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Primary hopefuls address MC Women’s Democratic Club

March 18, 2019

MICHIGAN CITY — From improving youth outreach to opposing NIPSCO’s proposed rate increase, several Democrats running for Michigan City offices shared their top priorities and visions for the future with potential voters on Wednesday.

More than a dozen Democrats slated to appear on the May 7 primary election ballot spoke to a packed house at the Michigan City Women’s Democratic Club’s Candidate’s Night event at the Moose Lodge.

Candidates for mayor and City Council seats laid out their platforms, with many focusing on improvements to infrastructure and housing, ways to better promote the community to visitors and businesses, and ways to elevate Michigan City to the next level.

Mayor Ron Meer, seeking his third term, touted the achievements local leaders have made since Democrats assumed control of the government seven years ago – including $1 billion worth of direct investment in the private sector that city government and other entities have poured into the community.

If re-elected, Meer said he will focus on increased job training for students in hopes of connecting them with manufacturing or other careers in the area.

“I want to continue the progress happening here in Michigan City,” Meer said. “That’s why I’m continuing to run for mayor. We’ve assembled a great team here. I think we can continue this … we need to keep this momentum going in Michigan City.”

Virginia Martin, one of Meer’s primary opponents, will also make helping youth a priority if elected, including finding ways to provide summer jobs, she said. Martin, who served on the city council from 1992 to 2007, is also concerned about the condition of sidewalks and lack of affordable housing in some areas.

“We have a lot of houses [in poor condition], and I think we can fix them, redo them and rent them out,” Martin said.

Michael Gresham and Paul Przybylinski are two of the candidates seeking the 2nd Ward council seat currently held by Candice Silvas.

Gresham, founder and owner of City By the Lake.org, touted his professional experience in finance and trade, which has provided him the skill set needed to process and present complex ideas, he said.

A former board member of the Michigan City YMCA, Gresham sees City Council members as “advocates” for their community.

“You’re not only looking at the bad, you’re looking at the good and what you can do to improve the bad,” Gresham said. “There’s a lot of things out there we need to work on. There’s a lot of successes we need to keep going on past.”

Paul Przybylinski, a former 2nd Ward councilman, pointed to his experience serving in local government, including time negotiating contracts with police and fire personnel while serving on the labor committee.

On top of seeking repairs to the city’s brick streets and lowering energy costs through installation of LED lighting on street lamps, one of his main concerns will be ensuring the city funds completion of the longstanding Lafayette Sewer Project.

“If elected, I will introduce an ordinance that X amount of money – $1 million or whatever we come up with and find that common ground – is put on the side to fund that project and get it going,” Paul Przybylinski said. “That project needs to be done.”

Laurel Izard, a former art teacher seeking the 3rd Ward seat, thinks city leaders should do more to market the community and promote the arts to children.

“The arts are so important,” she said. “A lot of kids out there are not going to be rocket scientists. They may not go to college. They may not be good in school. But they may have a gift in music, in dance, poetry or just making art as individuals. I would like to see that supported in this community.”

She’d also like to see more safe and affordable housing in the 3rd Ward, saying repairs are needed for empty or dilapidated homes in the neighborhood.

Both Democrats running for the 4th Ward seat, incumbent Sean Fitzpatrick and challenger Beth Pishkur, spoke Wednesday.

Fitzpatrick – selected in November to replace Pat Boy, who resigned after being elected to the Indiana House – has taken a “4th Ward-first” approach to the office, he said.

He pointed to several accomplishments since taking office, including introducing a whistleblower protection ordinance and taking steps to create a youth leadership committee, which will create a space for the community’s younger citizens to “work with themselves, for themselves.”

“Far too many times, us, as adults, tell our youth what is best for them, what we did when we were young and how they should be living,” Fitzpatrick said. “But if they can get their own space where they can communicate with each other, they’ll figure out what is best for them. They’ll know what they want to do and we’ll support them as the adults and the actual leadership in the city.”

Pishkur – a former Michigan City Area Schools Board member who came up short in the caucus that selected Fitzpatrick – is concerned about issues affecting the many area residents living in poverty, including pests such as bedbugs and lice, and would like to see landlords held accountable for drafty windows or energy-inefficient properties, she said.

Like several other candidates, she said she’s has spoken with residents in her ward who are concerned about the lack of sidewalks in many portions of the community.

“I just got used to it when my daughter was little, pushing her in her stroller down the street,” Pishkur said. “There’s still no sidewalks, and that’s too bad. I’ve talked to several businesses in the 4th Ward, and some of them said they would even pay for their own.”

Finally, four of the Democrats running for the council’s at-large seats – incumbents Don Przybylinski and Johnny Stimley, and challengers Angie Nelson-Deuitch and Dalia Zygas – delivered remarks.

Don Przybylinski, the council president who is seeking his third term, discussed his service on the school and park safety committee, which spent $450,000 improving intersections and installing sidewalks at several local schools and parks, he said.

He also mentioned that versions of the council’s recently adopted resolution opposing NIPSCO’s proposed 11-12 percent rate increase – which could cost the city an additional $200,000 per year – were recently adopted by leaders in Gary and Hammond.

“Michigan City and the Michigan City City Council were the leaders in the NIPSCO district in fighting back against NIPSCO,” Don Przybylinski said. “No other city in the area did it except Michigan City. I’m very proud [we] had the courage to step forward and take on this large corporation.”

Stimley, a longtime city businessman and founder of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, is working with several others to establish a Promise Scholarship aviation program, which would provide pilot education for both aircraft and drones to local students.

He is also looking to streamline the process for the city to hire contractors, as well as give more tools to the local business community, he said.

“The city is in need of an entrepreneur workshop center, to support citizens looking to create, launch and grow their business or trade, which will benefit the city with new business and new job growth,” Stimley said.

Nelson-Deuitch, a former city councilwoman and project manager with NIPSCO’s gas operations division, is focused on supporting the youth in the community, and is in favor of creating a youth council, she said.

“I want this to be a place where kids want to stay and live,” she said.

A former United Way Volunteer of the Year who’s been active on several community boards, Nelson-Deuitch described herself as an “advocate for people” who wants to help out where she can in order to “put Michigan City forward.”

Zygas, a retired chemistry teacher, is passionate about the environment and sustainable development, and has helped protect Trail Creek as a member of the Trail Creek Watershed Partnership, she said.

She would also like to see the city expand the hours and routes of buses and other forms of local public transportation, she said.

“I think of a young person who just graduated high school – if they’re lucky enough to get a job, they need to buy a car, get license plates, insurance, just to get to work,” Zygas said. “If they had a bus route that served them, they would be much better off.”

Councilman Bryant Dabney (1st) and Gene Simmons (6th) also attended Wednesday’s gathering. Both are running unopposed.