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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 — It has been three decades since Lake County has had one of those in-your-face Democratic mayoral primaries. One has to look back to the contests between Mayor Robert Pastrick and challenger Bob Stiglich for the last heated race in East Chicago. In Gary, one has to look back to the last few challenges to Mayor Richard Hatcher, who finally was defeated by Thomas Barnes in 1987. Look no further. A Gary politician and one from East Chicago have lighted fires under the politically stagnant landscape in Northwest Indiana. Within minutes of the close of filing last Friday, John Aguilera filed for East Chicago mayor against incumbent Anthony Copeland, the city’s first black mayor, who is seeking a third term. Aguilera long has been a popular Hispanic politician in a city that is majority Hispanic. He served from 1994 to 2000 as a Lake County councilman and then spent six years as a state representative. He ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer last year. While Aguilera promises to be a formidable opponent for Copeland, Jerome Prince promises to be an even stronger opponent for Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. Prince has been one of the most prominent Gary politicians over the last two decades. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – Talk about the art of the deal. No, this one doesn’t involve Donald Trump. Instead, it’s Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. McDermott may have let the cat out of the bag the other day when talking about the potential site for a Lake County convention center. The possibility of a convention center has been bandied about for at least a decade. Most of the focus has been to build such a facility near Interstate 65 and U.S. 30 in Merrillville. It is at that intersection that the late Dean White operated the Radisson Hotel and Star Plaza Theatre. White was the wealthiest man in Indiana. Since his death, his hotel and theatre have been razed. Plans are in the works by White’s heirs to build a new complex on the property. It was because of White that Speros Batistatos was named president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority many years ago. Because of his dedication to White, Batistatos never let talk of a convention center stray from I-65 and U.S. 30. McDermott, who always is looking for publicity, spilled his guts during his recent State of the City address.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Griffith’s effort to pull out of Calumet Township and join either St. John or North Township has become a three-ring circus. Griffith residents – with a state law clearing the way – voted in September to leave Calumet Township. The Griffith folks made the decision because they said they were paying too much to support the township’s poor relief operation and getting few benefits back. And, a very smug Griffith Town Council said they planned to join either St. John or North Township. Whatever they wanted, they would have, the council suggested. So, they turned to St. John Township because it would be the least expensive option. Instead of rolling out the red carpet – which is what Griffith expected – St. John told Griffith to back off. St. John said it had much to think about before welcoming Griffith. And St. John said it didn’t think it could get things done before Griffith’s self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31.
  • MERRILLVILLE  – You can say one thing about Lake County Democratic elected officials – retirement is never final. For instance, Lake Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arredondo, 77, stepped down from the bench 10 years ago only to run an unsuccessful campaign for attorney general two years ago.
    But he’s back and is unopposed to become clerk of the Lake Circuit Court. One can say much the same about Frances DuPey, 79, who retired a few years back as a county commissioner. She is back on the ballot running for St. John Township Board, which is controlled by Republicans, as a Democrat. She was a resident of North Township when serving as commissioner. And speaking of longevity, U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky is a lock to win a 13th term in the House of Representatives. He would become the longest serving congressman in the state of Indiana, surpassing Lee Hamilton and Ray J. Madden. Visclosky also sits near the top of the Appropriations Committee when it comes to seniority.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Every once in a while, an upstart candidate files for office, gets organized and shocks the electorate by beating an incumbent. It even has happened in Lake County where Democratic incumbents have little to worry about when it comes to re-election. One of the most memorable election upsets came in 1978 when Jack Crawford stunned Lake County Democrats and ousted county Prosecutor Ray Sufana in the primary. Crawford was young, good-looking and had an army of volunteers knocking on doors around the county. Chris Chyung thinks it can happen again. Chyung is the Democratic candidate for state representative in House District 15. Unlike Crawford, Chyung is facing an incumbent Republican in Rep. Hal Slager, who is seeking a fourth term. And House District 15 was tailor-made for Slager by the Republican-controlled General Assembly that drew new district lines following the 2010 census.