A city by a lake
Rebuilding the base
The largest meeting anyone had seen
The first test
Getting started with the facts
Round One: Demanding a fair and objective process
Round Two: "Hammond has a mess on its hands."
Round Three: Pressing on to victory
"The ordinary people won this victory."
Hammond, Indiana. After decades of urban decay, caused among other reasons by the decline of the steel industry and the development of huge regional suburban malls, there wasn't much left in the center of Hammond in 1990. When the local federal judges planned to build a new courthouse in the suburban area south of Hammond, thus removing one of the last landmarks from the central city, the residents decided they had had enough. Although they were warned that it was too late to stop the plan, the members of the Interfaith Citizens Organization (ICO) of Hammond determined to fight.
The battle started in 1991--and the first occupants will move in this year, six years after the original projected target of 1996. Asked how they could hold out in the face of so many delays and reversals, the residents each had the same answer: "We just don't give up. We won't go away."
Talk about the proverbial fight against City Hall. The members of ICO went up against federal judges and eventually carried the fight all the way to Washington, D.C. The entire community of Hammond, from downtown banks to churches, from the Chamber of Commerce to senior citizens, from north to south and across races and ethnicities, came together to defend the future of their city.
The community came out of the battle stronger than it went in, because this wasn't just a fight for a building. The participants intended to make it clear once and for all that the citizens of Hammond would determine their own destiny.
A city by a lake
If your only view of Hammond has been the one seen from a car whizzing by on Interstate 90, which runs through the midst of the refineries and steel mills, or I80/I94, the Borman Expressway, which runs along the southern edge of the city and is dominated by truck traffic, you haven't really seen the city. Hammond hugs the southern edge of Lake Michigan, bordered by Chicago's southeast side and Calumet City in Illinois, and East Chicago and Gary in Indiana. South of Hammond are the suburbs of Munster, Highland and Schererville.
Each of the cities along the industrial lakefront has its own history and character. Hammond's population of 83,048 people in 2000 was 62 percent white (non-Hispanic), with 15 percent African-Americans and 21percent Hispanics.
It is an old blue-collar town, settled in the second half of the 19th century by a variety of European immigrants. The original name was changed in 1869 to honor George Hammond, a Detroit butcher who opened a large slaughterhouse there and sparked a spurt of growth. Positioned along the major rail lines going into Chicago, post-World War II Hammond had a solid base of jobs in the steel mills and oil refineries. A number of other manufacturing plants--chemical refining, corn processing and rail-car construction--added diversity to the economy. It was a prosperous industrial city.
People who grew up in the 1950s and '60s particularly remember the Christmas parade.
"The department stores had mechanical window displays and all that kind of stuff to bring people downtown," recalls Dennis Terry, who grew up in Hammond and is now the mayor's chief of staff. "The parade was huge. As a kid, I played saxophone and marched in the band. It was so cold the spit in your instrument would freeze, but it was great fun. Everyone came. At that time, people came in from the suburbs to shop here.
"I also remember going downtown to the movies. Hammond even used to have an opera house, though it was torn down along with the Carnegie Library during urban renewal. Before my time, we also had vaudeville theaters. It was a lively place."
During the 1960s, Hammond began to lose its industrial and commercial base. The construction of huge regional malls such as River Oaks contributed to the decline. So did the erosion of the steel industry in the '70s and '80s. The decreasing importance of rail transportation was also a factor. The new growth was all to the south, in the suburbs.
Cal Bellamy, long-time president of Bank Calumet, felt that with the deterioration of the central city, Hammond lost its focus. "We still have lots of retail in the general area, but not downtown. The city kind of atomizes into isolated neighborhoods. There's nothing that brings us all together without the central business district. Not even a high school, because we have four different schools."
