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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.
  • 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.
  • MERRILLVILLE – It would appear it is one of those “déjà vu all over again” kind of things. Just like the loquacious Yogi Berra used to talk about in television commercials. Nevertheless, the handling of the disposition of records involving drunken driving cases in Lake County, at least in one of the courts, is about to come under the microscope. Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter has asked the state police to investigation the handling of drunken driving cases in Lake Station City Court. There are allegations that documentation from drunken driving convictions aren’t being sent to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. That documentation can result in the suspension of driving privileges and higher insurance rates. The allegation from Mayor Christopher Anderson, who was city judge when the alleged wrongdoing occurred, was that court clerk Miranda Brakley was responsible for transmitting the DUI conviction information to the state but never did.
  • MERRILLVILLE – There are those who contend that this could be a pretty good year for Republicans in Lake County. Yeah, believe it or not, Republicans in Lake County are feeling pretty good about themselves. Foremost for the GOP is the possibility of winning one of the three county commissioner seats, each of which is held by a Democrat. If Republicans can’t win one of the three seats this year, they have no one to blame but their own. The Indiana Election Commission, which is controlled by Republicans, redrew the 2nd County Commissioner District to give the GOP an excellent chance to win the district. It wasn’t a matter of responding to population changes revealed in the 2010 Census as some would have you believe. No, this had everything to do with politics. What the state did was remove some heavily Democratic precincts from the district, and add some precincts that produce a strong Republican vote. What the election commission is trying to do is make up for the mistake it made following the 2000 Census.
  • MERRILLVILLE – When I and others suggested that Marissa McDermott wouldn’t be running for Lake Circuit Court judge if she weren’t married to the mayor of Hammond, she balked. Oh, no, the lady said. No, she has the credentials to run for judge and the fact that she is married to the former Democratic county chairman and current mayor of the county’s largest city has nothing to do with her candidacy, so she said. Really? I guess she came clean on election night after learning she had defeated Judge George Paras. “I have a damn good last name,” she said in reference to her husband who has four mayoral victories and her father-in-law, Thomas M. McDermott Sr., who has three Hammond mayoral wins. If her name had been Marissa Jones, would she have won Tuesday’s primary? Of course not.
  • MERRILLVILLE – For the first time in decades, it is one and done for the Lake Circuit Court judge. Judge George Paras, who was seeking a second term, lost to Marissa McDermott, wife of Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. Paras had succeeded Lorenzo Arredondo, who served more than 30 years on the Circuit Court bench. Arredondo had succeeded Felix Kaul, who also served for several terms. McDermott’s upset win was easier than expected as she topped Paras by 15,000 votes. McDermott won with name recognition and a loan of almost $100,000 from her husband’s campaign fund. She pretty much said she wouldn’t have won without being married to such a politically prominent person. “I have a damn good last name,” she told supporters Tuesday night. McDermott’s victory was a blow for Sheriff John Buncich, who is county Democratic chairman. He backed Paras.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Only in Lake County, perhaps, would a judge’s race be the leader in the amount of money being spent. Such is the case for the Democratic nomination for Lake Circuit Court judge. The two main candidates are incumbent George Paras and challenger Marissa McDermott. McDermott, who is making her first bid for office, is married to Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. While each candidate has raised and spent a considerable amount of money, it is the source of the money that is drawing the most interest. And that especially is the case with Marissa McDermott, who has a long history of receiving money from campaign funds. In terms of the judge’s race, both candidates have spent more than $100,000. The lion’s share of McDermott’s money has come from her husband, according to campaign finance records.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Talk is increasing over Democratic governor candidate John Gregg’s selection of a lieutenant governor candidate. It has been tradition for the governor candidate to select a running mate from a different geographic part of the state. The thinking, of course, is that a ticket with geographical balance has the best chance of wooing the most voters. And, because Gregg is from Sandborn, a town of 415 people in far southwest Indiana, he has a lot of state left to form geographical balance with his selection of a lieutenant governor candidate. The most recent name to surface was that of Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. She said she was honored to be mentioned but had work to do in bringing back her city. Freeman-Wilson has statewide experience in that she was named by then-Gov. Frank O’Bannon to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Attorney General Jeff Modisett. She was defeated by Republican Steve Carter when she sought reelection in 2000. There is a greater reason why Gregg’s running mate shouldn’t be a resident of Northwest Indiana. It appears that Lake County resident Lorenzo Arredondo will be unopposed at the June 18 state convention for the attorney general nomination.
