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Rich James: Crown Point GOP wobbles from Dem punch thrown 20 years ago

Rich James

Rich James

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Updated: November 22, 2011 8:22AM



We’re just a little more than two weeks away from electing the people who run our towns and cities.

And in terms of mayoral politics, Lake County Republicans are hurting.

Republicans don’t have mayoral candidates in two of the county’s seven cities.

And they don’t have much of a chance in the other five.

Lake County Republicans are in a more pitiful state than Democrats on the state level in Indiana.

And Democrats would have to speed up to reach a slow shuffle.

While Lake County always has been solidly Democratic, Republicans have had success over the years in winning mayoral posts in Hammond, Whiting, Hobart, Lake Station and Crown Point.

Not any longer.

I kept wondering why there was such a fall from grace.

And, it all kept coming back to Crown Point, once as rich a bastion of Republicanism as one would find in the state.

Crown Point Republicans took everything for granted and generally got whatever they wanted.

There was a general arrogance. Not rude, just arrogant.

Twenty years ago, the party imploded. And it’s never learned how to recover.

In 1991, when Jim Forsythe, a prince of a guy, decided not to seek re-election as mayor, the assumption was that the torch would pass to James Searson, who was Forsythe’s administrative assistant.

But the old guard Republicans, who had never lost a mayoral race in the city’s history, took Searson’s nomination and election for granted.

It was simply to be the next move in the evolution of Crown Point Republicanism.

They didn’t pay much attention to Donald Hefner, who challenged Searson in the primary.

After each pulled 812 votes, a court ordered the precinct organization to break the tie. Naturally, the old guard picked Searson.

In the meantime, Jim Metros, a political newcomer and a Democrat, was prowling the streets of Crown Point — talking to anyone who would stop to listen.

And then the unthinkable happened — Metros won.

Like a punch-drunk fighter, Republicans never seemed to recover.

Four years later, Metros defeated Jim Wirtz, a kind and decent man and member of the party’s old guard.

In 1999, another four years down the road, Metros won for a third time, defeating Jack Kemp, who couldn’t really gather a divided party behind him.

But, by 2003, Metros had worn out his welcome for a variety of reasons in what still was a pretty conservative city.

Enter Republican Dan Klein, who could have beaten any Democrat, largely because it was time.

Unfortunately for Democrat Wayne Isailovich, who has a name a lot of Crown Point folks can neither spell nor pronounce, he was the sacrificial lamb.

But Klein wasn’t cut from the same cloth as Forsythe and the mayor who preceded him — Richard Collins, another prince of a guy.

Klein quickly forgot that he was elected, not anointed, and the Republican opposition mounted.

And in 2007, the unthinkable happened to the old guard Crown Point Republicans — the party nominated a woman, Gayle VanSessen.

And some of that old-time Republican arrogance came back as enough of them turned against Van Sessen and helped Democrat David Uran become the second Democrat to run what was once one of Indiana’s most Republican cities.

Uran has been a good mayor and ought to win easily Nov. 8 over another of the old guard Republicans — Eldon Strong.

So, why haven’t Crown Point Republicans been able to recover what they lost 20 years ago?

A big part of it is arrogance and a refusal to admit the party has a problem.

And, like Metros did 20 years ago, Democrats keep knocking on doors, knowing they have to work just a little harder to win in a Republican city.

Rich James’ column appears on Fridays.



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