It was late one afternoon in February 2006, when Gary Mayor Scott King finally delivered his last State of City address to a capacity crowd in one of the Genesis Center's banquet rooms. Unlike his previous annual reports, Mayor King's message that day went to great lengths, using easel supported charts, to diagram how the progressive elimination of federal funds, by the Bush administration, undermined a substantial amount of the city's day-to-day infrastructure. Everything from the number of policeman available each shift, the number usable squad cars, to keeping adequate personnel for the operation of municipally administered federal outreach and civic improvement programs - had been defunded.
Compounding this was the city's already poor tax base and its abysmal collection rate on property taxes, which was barely holding at 90 percent. Combined, it all torpedoed not only his administration but seriously impaired the ability of Gary to continue as an ongoing municipal corporation and political subdivision of Indiana government.
Fast-forward to Hammond's Y2011 & Y2012 budgetary woes. For Y2011 the city faced an estimated $14 million gap that blocked pay raises for most municipal employees and elected officials. In the following year, public discussion of Hammond's budget problems disclosed that collection of property taxes could fall to 96 percent. Simultaneously, Mayor McDermott revealed he had about a $16 million budget deficit to reconcile or erase against an initial estimate of $55 million needed to administer the city.
Meanwhile, the city's sanitary district announced it must incur another $77 million in bond debt for USEPA mandated upgrades to its sanitary sewer system. This was added to a $70 million bond debt still outstanding. This additional $77 million was coming straight out of property taxes, presumably leaving the funding of the sanitary district to a new fee schedule that its attorney, along with the mayoral administration, refused to disclose or even to ball-park. The eerie feeling of carte blanche now permeates the anticipated fee schedule change.
Recall that back in 2006 the resignation of Mayor King began with rumors. He too publicly dismissed them all as insignificant, if not idle speculation. Then, after spending a few weeks rearranging the positions of his staff, as reported by the Times, "Ending days of speculation, Mayor Scott King announced this morning he is resigning from his post for what he called family and financial reasons."
As King explained it, "This job was just an incredible experience. It's a great job -- except for the pay," he said, while noting he now wanted to pursue more lucrative work in the private sector through a law practice and consulting work. "I have a great love for this city, but I have a greater love for my family. It's that time for me."
By contrast, McDermott 's current drama began similarly but without extensive speculation. Here the probability is stronger. Consider the Kiesling column that broke to more fully expose the development potential: "Sources close to the McDermott administration say the mayor has contacted at least two high-ranking officials at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission about its executive director position."
It had been McDermott who initiated the query. It was McDermott actively seeking an out. He wasn't being recruited. In a subsequent Times report, the conduct is softened to state, "Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. confirmed Monday that he spoke with NIRPC officials about the agency's expected executive director opening. But he also said people shouldn't read too much into his expression of interest in the job with the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission." Shouldn't we? Here a retrospective massage of the language is employed to tamp down and/or neutralize the revelation's impact, restating it as mere confirmation of a largely benign contact.
The difficulty with all this is it lacks credibility. McDermott lacks credibility. Last Friday on WJOB radio, host Jim Dedelow sounded him out and instantly recognized the mayoral hedging that hinted he'd like out if he could parachute into the NIRPC post - or something comparable. His commitment to his position as mayor be damned. Now, less than three months into his third term, and finally, perhaps, secured against ever having to practice law again for a living; now, as a seasoned politician with the executive and managerial experience to solidify his curriculum vitae, the mayor made it sound as though after eight years at the city's helm he had done enough for the people of Hammond. That it is time for the city and its inhabitants to be subordinated to his interests.
The implication was the City of Hammond had gone out and pursued him, in a manner, say, that an NFL franchise goes about recruiting a star quarterback. Like other politicians, he just doesn't get it. We, the People, are the principal, and he is our public servant. He represents agency. We are the ones supporting him. It was the voters that made Tom McDermott, Jr., and not Tom McDermott, Jr. that made Hammond.
To hold or believe otherwise is a gross, very distortive inversion of the facts structuring, as well as framing, the current state of affairs pertaining to Mayor McDermott's tenure. For it was McDermott who stormed the electoral field to challenge then two-term mayor Duane Dedelow. Indeed, then a Republican, McDermott went so far as to switch parties rather than risk challenging Dedelow in a primary showdown. Ultimately, due to the Hammond GOP's reliance on general election crossover votes, the very coalition relied upon by his father to win three elections, and relied upon later by Dedelow, having lost it to the McDermott legacy, Hammond Republicans were simply outnumbered and Dedelow lost.
Then after nearly losing to George Janiek four years later, he not only won a second term, but then again last year, he once more faced Janiek. This time he championed himself as the fighter/protector of Hammond's Democratic Party values, a political warrior whose forte was single-combat on behalf of the local citizenry. This time around he was out to prove that Janiek's strong showing in 2007 had been a windfall, one that had resulted from a bout of political insolence, a contempt for not only Janiek, but that particular election contest itself.
Psychologically chastened by the near loss, this time around he was more aggressive, out to dispel any and all possibility his re-election would have been, and could now be, anything but an indisputable landslide. Today though, three months into his third term, McDermott appears listless, bored, existentially frustrated as well as politically stuck, unable as yet to contend for the real prize: the 1st Congressional seat held by Pete Visclosky. Still, Visclosky is well into his sixties and even if he refuses to step down, a three to four-year tenure at NIRPC could very well provide the expanded electorate and, hopefully, position him to develop the financial base from which to challenge him - if needed.
But I contend that if the rumors are true and he abandons his mayoralty in the first year of this term, if he quits the mayoralty and betrays the people and town he claims to cherish and appreciate, he will have become nothing more than a politician, for he will have also jettisoned any right to the claim of political leadership. He will never again wear the crown of leadership. Not authentically. True Leaders don't quit, and certainly not in the middle of Hammond's ongoing financial tribulations; indeed, in the very midst of its prolonged struggle to survive and remain viable.
In running for a third-term, McDermott implicitly promised, explicitly swore, as well as induced the moral expectation accompanying the understanding that he had freely, willingly, and voluntarily, decided to subordinate and sacrifice, for another four years, his prospects for professional and personal gain, and to limit his employment and opportunity to the position of mayor of Hammond, upon winning re-election. As it now stands, IF...if the rumors are true and he would prefer to move on to greener pastures, ASAP, then perhaps he's really been what his political enemies have constantly averred: a political opportunist.
Right now, one thing is certain, politically speaking Hammond is now an open town. His having initiated the NIRPC query rendered all loyalties to him undone. Of necessity it is now everyone for himself. Let new coalitions arise, for McDermott is now nothing more than mayor. No longer can he lay claim to a position of authentic leadership, it is just a job now. For he is looking to bailout and parachute land someplace, anyplace that will advance his career. Now he is just another self-serving politician. It is his legal right. And he still has legal authority and legal power, but he no longer has anyone's trust. He is now officially out for himself, after a mere three months into the term. And it is our right to seek new Party leadership.
So be it.
Last edited by Neometric on Wed Mar 21, 2012 6:03 am, edited 3 times in total.