MICHIGAN CITY — With the municipal election just weeks away, Michigan City’s four mayoral candidates participated in a Q&A-style forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of La Porte County at City Hall last week.
Incumbent Mayor Ron Meer, a Democrat, was under fire from his three opponents, all of whom have run for municipal office on the Democratic ticket in the past, but have since switched parties or filed to run as independent candidates.
Rev. Damon Carnes, pastor at Freedom in the Word Ministries, lost in the Democratic primary when he ran for an at-large seat on the Michigan City Common Council in May. He filed in July to run as an independent against Meer, whom he accused Wednesday of practicing only “cosmetic” leadership.
Issues like the environment, Carnes said, must take a backseat to issues like racism and homelessness.
“There are some serious things in Michigan City that we need to deal with; and as your mayor, I will deal with those things,” Carnes said. “Yes, a lot of those things are uncomfortable, but we have to deal with them, we have to talk about those things because those are the things that are going to catapult us to everything else.”
The pastor talked multiple times about his disapproval of the current police chief and the relationship between the Michigan City Police Department and local residents. He vowed that, if elected, he will appoint a new chief and establish a citizens’ review board to oversee the MCPD.
“We have a $27 million police facility, but we have a $5 relationship with the police,” Carnes said. “We’ve got to fix that first before we do anything.”
Meer defended the MCPD, and implied that if Carnes and his fellow Ministers Alliance members better served the community, there would be less need for police intervention.
“These are social ills that we send our police officers in to deal with each and every day,” Meer said. “Because when everything else fails – when people in our community are so-called leaders and have community centers that don’t even offer anything to the community – the police officer is the one who is sent in to deal with these issues.”
Republican candidate Duane Parry, who was registered as a Democrat when he served on the Common Council from 2012-16, said that if he were mayor, he’d also establish a citizens’ review board to oversee police activity; and appoint a new police chief.
It was just one of the points on Parry’s five-point plan “for prosperity” that he presented.
The others, he said, would be to dissolve the Michigan City Redevelopment Commission and eliminate TIF districts; spend $10 million of Riverboat funds on improving city programs and amenities for young people, senior citizens and veterans; focus on bringing jobs instead of tourists to Michigan City; and to host a monthly Mayor for a Minute Coffee, at which citizens would have the opportunity to share what they would do if they were mayor.
As he elaborated on each point, mentioning goals like opening groceries and drug stores on the east and west sides, Parry’s major focus seemed to be the creation of living-wage jobs. Higher wages and increased disposable income, he said, will help keep young people from the Millennial and Z generations in town.
Economic development was also a major talking point.
Meer said that since he took office in 2012, $1.5 billion in private and public investment has been made in Michigan City, proving his track record speaks for itself.
“Every major employer in Michigan City and many small businesses – and throughout La Porte City and La Porte County – are hiring right now,” Meer said. “… Our region is doing exceptionally well.”
As he’s maintained in previous forums, the mayor said job opportunities regionally benefit Michigan City residents, who will eventually have greater access to higher wages in places like Chicago once the South Shore Line’s Double Track project is complete.
But Parry was dismissive of the notion that the project will ever come to fruition, stating simply, “It’s not gonna happen.”
The two also provided differing stances on the state of the local environment.
Meer said, “My administration has done more for the environment than in the 50 previous years here in Michigan City. … We’re actually now a bright spot in the state as far as commitment to the environment.”
But Parry said the mayor has focused too much on green space, of which he feels the city has enough; and not enough on attracting “light, clean” industry.
“Unfortunately, green space doesn’t pay property taxes. We need jobs here,” Parry said.
Jim La Rocco, a businessman and retired firefighter who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic mayoral primary eight years ago, didn’t present a specific plan as much as describing his general neighborhood-improvement goal.
“We can talk about all these abstract numbers, about billions of dollars in development – tell that to the lady in my neighborhood who’s been trying for a year-and-a-half to get her streetlight fixed,” said La Rocco, who is running as an independent this time.
“Tell that to the people who haven’t had their brush cut along the road. Tell that to the people whose basements still flood regardless of how much money you say you spent.”
Meer listed the work his administration has done to address neighborhood issues since he took office, such as investing $70 million in sidewalk, street, stormwater and sanitary sewer improvements.
“The progression over the last eight years in the city of Michigan City is undeniable,” the mayor said. “Many of the suggestions, ideas and concepts that you heard [tonight] – already happened.
“Just because they are not willing to talk about the partnerships with the Redevelopment and Economic Development Corporation and job training opportunities – these are all the things that help those social ills that are facing not just Michigan City, but are facing communities across Northwest Indiana and the United States of America.”
Early voting is open to Michigan City residents now through noon on Monday, Nov. 4, at the courthouse. Election Day voting on Nov. 5 will be divided by precinct. For times and locations, visit laportecounty.org/Elections/VoterRegistration/ or vote411.org.
MC Mayor Race
Candidates for Michigan City mayor in the Nov. 5 Municipal Election
James T. LaRocco