction Trades Council can be a powerful force in statewide and local elections. To anger the organization’s leader isn’t a wise political move. The Palmateer case prompted The Times of Northwest Indiana to investigate how drunken-driving cases are handled in Lake County. When it was learned that the majority of drunken-driving charges were reduced to reckless driving, The Times turned the issue into a crusade.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Lake County Sheriff John Buncich and Cook County (Ill.) Sheriff Tom Dart are taking their cooperation to new levels in the wake of the national tragedies of police shooting innocent blacks and blacks shooting police. At the heart of that effort, according to the two sheriffs, will be an increased effort to go after gang members who ignore state lines as they seek to control the distribution of drugs. And foremost among the two-state effort is to reduce the gun traffic from Indiana to Illinois, Dart said. Most of the illegal gun traffic originates at gun shows held quarterly at the Lake County Fairgrounds. The gun show loophole allows unlicensed dealers to sell firearms to those not legally allowed to possess firearms. “Indiana is the number two source of guns we find at our crime scenes in Chicago,” Dart said. “It’s stupid not to be aware of the fact gangs could care less about borders. As a matter of fact, they like them because traditionally (police) jurisdictions don’t have the ability to cross borders.”
        
  • MERRILLVILLE – When U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh suddenly backed away from seeking re-election in 2010, he turned Hoosier politics on its ear. No one then even speculated that he would do the same thing in the middle of 2016. But he just as suddenly announced that he would be getting back into politics with the intent of returning to the Senate. With the state’s most popular Democrat suddenly off the ballot in 2010, Republicans were giddy about the future. For certain, the Indiana GOP again knew that it likely would control both of the state’s seats in the U.S. Senate. And, yes it happened, as Republican Dan Coats won in 2010. One has to wonder what would have transpired in Indiana politics if Bayh had sought, and surely won, reelection six years ago. If Bayh had won in 2010, Hoosier Republicans and Democrats wouldn’t be in the mess they are in today. One has to wonder whether Mike Pence would have defeated John Gregg four years ago if Bayh had been politically active and campaigning for Gregg. And if Gregg were governor, which Republican would be running against Gregg today?
  • MERRILLVILLE – You’ve got to wonder what’s going through the head of Gov. Mike Pence. I suspect he is giddy about the possibility of being the running mate for Donald Trump, who will be the Republican presidential candidate unless something terribly unforeseen happens in the next week or so. Being considered as a vice presidential candidate does a lot for one’s ego. I suspect there is something special about being a heartbeat away from being the most powerful man on the globe. We know Pence in the past talked about running for president but backed away and instead did the sure thing in running for governor. Other than the late Bob Orr, I can’t remember anyone looking more like a governor than Pence. And, unfortunately, too many people still vote based on a candidate’s looks. I suspect Pence could be a help for Trump. The social conservatives aren’t enamored with Trump. Pence, being an ultraconservative, would help bring that faction of the party into the fold. And, yes, I’ve got to think that Pence is interested or he wouldn’t have accepted Trump’s invitation for a visit last weekend. It wouldn’t shock me if Trump picked Pence.
  • MERRILLVILLE – We’re talking about a Hoosier here. Yeah, the federal judge at the center of the racist attacks by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is a native of East Chicago in Northwest Indiana. One would think there would be a tremendous hue and cry from Gov. Mike Pence and Indiana’s congressional delegation chastising Trump for his comments. Trump contends he can’t get a fair ruling from Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is of Mexican heritage, because Trump wants to build a wall along the U.S./Mexico border. But, no, there was virtual silence until much of the rest of the country had spoken. And there was some fairly heavy criticism from Republicans around the country, including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois. Kirk, who is on the ballot this fall, went so far as to say he no longer supports Trump and won’t vote for him. Finally, Pence weighed in, but only after reporters caught him as he was en route to the airport. Prior to commenting on what Trump had to say about Curiel, Pence couched his upcoming remarks by saying, “Every American is entitled to a fair trial and an impartial judge.” But Pence didn’t call on Trump to apologize to Curiel for his racist comments. Pence simply said Trump was wrong to make the comments. As reporters persisted, Pence became even more elusive.
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