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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 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.
  • MERRILLVILLE – I went away over the holiday weekend thinking I would get away from it all—whatever “it all” is. You know. No cell phones. No television. No distractions. Man, was I in for a surprise. We headed to a campsite along the Tippecanoe River. We were there a year ago and the river was beautiful and rolling along at a hefty pace. It was a force. It was a very different looking river this time. A kid could walk across it without getting his head wet or worry about drowning. Motorized boats traversed the river with caution. And because it was so shallow, there was hardly a fisherman casting a lure. And talk about hot. It seemed like the middle of July, not a day in late May. It was too hot to have much fun. Cooking on a hot fire added to the intense heat. And when the sun went down, not much of the heat went with it. Sleeping was a challenge. But, at least there was no communication with the outside world, no word about the daily lies and antics of Donald Trump. Or so I thought. And then Tennessee Trump wandered into our campsite.
  • MERRILLVILLE – My gosh they are getting old. Old as dirt, some would say. That is the complexion of elected officials in Northwest Indiana, particularly Democrats. And the area’s delegation to the General Assembly also is aging. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, who finally tired of driving twice a week up and down Interstate 65 to the General Assembly, didn’t give up politics. Brown, who is an octogenarian but sharp as a tack, ran for and won nomination to the County Council. Election in the fall is a given. Speaking of the County Council, incumbent Elsie Franklin, who is no spring chicken, won nomination for another term. And there is former Lake Circuit Judge Lorenzo Arredondo who lost a bid for attorney general in 2016. Arredondo, who is pushing 80, won the Democratic nomination for county clerk. Victory in the fall is pretty much guaranteed. Fran Dupey, who also is just on the short side of 80, retired as county commissioner a few years back. Since, she moved from Whiting to Schererville and won one of the three Democratic nominations for St. John Township Board. Victory in the fall isn’t a given.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Lake County Democrats didn’t help erase the county’s reputation for political corruption during Tuesday’s primary election. In fact, they made things worse. The Democrats nominated Oscar Martinez as their candidate for sheriff. In Lake County, that is tantamount to victory in the fall. Martinez has been sheriff since last fall when the precinct organization selected him to replace John Buncich, who was convicted of extorting money for towing contracts. The problem is that Martinez has a dirty past as well. Martinez worked a side job doing security at one of the casino boats in Lake County. His wife, Melissa did payroll for the boat and inflated the number of hours Oscar worked – and thus increased his paycheck by $10,000. That wrongdoing was pointed out in an election eve mailer sent by candidate David Dowling, who was considered Martinez’s biggest challenge.
  • MERRILLVILLE – There was a time in Lake County when it was understood that the sheriff was an administrator and didn’t need to be a cop. The chief of police ran the department and reported to the sheriff. Those were different times. Crime was different and so too were criminals. Times have changed since Leslie O. Pruitt, who wasn’t a law enforcement officer, was sheriff in the 1970s. Most thought Pruitt was a darn good sheriff. The sheriff today needs to be an administrator and a law enforcement officer. The sheriff runs the largest department in the county and administers its largest payroll. While fiscal mismanagement seems to be a way of life in Washington, D.C., it isn’t acceptable on the local level. And that’s why former Schererville Police Chief David Dowling is the most qualified to become sheriff.
  • MERRILLVILLE – I tend to agree with state Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, and other city officials that it would be unfair to strip elected Gary school board members of their power.  That’s what is about to happen when legislators meet in special session May 14 to take up matters that weren’t called for a vote on the final day of the regular session that ended in March. The legislation essentially would render the elected school board powerless. While I feel for Melton and others, Gary school officials have pretty much forced the state to take over. The Gary school board over the last three decades has been the most inept in the state and the election of new board members over the years hasn’t resulted in any real positive changes. The various Gary school boards have run the school system into the ground. Debt has risen to more than $100 million while school buildings have fallen into disrepair, some without hope of being saved. While debt and disrepair are bad enough, the real problem is the number of personnel employed by the school system.  When the city had some 185,000 residents, the school system was admired by others across the county. But as the population plummeted, the number of teachers and staff hired to run the schools remained virtually the same while the debt mounted. As income dwindled and the payroll stayed the same, less money was put into maintenance.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  While the race for Lake County sheriff is dominating the Democratic primary, it isn’t the only campaign of interest. Also drawing attention is the contest for county clerk, where two veteran and aging politicians are at odds. Incumbent Clerk Mike Brown can’t run again because of term limitations. He is running for sheriff and has the support of Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. Without an incumbent, former Lake Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arredondo has filed for clerk. He retired from the bench in 2010. Yes, this is the same Lorenzo Arredondo who was the Democratic candidate for state attorney general in 2016.
  • MERRILLVILLE – There are some fairly uneducated voters in Indiana. Actually, it would be more accurate to call them dumb. And some of them make their homes in Northwest Indiana. For instance, let’s take a look at last Saturday at a meeting of Indivisible NWI - a grassroots, all-volunteer citizens group in Indiana’s 1st Congressional District. Speaking that night was U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, who is known by many as the “Mayor of Northwest Indiana.” The 30 or so in attendance at the Iron Workers Local 396 hall in Portage asked a host of questions about firearms, the South Shore Railroad extension and funding for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which President Donald Trump has cut from $300 million to $30 million. But there was one question that drew a chuckle from the crowd – and Visclosky as well. Actually, there should have been a few belly-laughs.
  • MERRILLVILLE – If Betty Dominguez wins the Democratic nomination for Lake County sheriff, she has Sheriff Oscar Martinez to thank. Martinez is helping Dominguez make a name for herself. But, hey, that’s how it works in Lake County. Dominguez stunned the Democratic Party when she filed for sheriff at the 11th hour. She doesn’t have a law enforcement background, but she is married to former Sheriff Roy Dominguez, who many thought would run himself. While few are giving Dominguez much of a chance of winning, they think her candidacy will split the Hispanic vote and help someone like recently retired Schererville Police Chief David Dowling win the nomination. One has to think Martinez is spending a good deal of time thinking about Dominguez. For one, it’s impossible to drive around the county and not see a full-color billboard with the Dominguez name emblazoned across the front. One easily could think the billboard was promoting Roy Dominguez, who was known to use the large lettering when he was running.
  • MERRILLVILLE – It’s about time that someone called out President Donald Trump and other politicians for what they truly are. I’ll give Trump a break and not call him the Lord of Lies. But he is the Master of Deception. And too many people are accepting deception as a way of life. It’s hardly what our founding fathers envisioned. We’ve been deceived in Northwest Indiana as well over the years. Remember when all East Chicago residents were promised new sidewalks by Mayor Robert Pastrick during a mayoral campaign?  And lo and behold, those who had one of challenger Stephen R. Stiglich’s signs in their yard didn’t get a new sidewalk. And how about the way former Gov. Mitch Daniels promised nine years ago to rebuild the Cline Avenue Bridge. Not only will it not be rebuilt to its former self, construction has yet to begin.
  • MERRILLVILLE - The city of Hammond ought to be David Dowling country, but Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. apparently didn’t get the memo. Dowling, who is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for Lake County sheriff, was born and raised in Hammond.  Dowling moved to Schererville where he served as chief of police before stepping down a few weeks ago to be a full-time candidate for sheriff. The Dowling name lives on in Hammond where his grandfather was mayor and his father was chief of police. Hammond, which is the largest city in the county, is important to the sheriff’s primary even though Gary turns out a greater Democratic vote.  But rather than backing a native son, McDermott is doing whatever he can to see that Sheriff Oscar Martinez wins the primary. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – Lake County government officials are scared to death to eliminate the gun shows that are held six times a year at the county fairgrounds. There’s never been a massacre at a school in Lake County, so what the heck. Lake County commissioners are content to allow the gun shows – which have one of the biggest loopholes in the country – to continue.  It apparently doesn’t matter that the loophole allows guns to end up in the hands of criminals.  Jerry Tippy of Schererville, the lone Republican county commissioner, said the shows will go on but there will be some changes. One of those changes, Tippy said, is to have an ATF agent present at the gun show “to verify the legality of all the purchases. To my knowledge, that hasn’t been done before.” Well, Jerry, it’s not going to be done now, either.
  • MERRILLVILLE – It’s easy to be critical of Gary, Ind. After all, it’s a city with a history of crime, a failing school system and old, decaying housing stock. Firing a shot at Gary is easy. It’s also cheap. No one knows that better than U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, who is a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Rokita, who represents Indiana’s 4th CD, lives outside Indianapolis. He grew up in Munster. I’m not terribly sure why he took a shot at Gary last week. Maybe it was because he thought it would garner the favor of the majority of Hoosiers. Rokita said Gary is a “sanctuary city” whose officials “harbor illegal immigrant criminals.” As it turns out, Rokita messed with the wrong woman, raising the ire of Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. 
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  • Lawson announces election security awareness campaign

