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Saturday, April 19, 2014

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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 – Probably the worst kept secret in Lake County politics is that Hammond Mayor Thomas M. McDermott Jr. would like to one day replace U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Merrillville, in Congress. Because Visclosky is virtually unbeatable, McDermott would have to wait for him to retire before having a chance. One thing that could give McDermott an advantage once Visclosky has stepped down is the fact that he is the Lake County Democratic chairman and has firm control of the organization. McDermott took a rather bold step about a week ago when he said converting Lake County into a single municipality is the best way to achieve true regionalism. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – As much as Gov. Mike Pence and downstate Republicans would like the Cline Avenue Bridge issue to go away, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Lake County’s casino industry won’t let talk of the bridge become a thing of the past. The state refused to rebuild the bridge after it was shut down in November 2009 because the deck had become structurally weak. Cline Avenue, which is a state highway, is the principal Lake County artery connecting Interstate 80/94 and the Indiana Toll Road and eventually the Chicago Skyway. The state said the estimated cost of $150 million to replace a portion of the bridge couldn’t be justified, even though Indiana is sitting on a $2 billion surplus. 
  • MERRILLVILLE - The five candidates for Lake County sheriff – three Democrats and two Republicans – threw barbs at each other during a debate this week at Purdue University Calumet. The one who drew the most attention at the fund-raiser was Joseph Kumstar, who was the deputy police chief under Dominguez. Kumstar was among the three officers indicted for the illegal acquisition and sale of restricted machine gun parts and laser sights. Kumstar used sheriff’s department stationary as his cover for acquiring the weapons. Kumstar pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison. He hasn’t begun serving his sentence because he is expected to testify against the gun firm that delivered the parts. Kumstar was introduced at Richard Ligon’s fund-raiser as a key player in the campaign.  
  • MERRILLVILLE – It’s no wonder that Democrats continue to dominate politically in Lake County.  Republicans are in such a state of disarray that they can’t even begin to mount a challenge to the Democrats. The latest intraparty squabble is one of the best in recent decades. At odds are Lake County Republican Party Chairman Dan Dernulc, who also is a county councilman, and Kim Krull, who was chairwoman prior to Dernulc, who was elected chairman in March 2013. Krull, who didn’t seek re-election, supported Allan Katz as her replacement. Dernulc won by seven votes. What has transpired since has led to Dernulc and Krull filing charges against each other. Krull has filed a complaint with the Indiana Republican Central Committee asking that Dernulc and county party treasurer Andy Qunell be removed from office, or at the very least, reprimanded. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – It could have been worse. Much worse. But in the end, it wasn’t good. You might say it pretty much was a waste of taxpayers’ money. Indiana could have lived without the 2014 short session of the General Assembly that ended last week. It was about 1970 that the state started holding short sessions for the purpose of putting Band-Aids on the biennial budget passed the previous year. While legislators this year didn’t fuss with the budget, they didn’t do a couple of things they intended to do. That’s good. For instance … With the clock ticking toward a midnight adjournment Thursday, the Senate deadlocked on a bill to require drug testing for some welfare recipients. While some said the bill was an effort to help people get off drugs, it was little more than an effort to punish some of the state’s less fortunate. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – Every time the Lake County Republican precinct organization elects a new chairman, there is renewed hope that the party finally will make gains. Such was the case when county Councilman Dan Dernulc was elected chairman a year or so ago. One would have to say he has had an inauspicious start. For instance, let’s take the 1st Congressional District where Democratic Rep. Peter Visclosky, is seeking a 16th term. While local Republicans love to criticize Visclosky for being too liberal, they once again have failed to file a viable candidate against him. Visclosky in the fall will again face perennial candidate Mark Leyva, who chairs the Tea Party in Lake County. Leyva never has come close to beating Visclosky and has virtually no chance again this year. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – It is often said that the residents of Northwest Indiana know more about the politics and the candidates in Illinois than in Indiana. There is a good deal of truth in that. It is all about television. This corner of the state receives its television news from the network affiliates in Chicago. The national networks don’t have affiliates in Northwest Indiana. There probably are those living in Northwest Indiana who think the Hoosier governor is Pat Quinn, not Mike Pence. It’s the television influence. 
  • MERRILLVILLE - Economic development too often is a political phrase designed to capture the attention of the voter. Yet, too often, it is a pie-in-the-sky goal as opposed to reality. But there are times when economic development becomes something that can be grasped at the local level. Such was the case in Northwest Indiana a week or so ago. That was when Gov. Mike Pence announced that Indiana is among 15 states in the running to be home to a $10 billion Boeing airplane manufacturing and assembly facility that could employ as many as 8,500 people by the end of the next decade. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – The votes of the mayors of Lake County’s two largest cities on the Illiana Expressway likely have highway and urban planners shaking their heads. And the political twist may be the most interesting. The highway, which will connect Interstate 65 in Indiana and I-55 in Illinois, will run east and west just north of Lowell. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, who opposed the expressway, called for weighted voting, meaning the value of each municipality’s vote was based on its share of the population of Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. Being the largest city in the region, Hammond’s vote was worth more than 11 percent of the total. The weighted vote was 76-20 in support of building the new highway. The individual vote was 29-8 in support of the highway. McDermott said he opposed Illiana because it would hurt his city. “I think it will further contribute to sprawl and to disinvestment from the city of Hammond, and that’s my responsibility,” McDermott said, adding that he also felt for the farmers who would lose some of their land and have their lifestyles changed forever.
     