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Maybe, just maybe, this casino thing will work out for Gary when all is said and done. Former state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, was the driving force that launched the casino industry in Indiana. She thought the casinos would do two things for Gary – make a drastic cut in unemployment and provide a huge revenue source for the city. Neither, unfortunately, happened. With the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond and the Ameristar Casino in East Chicago capturing the bulk of the traffic from Chicago, the Majestic Star Casino in Gary has remained at the bottom of the revenue stream. Initially, both the Majestic Star and Trump casinos were in Gary. When Trump bailed out, the two casinos both came under the Majestic Star name. A year after opening, I remember a Trump official saying they thought they could get enough Chicagoans south on Cline Avenue to make things work in Gary. It never happened.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for the Gary Community School Corp., something said you were wrong. And the embarrassment grows throughout Indiana. Such was the case last week when former schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt – who retired in February – was charged in Lake Criminal Court with theft for allegedly double-billing the school district more than $1,200 for a three-day trip she took to Los Angeles in 2016. She admitted the double billing but said it all was a mistake. The billing came at a time when the school system was more than $100 million in debt and under control of the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board and a state-appointed emergency manager. This is the same Pruitt who was told by the state to repay a $30,000 bonus she said had been approved by the school board in March 2016,  which was just before the junket to California.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Someone has forgotten to tell the city administration that Gary’s population has fallen over the years from 185,000 people to fewer than 80,000. If those at the top recognized that fact, the city wouldn’t be in the financial straits that now exist. And one has to wonder who is watching the store. So bad is the city’s financial picture that the City Council is considering a plan to raise $40 million through the sale/leaseback of the public safety building. The city says it will be out of cash by Oct. 31. The city also has to come up with a plan to eliminate a $17 million structural deficit by eliminating jobs and consolidating departments. And in the midst of all this, the city is probing the misuse of $8.2 million in emergency public safety dollars that went to cover payroll and other expenses.
  • GRIFFITH – This isn’t the Griffith I used to know. This isn’t the Griffith where I grew up, played baseball and graduated from high school. No, this is a very different town from when there was nothing between our backyard on Cline Avenue and Kennedy Avenue but woods and a lake. Griffith residents voted Tuesday to cut ties with Calumet Township and hook up with St. John, North or Ross Township. Griffith residents said they were tired of subsidizing poor relief for the people of Gary, who make up the bulk of Calumet Township. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law in 2013 to allow the town to secede from Calumet Township if the township’s assistance tax rate was more than 12 times the state average.
  • MERRILLVILLE  – It took several lifetimes for Indiana to approve the sale of carryout liquor on Sunday. That was just earlier this year, so don’t expect additional major changes to the state’s liquor laws anytime soon. The General Assembly’s Alcohol Code Revision Commission will present its recommendations for changes on Sept. 28. But the early word is that nothing drastic will be recommended. There is one hope, and that bright light is coming from Randall Woodruff, one of the four Alcohol and Tobacco commissioners appointed by the governor. At issue is the alcohol permit system that is based on the population of each municipality. The quota system hurt Munster earlier this year when it attempted to receive three new permits for liquor consumption at Centennial Village restaurants.
  • MERRILLVILLE  – What is it with Vice President Mike Pence, who embraces evangelicalism and portrays himself as being holier than thou? Through 20 months of the Donald Trump presidency, Pence has been the tail wagged by the dog. Whatever Trump says or does, Pence is the first to extol his virtues or be conspicuously quiet. Even though he is a fellow Hoosier, Pence no longer should be given a pass. For example: Why is it that Pence said nothing when Trump called his response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico “an incredible unsung success” although his negligence contributed to the deaths of almost 3,000 people? And, where was Pence when it was learned that Trump bought the silence of two women with whom he had extramarital affairs, a porn star and Playboy model? What has Pence had to say about Trump’s morality and his poor treatment of women?