When the leaders of the ICO began to talk to church members about the community in the early 1990s, they found that many residents had come to view Hammond as a way station on their route to somewhere better. Father Rick Orlinski, the pastor of St. Catherine of Siena, recalls being surprised at people's outlook. "One of the questions we asked was, 'Do you intend to stay in Hammond?' And almost everybody said, no, they do intend to move, but they just never get around to it."
Rebuilding the base
"It was probably about the third year I was pastor at St. Catherine of Siena that I got involved in the Interfaith Organization," says Father Orlinski. "That's when Paul Scully came in as the new director. To tell you the truth, I wasn't really interested in organizing. The previous person who was working with the ICO had also contacted me, and I couldn't figure out why I wanted more work to do. Eventually, after talking to Scully for awhile, he convinced me that it was worth at least looking into. Partially because I felt the need to do some preaching on justice, and I felt it was sort of hard to do if you're not doing anything yourself.
"We came in actually as a part of a group of Catholic parishes. Our former bishop, Bishop Norbert Gaughan, encouraged us. We talked about joining and paying dues for a six-month trial period. The dues were 1 percent of our ordinary income, which in my case, I think, was $350 a month. There was some discussion, and I eventually suggested to the other priests, who were not as gung-ho as I was by this time, that we couldn't afford not to join. And so they agreed. I was on the executive board.
"Scully promised that we would get some leadership training for our membership, and that sounded inviting. I worked at it pretty hard. We established a core team and I sent some people to weeklong training."
Scully had been hired in 1989 by the Gamaliel Foundation, a national community organizing network based in Chicago, to revitalize the somewhat moribund Interfaith Citizens Organization, a faith-based community organization that covered the city of Hammond. He recruited a broad-based group of churches from across the city; more than a dozen became formal, dues-paying members.
"The Mount Zion Baptist Church had been in Hammond since the 1920s. Dr. A.R. Burns was our pastor for over 50 years," says member Paul Lewis. "When Scully came to town, my pastor was one of the first he talked to. Dr. Burns loved Paul Scully right off the bat. They became very close. He came to talk at the church. Our pastor thought it was a worthwhile cause, and right away we became involved with it.
"Terry Brown Alexander, another church member, came on board, too. It was a priority for our congregation."
After the first round of talking with congregations, Scully worked with the leadership to initiate the process that would sink deeper roots.
"One of the things the Gamaliel Foundation suggested was that we do one-on-one interviews, where members of our congregation go out and really get to know other members of St. Catherine's, what interests them, what is important to them, what their concerns are," recalls Father Rick. "All the member congregations did this."
This is a traditional part of the organization-building process in faith-based community organizations. Congregational leaders learn to listen to and build relationships with members of their church, synagogue or mosque, and their community. Through the process, the leaders reconnect with the members of their institution, gain the deeper knowledge of the community that is necessary for leadership, and begin putting together the network of relationships and mutual respect that enables the community to exercise power.
"We talked with over 200 of our members over nine months," recalls Father Rick. "We heard a lot of concerns about family struggles and the future of our community."
Tom Reis, a paint salesman who became one of the key leaders in the campaign, feels that this process was crucial to the campaign. "We could always rally the troops, but these one-on-ones gave us depth. They were penetrating. People really came to understand each other, and it created a dynamic. It gave us legitimacy and a base."
The largest meeting anyone had seen
After the member organizations had been through an extensive one-on-one process, the executive board began sorting through the issues that had surfaced and planning for a convention, at which the community would select issues to work on.
The first big public meeting of the revitalized ICO was held in February 1992.
"We were hoping to get 1,500 people citywide. I think we got 2,200. We held it at the Bishop Noll High School gymnasium," says Father Rick. "I had told my people from the pulpit that this was something they should be doing, not necessarily for themselves, but for their children and their grandchildren. If we had some impact on the way things worked, in the long run, everything would be better. I was very pleased at this turnout. We had over 500 of our parishioners show up for the first public meeting."
All of the local elected officials were there. The ICO leaders reviewed the process that brought them to this point, and formally selected issues to work on together: jobs, crime and education. But one clearly stood above the rest--the federal courthouse.
