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. Visclosky has grown in stature and is near the top in seniority on the Appropriations Committee.  And as his clout in Congress has grown, so too have the number of federal dollars he has brought back to the Region. With his influence – and dollars – countless major projects have been financed with federal funds.
    
Perhaps the most significant was the Little Calumet River Development and Flood Control project that has drastically reduced flooding along the river that flows east and west. On the front burner now are the South Shore Railroad extension project to Dyer and likely another to Valparaiso.
    
Helping fund that project financially is the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority that was created by the Indiana General Assembly. And, even though Visclosky is in Congress, he played a vital role in the creation of the RDA. Since the day he arrived in Congress, Visclosky has been a leader in the fight to stop the dumping of foreign steel.
     
Visclosky was honored back home the other night when he was presented the South Shore Leadership Center’s Crest Award, an honor that was well deserved. Since arriving in Congress, Visclosky has spent much of his time in the district bringing people together on a host of projects. As those in political circles know, trying to bring Northwest Indiana together is akin to herding cats.
    
Visclosky was the third to receive the Crest Award. The only question is why he wasn’t the first. Visclosky is easily the favorite every time he puts his name on the ballot. Although there are several Democrats who covet his job, no one has dared to challenge him.
    
And chances are that Visclosky will be around for a long time. His father, John, who became mayor of Gary when a vacancy occurred in the early 1960s, will celebrate his 101st birthday in December.

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.