  • MERRILLVILLE - Vice President Mike Pence appears to be one who has considerable clout in Washington. After all, he often is seen hanging onto the coattails of President Donald Trump. With gray hair atop a blue suit and red tie, Pence looks quite presidential. But when you come right down to it, Pence – the former Indiana governor and congressman – is pretty much an empty suit. When the acting director of the National Park Service told a Senate subcommittee last week that the Department of the Interior does not support turning the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore into a national park, it begs the question, “Where was Pence?” Doesn’t the vice president have enough clout to see that the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is converted to the nation’s 61st national park? One would think so, especially given that the proposal was written by U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky and is backed by all Hoosier congressmen and Sens. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, and Todd Young, a Republican.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  It has been 51 years since Richard G. Hatcher was elected mayor of Gary. He, along with Carl Stokes of Cleveland, will always be remembered as the first two black mayors of a major U.S. city. Since his election, the city has fallen on hard times. The population has plummeted and the crime rate has soared. Unemployment is high and young black men have a difficult time finding their way. Ragen Hatcher, the former mayor’s daughter, may be about to establish her own legacy. At the Gary City Council meeting a week ago, Ragen Hatcher announced that she will seek to decriminalize marijuana within the city limits. As a former prosecutor in Gary City Court, Ragen Hatcher has seen what marijuana has done to young black men. She said that many of the cases she handled involved possession of marijuana. “That gave 18-, 19-, 21-year-olds their first criminal conviction, very young. And that follows you throughout your life,” Ragen Hatcher said.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  There are greater implications than either Democrats or Republicans are talking about in terms of the elimination of a third of Lake County’s precincts. Democrats are saying the biggest losers are the people in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago, cities that represent the backbone of the party. Republicans say the reductions will result in the annual saving of $117,300 because fewer election workers will be hired. Republicans don’t say the cuts will weaken Democrats. Each party is right. But neither party is talking about the biggest impact the cuts will have. Hardest hit will be north county Democrats, who have pretty much controlled the direction of the party until now. The impact won’t be known until there is a vacancy in a county office that will be filled by one of the county precinct organizations. We only have to go back to the fall of 2017 to get a feel for the impact of filling vacancies.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Way back when, if you knew someone driving to Florida for part of the winter, you asked them to stop in Tennessee and bring back some fireworks. That was the only way to get your hands on fireworks back then.  Neither Indiana nor its neighbors allowed the sale of fireworks. Illinois still bans the sale and use of fireworks. That ended in the 1980s when Indiana Republicans got cute – and very greedy – and legalized the sale of fireworks. To get the naysayers to go along with the sale of fireworks, the new law prohibited the use of fireworks in Indiana even though they were sold in the Hoosier state. The new law also stipulated that fireworks outlets had to be open year-round. That didn’t work because fireworks companies didn’t want to spend the money to keep their stores open all  year since sales were pretty much limited to the days around the Fourth of July. And, the law wasn’t enforced. The charade ended in 2006 when Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill legalizing the use of fireworks in the state.
  • MERRILLVILLE  – One might say that Indiana Republicans are thicker than thieves. Yeah, they rarely are at odds with each other and, if that happens, they patch things up quickly. The last time Hoosier Republicans were at odds was six years ago when the Tea Party faction led the charge to defeat Sen. Richard Lugar in the primary. Richard Mourdock ousted Lugar and went on to embarrass himself and the party leading up to the general election. And, the man who benefitted from that party warfare was a fellow named Joe Donnelly, who now sits in the U.S. Senate, thanks to a good number of Republicans turning their backs on Mourdock. It’s time for Donnelly to seek reelection and unfortunately for him, he isn’t facing Mourdock. But Donnelly is again facing a divided Republican Party, thanks to GOP Attorney General Curtis Hill. Four women, including state Rep. Mara Reardon, D-Munster, have accused Hill of groping them at an Indianapolis bar following the conclusion of the General Assembly in March. As a result, Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Republican leaders of the House and Senate have called on Hill to resign.
  • MERRILLVILLE – These aren’t the best of times for Lake County Republican Chairman Dan Dernulc. It won’t be a very good fall election. And, Dernulc knows it. And, in large part it’s his fault. For starters, just one of the Democratic candidates for countywide offices in Lake County has opposition. While Republicans rarely have little success in countywide races, they almost always field a full slate. And, a few years back, Republican Hank Adams was elected county assessor because Democrats nominated a candidate with so much baggage that even party faithful couldn’t go along. Adams died in office. The only Republican for countywide office is Dan Bursac, who is a perennial candidate who this year faces a weaker Democrat in Sheriff Oscar Martinez. And then there is the County Council where none of the five Democrats has opposition.