"We had been hearing about the issue of the courthouse during the one-on-one process," says Scully. "Even prior to the formal decision-making process that we go through, people were already starting to look at this courthouse issue, because it had been talked about by a number of the organization's business allies in the downtown area. The old courthouse was in downtown Hammond on the main shopping strip, so it was actually surrounded by boarded-up department stores. The judges wanted out of there. They both wanted to have a palace like their colleagues around the country had."
A 1978 federal law required that the courthouse remain in Hammond, but the judges were insisting that it be built on vacant land near the Borman Expressway, adjacent to the suburbs to the south.
It was an issue of jobs, because the departure of the courthouse would take away a substantial amount of the remaining downtown foot traffic. In addition, the $60 million project would generate hundreds of construction jobs for the area.
But the courthouse meant much more than jobs to most of the long-time residents of the area.
"I was introducing the courthouse issue at the meeting," recalls Reis, "and I told the crowd that other people had been making decisions for Hammond long enough--a lot of bad decisions that hurt our community. 'This is where we break with that past, today,' I said. I asked people to stand and applaud and send a message to the federal judges and all the elected officials. The response was overwhelming. I could see it in the faces in the room. People are so conditioned to believe that they are powerless. But that day, people knew something big was happening. They started to believe in themselves."
"The genius of this campaign was picking the right issue," he says. "It was symbolic of what was happening to Hammond. The judges wanted to move where it would be convenient for them personally. They didn't even consider us. This issue allowed us to express all the anger and pain of being ignored, of being put down, all the things that had been done to our city by outsiders. I hope I'm never going to use the courthouse; it sure wasn't a fight about a building.
"It was a time when Hammond's self-image was very poor, and we all felt disrespected. It touched everyone across racial and economic lines. It transcended everything."
Scully looked over the crowd of 2,200 people and knew that they were ready to build some serious power in their community. "As an organizer, and thinking about it strategically, I saw it as a huge risk, but just the kind of issue that was big enough, but close enough to the ground, to make for a pretty classic fight. It would really require the entire organization to take this on, it would build the organization. A good issue is not something that you know that you can win, but something that you think you've got a good shot at. Something that will require people to work hard, and to work together."
The headline in the Post-Tribune would read, "Hammond rallies for its resurrection."
The first test
"We announced at that meeting that the courthouse was going to be one of our main issues," recalls Tom Reis, "and the very next day, a guy representing the two U.S. Senators from Indiana called us up and said, 'Don't touch the courthouse, it's a done deal, you can't do anything about it.' "
Scully recalls that people were also told, "Stay out of it, the church has no place in this and has no right to be involved."
"That first meeting dwarfed anything that ever happened before," says Scully. "It overwhelmed the local political leadership, who prior to that had not taken the organization seriously. The popular Republican mayor had been engaged in jockeying for position with the old-line Democratic city council. None of them were going to agree with each other on anything, they never had, not in nine years. There had been talk about endorsing another site in Hammond, which basically would have divided any downtown coalition, but that first meeting of 2,000 people just wiped out any local dissent. The mayor changed his mind publicly, and claimed he had never actually agreed to the deal to put it further south along the expressway in the first place. The city council passed a resolution unanimously supporting the construction of a new courthouse at the downtown site and urging the congressman to support it. Congressman Visclosky had not shown up at the big meeting. He had sent an aide, who was booed out of the room because he couldn't make a commitment.
"This issue and the big crowd at the meeting catapulted the organization to a much higher level of power than they had ever seen before."
The arrogance of the judges, senators and congressman infuriated and energized the ICO leadership.
"I think it actually gained us more attention when the judges tried to destroy us," says Terry Brown Alexander. "It was a favor to us, and it actually gave us power. We were telling people that you have rights, and it's time to start exercising them. You can be a believer and go to your church, and you can still stand up for your community. You don't have to be a doormat. We were all learning that for ourselves."
