Janiec loses bid to return to Hammond mayoral race
CROWN POINT | Lake Superior Court Judge Jesse Villalpando refused Wednesday to restore Hammond School Board member George Janiec to the May 3 primary ballot as a Republican candidate for Hammond mayor.
The judgment appears to be a victory for incumbent Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., who nearly lost to Janiec in 2007. McDermott also complains Janiec created an illegal conflict of interest by using his position as a School Board trustee as a springboard for a second campaign to win City Hall.
Villalpando's order states, "Janiec is the person who created this controversy and logically is the only person who can remove the condition undermining his municipal ambitions. He still has time to help himself."
The judge doesn't explicitly tell Janiec to resign from the School Board this week, but the judge is setting a "final hearing" for 3 p.m. Thursday so attorneys in the case can "inform the court of any substantial change of circumstances at that time."
Early voting is scheduled to begin Monday morning.
St. John attorney R. Cordell Funk, who is representing Janiec, said they are "reviewing their options."
Janiec, who came within less than 500 votes of defeating McDermott four years ago, won election to the School Board last year. He entered the mayoral race on the day before candidate filing closed last month.
Dawn Tomich, one of McDermott's appointees to the city's Collegebound Exceptions committee, challenged Janiec's candidacy on grounds his bid for the Republican Party nomination for mayor violates the spirit of state and local rules that forbid local School Board members from political campaigning.
McDermott said earlier this month the challenge wasn't his idea but suggested Janiec should leave the School Board to keep politics out of the schools.
Janiec is hardly a trailblazer in Lake County political history. Four decades ago, Ralph Potesta, a member of the same School Board, used it as a springboard to win election as a Republican to the Indiana State Senate.
However, Democratic Party members of the Lake County Elections Board voted three weeks ago to remove Janiec, who then sued for judicial review of the matter.
Villalpando's nine-page statement cites a code of ethics adopted by the School City of Hammond and the Indiana School Board Association, stating board members should refuse to "'play politics in either the traditional, partisan or in any petty sense."
The judge concluded Janiec breached his oath of office as a school trustee and the elections board didn't abuse its discretion by removing him.
However, two other school officials remain on the May 3 ballot — LaBrenda King-Smith, a Gary School Board trustee and Democrat running for the 5th District City Council seat, and Michael Stills, a Lake Station School Board member, who is among five Democrats voters could nominate for an at-large City Council seat.
A challenge to King-Smith failed on technical grounds, and Stills was unchallenged.