Rich James: Can Peter Katic win once again?
Wednesday, April 18, 2012 3:29 AM
MERRILLVILLE – I believe it was on the last day of the 1984 session of the General Assembly.
State Rep. Peter Katic, a Hammond Democrat, was in the fight of his life. Even though it was a weighty issue, it didn’t have anything to do with legislation.
Katic and Rep. William Drozda, D-Gary, had a hundred bucks on the line. And $100 back then was real money. At issue was who would weigh less by the end of the day when the legislature would adjourn sine die.
The two swam and jogged and did whatever they could that day to lose weight. At the final weigh-in, just before midnight outside the House chamber, Katic won by less than a pound.
Such was Peter Katic. He always had fun with what he did. But sometimes that fun has gotten him into trouble. Yet, 34 years after first running for public office, Katic is back on the ballot as one of three Democratic candidates for 1st District Lake County commissioner.
After three terms in the House, Katic came home and was elected Hammond city judge.
Because of his passion for people, Katic was a good judge. He tried to make an impact on those who came before him and made it interesting at the same time.
During the Christmas and New Year’s holidays he doubled the bond for those arrested for drunken driving as an effort to cut down on the number of those drinking and driving. He did the same on the Fourth of July.
He also asked some traffic violators to donate canned goods for the needy. No one refused. And he sent some high school students to jail if they failed to make decent grades while on probation.
Unfortunately, Katic either didn’t or wasn’t able to heed the warning he gave others about drinking and driving. Because of his drinking-and-driving exploits, the booze finally caught up to Katic in 1991 when he lost a bid for a third term on the bench by fewer than 30 votes.
That would have signaled an end to a political career for most. But not Katic.
A year after losing the judgeship, Katic ran for 1st District county commissioner, one of the most powerful offices in the county, and won. Unlike when he was judge, Katic had to share the stage with two other commissioners. He did so quite nicely, largely because of his ability to befriend almost anyone. And he made some changes to improve county government.
While Katic was back on top politically, he still had a problem with drinking and driving and once showed up in a courtroom – while representing a client – under the influence.
Because Katic kept making headlines he didn’t seek, he lost his bid for re-election in1996 to Frances DuPey, who is retiring rather than seeking a fifth term as commissioner.
While he now had two strikes, Katic wasn’t out. After leaving the commissioner’s office, Katic continued to fight the alcohol problem, but with little success. Nevertheless, because of his love for public office, he ran for the North Township Board in 2006 and won. After a brief time off the board, he is back on. Katic went into a rehab program five years ago. He hasn’t had a drink since. He continues practicing law.
So, can a guy who started in elected office in 1978 and has been voted out of two offices since, still win a county office? Those who know Katic say he is working harder than he ever has. That means a lot of door-to-door work, handshakes and that engaging Katic smile.
Katic’s two primary opponents are Mike Repay, a county councilman who owes much of his success to being the son of the late Edward Repay, a popular Hammond politician. The other is Richard Novak, who sits on the township board with Katic. Novak, who has bounced around politics for a good while, is a former Highland town councilman and a retired East Chicago police officer.
Can Katic win? Perhaps. Anything is possible in Lake County politics, especially for someone who finally had the will to get his life straight.
Rich James is the former editorial page editor and columnist for the Post-Tribune in Merrillville.