  • MERRILLVILLE  – Let there be no doubt about it, the Republican move to reduce the number of Lake County precincts is not about money. No, it is an effort to dilute the Democratic vote in the county. Republicans say it’s about saving money because reducing the number of precincts will lower the cost of hiring election workers. Well, it will, but that’s not what Republicans are after. A 2014 state law that pertains to Lake County only  requires the elimination of all precincts with fewer than 600 registered voters. The fact is that Lake County has 283 precincts, out of a total of 523, with fewer than 600 registered voters.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  Indiana’s Republican Party reminds me of the gay who wants to come out of the closet but can’t quite bring himself to do it. Such was the case a week ago at the state convention in Evansville. The party voted overwhelmingly to include language in its platform that marriage is a commitment between a man and a woman – nothing less. The party defeated an effort by Gov. Eric Holcomb to support a “strong families” stance that says, “We support traditional families with a mother and father, blended families, grandparents, guardians, single parents and all loving adults who successfully raise and nurture children to reach their full potential every day.” Just when one thought Indiana Republicans were changing for the better with Gov. Eric Holcomb replacing Mike Pence, such was not the case when it came to the party platform. It was Pence while governor who embarrassed himself and the state on national television by remaining steadfast that marriage was between a man and a woman. Pence lost all credibility when he kept contending that despite the party’s stance, the state was open to all forms of marriage.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Newly elected Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez doesn’t exactly practice what he preaches. For a number of years, Martinez made a name for himself as part of a drug interdiction task force that cruised interstate highways in Lake County, particularly Interstate 65, which was a major route for drug couriers. Martinez seemingly had an uncanny ability for nabbing those hauling drugs through Lake County. So gifted did Martinez seem, that some came to question his ability to nab drug runners. Many came to believe that Martinez had a connection in Mexico that informed him as to when drugs would be flowing through the county, making it easier for him to nab couriers. And suddenly, Martinez’s party was over. “I was transferred out of the task force for political reasons…” Martinez said. “I couldn’t do something I loved doing and it was done without any regards to the health or safety of the people of Lake County.” Ironically, Martinez was moved out of the interdiction unit by Sheriff John Buncich.
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  • Pence visits Auschwitz for first time
    “It seems to me to be a scene of unspeakable tragedy, reminding us what tyranny is capable of. But it seems to me also to be a scene of freedom’s victory. I traveled in our delegation with people who had family members who had been at Auschwitz — some had survived, some not. But to walk with them and think that two generations ago their forebears came there in box carts and that we would arrive in a motorcade in a free Poland and a Europe restored to freedom from tyranny is an extraordinary experience for us, and I’ll carry it with me the rest of our lives.” - Vice President Mike Pence, who visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland on Friday along with Second Lady Karen Pence and Polish President Andrzej Duda and First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda. It was Pence's first time at the scene where Nazi Germany murdered more than 1.1 million Jews and other groups during the World War II Holocaust.
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  • Our first national park at Indiana Dunes
    It continues to amaze me how many folks from central and southern Indiana have never visited Indiana's sea, known to most of us as Lake Michigan. If you need another reason to take a couple hour trip northward on U.S. 31, U.S. 421 or I-65, thank President Trump for our first national park. It's now the Indiana Dunes National Park. The move was included in the spending package compromise that Trump signed on Friday, inserted in the legislation with the help of U.S. Sen. Todd Young and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky. 

    Visclosky said, "I also am heartened that because of the support of our U.S. Senators, the entire Indiana Congressional delegation, and numerous Northwest Indiana organizations, we have successfully titled the first National Park in our state. This action provides our shoreline with the recognition it deserves, and I hope further builds momentum to improve open and public access to all of our region’s environmental wonders.”

    The Dunes includes white sand beaches, trails and an array of flora and bogs, with a front row seat to the Chicago skyline. It richly deserves to be Indiana's first national park.
    - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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