City Desk

The Region Strikes Again

It's everything I ever feared: The eyes of the world are on a Lake County, Ind., election.

Lake County—fondly referred to by its denizens simply as "the Region"—is where I was born and raised. And it's pretty much where I got my conception of what urban politics is all about.

If you've been watching cable TV, you've heard all about how Gary mayor Rudy Clay has promised to deliver big numbers to Barack Obama, for instance by busing high school kids to early-voting sites. What's not mentioned as much is that he's the county Democratic chairman, which means he essentially controls the election apparatus. He, have no doubt, is responsible for the fact that the vote has not been announced on time.

There's absolutely no reason to hold off on announcing returns while you count absentee ballots. But holding back the vote, in fact, is a longstanding Lake County tradition.

Why might Rudy Clay hold back the vote? Well, back in the day, you needed time to destroy ballots from "bad" precincts and stuff boxes from the "good" ones. These days, with electronic voting, it's a lot harder to tamper with the vote. But you can still be a big, swinging dick by playing kingmaker and keeping the nation on edge—and preventing Hillary Clinton from declaring victory at a decent hour.

But there's no doubt that election shenanigans aren't too far in the Region's past. For a reminder, just look at Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens' opinion upholding the Indiana Voter ID act last week. For part of his reasoning, he cites the 2003 mayoral primary in East Chicago, which is just west of Gary, as proof "that not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election."

That election pitted Robert Pastrick, mayor of East Chicago for decades and often cited as head of the last true political machine in America, against challenger and city councilman George Pabey. Pastrick won the primary, but courts held that enough questions were raised about the veracity of certain absentee ballots that a new election was ordered, which Pabey won. (Try to set aside for a second Stevens' reasoning that alleged absentee ballot fraud justifies showing voter IDs at polling places.)

Fun aftermath: Several East Chicago political figures (notably not Pastrick) ended up in jail for a scheme dating back to Pastrick's 1999 run that had city crews build new sidewalks for residents in exchange for votes. (For the record, my dad was a lawyer for the Pastrick administration for many years and helped argue the Pabey case. And, also for the record, Pabey isn't exactly a paragon of ethical virtue.)

Anyway, welcome to the Region, America. Enjoy it while you're here.

UPDATE, 12:42 A.M.: On CNN, anyway, they seem to have a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of the Region's demographics. The "north county" cities assumed to go big for Obama—Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, and Whiting—aren't the whole story. In a county of more than 480,000, those cities only account for less than half the county population; Gary's population is less than 100,000. And Hammond and Whiting, in particular, have significant white blue-collar populations that are fertile ground for Clinton, not Obama, and the same goes for East Chicago, which is half Latino–together, they're bigger than Gary. Bigger issue is that the rest of the county is more or less suburban—and even rural, down south of Crown Point and into Lowell and beyond. You've got middle- to upper-class suburbs in Schererville, St. John, Dyer, and Munster—probably pretty even Clinton/Obama; blue-collar burbs like Griffith, Highland, Lake Station, and Hobart (my hometown)—probably leaning Clinton. In other words, Obama folks—don't expect any miracles out of Lake County.

UPDATE, 1:04 A.M.: Clay is currently making an utter fool of himself on CNN. What an absolute clown. No one points out that he controls the process. Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott says "the appearance of impropriety is high."

UPDATE, 1:12 A.M.: Some poetry to cap your evening.

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  • Scott

    Wow, I wish you'd been on CNN to help fill in the missing pieces of the Lake County puzzle. Great analysis. Rudy Clay is indeed a shady character. He was clearly evading CNN's repeated questions regarding the delay in reporting results. While the final margin (55-45) doesn't suggest any significant vote-tampering, it seems apparent to me that Clay intentionally delayed reporting the votes so that 1) Hillary couldn't proclaim victory in her speech, and 2) east coast newspapers couldn't report a winner in their early editions.

  • Dave McKenna

    Fabulous stuff, MdB!

  • Region Rat 2.0

    Mike-As a fellow "Region" guy ( 53rd and Broadway, Gary)now living in DC I could not help but laugh hilariously as this whole thing played out. My family was heavily involved in Region politics a while ago (if you remember another "Rudy" who had some legal "problems" as County Commissioner and Sheriff-that was my Uncle) and the history of corruption runs so deep that I really cannot explain it to mpeople out here. Finally, Rudy Clay wasn't trying to delay the vote to embarass Hillary (or the East Cast papers) but to "find" enough votes to make up the difference to put Obama. Welcome to old school precinct politcs America!

  • Will Cleveland

    Nice piece Bonus.

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