  • MERRILLVILLE – John Gregg walked into Democratically torn Lake County this week looking for support and money. He got both. Gregg, who is the Democratic candidate for governor, had a word of caution for the party faithful, knowing that Democrats were in the midst of heated primary battles on a number of fronts. He cautioned the crowd, saying, “After the primary, we’re all Democrats.” The party faithful replied with a resounding cheer. The event was held in Schererville at Spike’s Lakeside Inn2 and hosted by owner David (Spike) Jaroszewski, Lake County Auditor John Petalas and Mike Summers. The attendees paid anywhere from $200 to $1,000. Among the officials on hand were U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky and Sheriff John Buncich, who also is Lake County Democratic chairman. Visclosky said the election was about “the dignity of work and people making a living wage.” Gregg emphasized that Indiana continues to be a red state, meaning that it will take Republican support for a Democrat to be elected statewide. He encouraged Democrats to contact their Republican friends to cross over on Election Day. “There are a lot of great Republicans who don’t believe in that ideological stuff,” Gregg said in reference to Gov. Mike Pence.
  • MERRILLVILLE – So, when is special legislation legal? Well, apparently when the Indiana Supreme Court says so. Such is the case with legislation requiring Lake County only to redraw precinct lines to eliminate precincts containing fewer than 500 registered voters. In the 4-1 ruling, Justice Mark Massa admitted that it is special legislation that is generally prohibited by the Indiana Constitution. But Massa found the legislation constitutionally permissible because Lake County has the most small precincts in the state. Massa added to the prejudice against Lake County by saying a law requiring all counties to eliminate small precincts would be an unnecessary burden. Lake County for years has complained that it is unfairly treated by the state when it comes to doling out money and often is the subject of unfair legislation.
  • MERRILLVILLE – There was a time when Indiana Democrats relied heavily on Lake County to provide the massive pluralities needed to elected governors and senators. And the Lake County party often did so, particularly under the leadership of former Democratic Chairman Robert A. Pastrick, who also was East Chicago mayor. The pluralities in those days reached 120,000, which were impressive numbers in a heavily red state. You can say the same thing today, particularly in terms of John Gregg’s candidacy for governor and Baron Hill’s bid for the U.S. Senate. Pluralities of 120,000 are pretty much out of the question today as Democratic numbers have fallen and Republican numbers have grown. But local and state Democrats still are relying on Lake County to provide big numbers for the statewide ticket. That still remains possible, but there is a hitch – local Democrats are fighting like cats and dogs in anticipation of the May primary. Sheriff John Buncich, who is county Democratic chairman, and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, who is the immediate past chairman, are at odds over several races that will be on the primary ballot. McDermott has accused Buncich of turning his back on the younger members of the party, particularly some of those now holding office. Buncich denies the accusations, saying he isn’t opposing any officeholder running in the May primary. What it all boils down to is McDermott’s wife, Marissa.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Mark Becker isn’t a bad sort for a Cheesehead. Yeah, the Wisconsin native is a diehard Green Bay Packers fan. He’s also a pretty bright guy; he’s sarcastic and his dry sense of humor makes deserts seem damp. He is so straight that he has been a guest lecturer on ethics in law enforcement at Calumet College of St. Joseph. And, he knows cops and what makes them tick. And he knows what community policing is all about. That’s why he’s a finalist for the Ferguson, Mo., police chief’s job. Ferguson is the city that still is struggling with civil unrest after a white police officer fatally shot a black youth. Should he get the Ferguson job, it will be Missouri’s gain and Northwest Indiana’s loss. I first met Becker almost three decades ago in the FBI office in Merrillville. He pretty much was spending his time investigating white-collar crime. Becker came to prominence in 1991 when he was a key part of a multi-jurisdictional task force that investigated and caught the so-called “shotgun killer,” who was responsible for seven random killings and five attacks during 11 incidents.
  • MERRILLVILLE – I don’t know about you, but the thought of the 50 states coming together for a constitutional convention scares the heck out of me. The Indiana Senate has approved  Joint Resolution 14 requesting that Congress call a convention for proposing amendments to the nation’s Constitution.
     Specifically, the resolution asks that amendments be limited to restricting federal spending and federal power generally, as well as imposing congressional term limits. Is there anything else? There’s something about the states dictating the amount of money the federal government can spend that seems convoluted. And giving the states a free hand in rewriting the power of the federal government is just as troubling.
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  • FBI's Comey says Russians are hacking state election systems
    “There have been a variety of scanning activities which is a preamble for potential intrusion activities as well as some attempted intrusions at voter database registrations beyond those we knew about in July and August. We are urging the states just to make sure that their deadbolts are thrown and their locks are on and to get the best information they can from DHS just to make sure their systems are secure.” - FBI Director James Comey, speaking to the House Judiciary Committee on what intelligence analysts believe are efforts by the Russian government to influence and disrupt the U.S. presidential election. Hackers have targeted at least 18 states.
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