  • MERRILLVILLE - Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. came under fire a week ago when a Republican activist filed a complaint with the Lake County Election Board. Eric Krieg alleges that McDermott has violated state law by not detailing exactly what kind of work was done by McDermott’s wife over the last decade or so when she was paid about $300,000 for her work on her husband’s campaigns. It has gotten McDermott into a bit of a mess even though Krieg is wrong about the campaign reporting requirement.

     
  • MERRILLVILLE – That old “like father, like son” saying could hold true for the Thomas McDermott family of Hammond. Thomas M. McDermott Sr. ended a Democratic stronghold of the mayor’s office in 1983 when he was elected to the city’s top job as a Republican. He was re-elected in 1987 and 1991. Shortly after starting his third term, the elder McDermott resigned to become president of the Northwest Indiana Forum Inc., the region’s leading economic development agency. During the 1988 gubernatorial campaign, McDermott Sr. looked toward statewide office. While he considered running for governor, what he really sought was to be the Republican Party’s lieutenant governor candidate. The thinking at the time was that McDermott could diffuse the heavy Democratic vote in Lake County and help Republican John Mutz win the governor’s office. But McDermott didn’t get the lieutenant governor’s nomination and that pretty much ended his push for political office greater than mayor.
     
  • MERRILLVILLE  – It wasn’t the best of weeks for the city of Gary. In fact, it ranked right up there with the worst of them. On a number of fronts, the city took a bashing. Even the one bright note came with a price. The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority named B.R. Lane the interim director of the airport. Lane is the chief of staff for Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, making $99,000 annually. Two weeks ago, Lane was nominated to the airport director’s job, but the board deadlocked. Last week she was unanimously approved, even though she has no experience in the aviation industry. She will be paid about $10,000 per month. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – Halfway through his 15th term in Congress, Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Merrillville, finally is losing patience with Northwest Indiana. It was obvious in what he had to say last week to an interim legislative committee studying the future of commuter rail in Indiana. The committee discussed a 20-year-old plan to expand South Shore commuter rail service to Lowell or at least to Dyer. The same plan also wants commuter rail expanded to Valparaiso. After a lengthy discussion about a business plan for the commuter railroad, Visclosky seemed to be at wit’s end. 
  • GARY - Increasingly, people are singing the praises of Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson in terms of her efforts to turn around her city. The mayor is seemingly everywhere as she attempts to engage people and communities.

    Gary is in much the same boat as was East Chicago during the 1999 Democratic mayoral primary. Native Hoosier Chris Sautter made a documentary of that race between incumbent Mayor Robert A. Pastrick and challenger Stephen R. Stiglich.
    At one place in the film, a Stiglich supporter said East Chicago had declined so much that it no long was possible to buy a pair of socks in the city.
     
  • MERRILLVILLE – There are a myriad of education stories, good and bad, in Northwest Indiana as school is about to resume.??

    Many educators in this part of the state continue to say “I told you so,” as the Tony Bennett scandal continues to unfold. For those short on memory, Bennett is the former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction who lost his re-election bid in 2012, largely because of his condescending approach to the state’s public school teachers. Then, after being hired into the same position in Florida, the Associated Press in Indianapolis reported that Bennett ordered the grade for a charter school changed from a C to an A.
     
