Rich James: Everyone loved Mayor Johnny V.
Thursday, April 13, 2017 9:02 AM
MERRILLVILLE – There probably isn’t another Johnny V. pounding the political paths anywhere in Indiana. He was one of a kind. And everybody liked Johnny Visclosky. But Johnny V. is what everyone called him.
He passed away a week or so ago at the age of 101. He was mayor of Gary in the early 1960s when Mayor George Chacharis went to prison. Johnny V. (pictured, right) was city controller at the time and became mayor because there wasn’t a deputy mayor. He chose to serve only until the next election and gave way to A. Martin Katz.
Gary was a huge vibrant city at the time with some 180,000 people calling the Steel City home. There was little crime and anyone wanting a job simply had to knock on the door at U.S. Steel. Johnny V. stayed active in politics, helping people in his beloved Gary. And everywhere he went, people glad-handed the man who knew how to make things happen.
While he may have been mayor, he came to be best known as the father of U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Merrillville. Visclosky was elected in 1984, defeating incumbent Katie Hall, who once served as a state senator, and Lake County Prosecutor Jack Crawford in the Democratic primary. Hall had been picked in a caucus to replace Adam Benjamin, who died Labor Day weekend in 1982. Visclosky found Benjamin’s body in his Washington, D.C., apartment.
It was Johnny V. who engineered his son’s first campaign and had a hand in most of the 16 that have followed. There are those who think that Visclosky won in 1984 and every two years since because of Johnny V. The saying goes that if everyone who knew Johnny V. voted for Pete, it would be impossible to beat him.
Visclosky plans to run for a 17th term in Congress next year. For the first time, he will be alone. He shouldn’t have too much trouble. He learned from a master.
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.