    “In Indiana, the security of our voting systems is of the utmost importance. This public awareness campaign demonstrates to voters that proper precautions are in place to secure their vote. We take great care to prepare our election administrators for each cycle, and in partnership with counties, other states, and the federal government we are developing new answers to security concerns and election policy.” - Secretary of State Connie Lawson, announcing she will launch a public awareness campaign to build understanding of cybersecurity efforts in Indiana and help explain why voters should feel confident their vote is secure. Her Democratic challenger, Valparaiso attorney Jim Harper, believes the Indiana system is vulnerable to assault by foreign actors. Lawson explained that no piece of Indiana’s voting equipment is online. The machines and tabulators are not connected to the internet. In addition, the Secretary of State’s office has a mechanism known as the Voting System Technical Oversight Program hosted by Ball State University that tests all of the election equipment used in Indiana for an added layer of safety and security. Another tool is the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center, an independent entity that partners with the Department of Homeland Security and allows 24/7 access to security information, threat notifications and security advisories.

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  • What you get with TV stars, sleazebags, billionaires and Mooch
    After reading about the Paul Manafort trial, hearing of Rick Gates testimony and now the “Unhinged” book by Omarosa Manigault Newman, several observations:

    1. The Trump 2016 campaign was, well, sleazy. Not the Indiana part, but all the alleged tax evasion, the embezzlement, backstabbing and conspiracy of Manafort and Gates. Donald Trump apparently had no idea that Manafort was broke, seeking wild bank loans and promising high ranking jobs if they pulled off a miracle (which they did). The campaign vetting process appears to have been non-existent.

    2. Omarosa’s qualifications were … what? That she was a TV star on “The Apprentice”? Or was she there to check off the “African-American” box on the diversity chart? Whatever the reason, this was resume-lite and she had no reason to be in the White House where she secretly recorded her final conversation with CoS John Kelly in the … Situation Room. That sounds like a national security breach to me.

    3. This has evolved into a presidential administration of TV stars, talking heads, billionaires … and Mike Pence. Mooch, we hardly knew ye.

    Sooooo, we shouldn’t really be shocked that the ethic limits are pressed and pushed, while protocols and securities are breached.
    - Brian A. Howey, publisher.
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