  • GARY – Twenty-two days after Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson asked Gov. Mike Pence to send state troopers to her city, the governor has responded. The mayor and police Chief Wade Ingram had asked Pence to send 60 state troopers to the Steel City for 90 days. The mayor’s hope was that added police presence would help stem a rash of violent crimes, including homicides.

    Well, the governor isn’t sending 60 troopers to the city. And, he’s not sending 30. Even though there have been 33 homicides in the city this year – a 48 percent increase over 2012 – Pence isn’t sending any troopers to Gary. The governor told Freeman-Wilson to work with Indiana State Police Superintendent Douglas Carter to find out exactly what Gary needs in terms of law enforcement.
     
  • 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 – 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.

    The Airport Authority, which has been both functional and dysfunctional over the years, has known from the beginning that the level of pollution was extraordinary. Unfortunately, the authority has too often been slow in acting over the years.

    For instance, the authority foolishly asked the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to allow it to permanently cap a pile of contaminated soil that was removed and dumped along the south edge of the airport. IDEM turned down the request, so the work continues and the completion is delayed.

    Through it all, Freeman-Wilson, who has been in office for just a year and a half, remains undaunted. She and most of the movers and shakers in Northwest Indiana know the growth of the airport is the key for the future of Gary and all of the area.

    With the runway expansion, Gary will have greater capability than Midway Airport in Chicago. And with the expansion, there seemingly will be less chance for the construction of an airport in Peotone west of Gary in Illinois.

    U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Merrillville, has brought the most money into the $166-million expansion project. The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority has been another leading contributor. And former Gov. Mitch Daniels, shortly after his first inauguration, said airport expansion was the eye to the future of Northwest Indiana.

    There is one thing for certain at this point. The Airport Authority must make certain that there is not another delay beyond September 2014. There is a lot riding on it, and if the new deadline isn’t met, it will become clear as to why Gov. Mike Pence was pushing for more control of the airport authority.

    Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. He is a columnist for The Times of Northwest Indiana. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – Perhaps it’s the substantial salary. Perhaps it’s the power. Perhaps it’s all about ego. Whatever the reason, there isn’t a local election in Lake County that draws more interest than the race for sheriff.

    The lineup generally takes shape in the fall before the May Democratic primary. Republicans rarely count in countywide elections in Lake County, but this year, the Democratic sheriff’s primary already has taken on its primary look, perhaps the final formation.

    And the primary has much the same look as it did in 2010. The only substantial difference is that there is an incumbent sheriff today. There wasn’t four years ago. Sheriff John Buncich topped Richard Ligon and Oscar Martinez in the 2010 primary. There were several other candidates who received votes but had little chance to win.

    Buncich was elected sheriff in 1994 and 1998, but couldn’t seek a third term because state law limits the sheriff to two consecutive terms. Roy Dominguez was elected sheriff in 2002.  Buncich tried to a comeback in 2006, but narrowly lost to Dominguez. Buncich made it all the way back in 2010 and now is seeking a second consecutive term.

    Many around the state remember the name of  Buncich’s legal advisor, both during the first two years and today. Former state Sen. John Bushemi has been a close ally and attorney for the sheriff’s department since Buncich came into office.

    Buncich is an enigma of sorts when it comes to Lake County elected officials. When he first left the sheriff’s department he was riding high in terms of popularity and could have run for, and probably won, another county office.

    The late Sheriff Stephen Stiglich was elected county auditor after being sheriff. The late Sheriff Leslie O. Pruitt was county auditor and treasurer besides being sheriff.  But Buncich, a career police officer, said his only interest was in law enforcement and declined seeking other county offices.

    Ligon spent his career working as a postal inspector for the U.S. Postal Service. He pretty much disappeared from public view after losing to Buncich. When Karen Freeman-Wilson was elected Gary mayor in 2011, she named Ligon the city’s public safety director.

    Ligon oversaw the city’s police and fire departments. Why a city of 80,000 needed – or could afford – a public safety director is anyone’s guess. Likely because of budgetary problems, Logon didn’t last long and his position was eliminated.

    Martinez is a sergeant with 20 years on the county police department. He made a name for himself by stopping drug couriers headed to and through Lake County from Mexico. His efforts resulted in the seizure of large amounts of narcotics and cash.

    So successful was Martinez at one point that some local folks felt he had connections in Mexico who were tipping him as to when drug couriers would be coming through the area.  He  complained when Buncich earlier removed him from the interdiction task force.

    Buncich will enjoy the backing of Lake County Democratic Chairman Thomas M. McDermott Jr., who also is mayor of Hammond , Lake County’s most populous city, according to the 2010 Census.

    Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. He is a columnist for NWI Times. 
  • MERRILLVILLE - Without bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all is a saying that fits the Gary/Chicago International Airport these days.

    It seems Gary just can’t catch a break. Allegiant Air announced last week that its last commercial flight out of Gary will be Aug. 10. The airline has been flying twice a week from Gary to Orlando since February 2012.

    Allegiant said there wasn’t enough business to continue. But Gary Airport officials said passenger loads exceeded Allegiant’s minimum requirements. “Allegiant Air has a history of doing this kind of thing,” Airport Authority Vice President Marion Johnson told The Times of Northwest Indiana. “It’s not just a Gary thing. They have done this in all parts of the country.”
    Allegiant is the latest of six airlines to start commercial passenger service from Gary only to pull the plug after a year of two. Most of those were start-up companies or those on the edge of bankruptcy. In 1999, Pan Am was the first to start service from Gary.

    For those who used Gary over the years, the experience was wonderful. Parking was just steps from the entry to the terminal. In the early years there was no charge. Most recently, it was $7 per day. Checking bags and going through security was a breeze. And one’s flight was almost always first in line for takeoff.

    What all contributed to the coming end of Allegiant’s service is difficult to say.  If consumer use was below the airline’s expectations, what was the cause? Was it an economy that was slow to recover? Or was it a matter of not enough families being able to afford visits to Disney World?

    Regardless, Allegiant’s announcement comes at the worst time. The Gary Airport is on the verge of good things potentially happening. The $166 million runway expansion project is earmarked for completion at the end of the year. Key to the runway expansion is the relocation of three sets of tracks owned by three different railroads.

    The longest runway at Gary is longer than any of the runways at Midway Airport in Chicago. The problem at Gary was the elevated railroad tracks just beyond the end of the runway. Because of the tracks – and the need to quickly gain altitude – some planes could not have full loads upon takeoff. Landing was no problem.

    With the completion of the runway project, those in the airline industry have said Gary will be much more attractive for both commercial and cargo flights.

    Several Gary mayors, other Northwest Indiana civic and political leaders and governors have said the airport will be the economic engine for the future of this corner of the state.

    The future of the Gary Airport was one of the reasons former Gov. Mitch Daniels was instrumental in launching the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. The airport is one of the prime recipients of the RDA cash.

    As Johnson of the Airport Authority said, Allegiant’s decision to leave shouldn’t be viewed as a Gary thing. The airport is a jewel in a city that has gone through rough times. It sits in the shadows of three steel mills, the industry upon which NWI was built. I still see a future for the Gary Airport, especially considering the crowded conditions at O’Hare and Midway in Chicago.

    And unlike some, I never thought there was a chance to build an airport at Peotone south of Chicago and west of NWI. Chicago mayors just wouldn’t allow it. It makes no sense to build a new airport – especially during these volatile times in the airline industry – when there is a fine facility available in Gary.

    And it is about to get finer, thanks to a host of people – Republicans and Democrats – over the years.

    Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. He is a columnist for The NWI Times.

     
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  • Pence blasts Obama diplomacy with Russia in Berlin
    “With Russian aggression on the rise, clearly conciliatory diplomacy has failed. While sanctions are of some value, in the interest of our alliance, I believe the United States and the EU must respond with deeds more than words to strengthen our economic and strategic defenses. And, with continued instability in the Middle East, Iran’s ongoing effort to develop long-range missiles and nuclear technology, and Putin’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine, I believe we must take immediate steps to deploy a robust missile defense in Europe – especially Poland and the Czech Republic – to protect the interests of our NATO allies and the United States in the region.” - Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, delving into foreign policy in Berlin Wednesday, fueling more speculation about the 2016 presidential race. 
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Dem Gov

Who would be the best gubernatorial nominee for Indiana Democrats in 2016?







 

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