"I was a paint salesman at the time," says Reis. "But as a child of the '60s, I think I was setting myself up my entire life for something like this. To organize people made complete and utter sense to me. Everything kind of fell together. I was ready to work very hard as a leader."
"The battle was the Lord's," says Paul Lewis. "Nothing comes easy, but with God, all things are possible. We had some determined leadership."
Getting started with the facts
The new courthouse was going to consolidate a number of other federal offices, including the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the U.S. Marshal's office and the regional congressional offices, most of which had moved out of the downtown Hammond location over the years for lack of space. Naturally, quite a number of lawyers in private practice maintained offices near the federal courthouse.
"We found out later on that 70 percent of all the office space in downtown Hammond was rented by lawyers and legal firms, which would have all disappeared if the courthouse moved out," remembers Father Rick. "A lot was at stake."
How could the community influence the decisions? ICO leaders began to look behind the scenes. The two judges had apparently firmly decided to move to a more suburban location. But did they have the power to make that decision? How much power did they have? Who decides where federal buildings are located? The community members needed some information.
"We actually thought early on that our congressman, Peter Visclosky, a Democrat, would be an easy ally. The area voted largely Democratic, and both of the judges had been appointed by Republican presidents," says Scully.
Both judges lived in the suburbs, far from downtown Hammond.
Judge Rudy Lozano (no relation to the Chicago activist by the same name) came out of a big law firm in northwest Indiana. He was a very ambitious Republican judge of Mexican descent who began with a private firm doing defense work for major corporations. He had been appointed in 1988 by President George H.W. Bush.
Judge James Moody was a 1982 Reagan appointee, who had served on a lower court following 10 years of private practice. The ICO found that he had received low marks from the Bar Association when he was nominated.
The members of the ICO started doing some research, and fairly quickly learned that the process technically called for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to make decisions about locating new federal buildings. The GSA is the arm of the federal government that handles routine administrative functions.
"One thing we learned pretty quickly was that traditionally, judges make their own decisions about their buildings and no one ever challenges them," says Scully. "They are judges for life, and very powerful and people do not like to mess with them. That's how everyone we talked to viewed the situation."
"We did Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIAs). We eventually saw a lot of the GSA correspondence about the courthouse. These judges went around the country looking at what other judges had, and apparently that was part of the judicial culture. Federal buildings were one of the big pieces of pork that people with power could have. So they had taken note of what kind of marble and chandeliers other judges had around the country, what kind of upholstery they had, and so on."
"We contacted the GSA in Chicago," says Father Rick, "and they agreed to come down to a meeting. We had about 100 people there. We asked them why they wanted to put this thing on the Borman Expressway at Cline Avenue, which was the plan at that time. And the GSA said, 'Don't ask us.'
"They said, 'We take our direction from the judges.' Well, the newspapers were there, and that became the headline, 'GSA says they take direction from the judges.'
Father Rick told the Hammond Times, "We think it's pretty rotten that a project of this size should be decided by people who don't even live in Hammond, and the people in Hammond can't even voice their preferences."
The GSA called back immediately and said, "That's not really what we meant to say. We don't take direction from judges." They agreed to reopen the site-selection process.
Everyone felt they were making progress.
Congressman Visclosky met with 90 members of ICO and promised to ensure that the GSA process would be fair and impartial. Visclosky stated that he wanted to see the building constructed within Hammond, but would not express an opinion about whether it should be south near the Borman, where the judges wanted it, or downtown, where the residents wanted it. His only responsibility, he claimed, was to ensure an objective process.
The GSA appointed a site selection committee to conduct an "objective" assessment of the best location for the new courthouse. A decision was expected by September.
The leaders of the ICO determined to spend the remaining months gathering the support of as many parts of the community as they could. Despite their conviction that a truly objective process would pick the downtown site, they were leaving nothing to chance; they had good reason to doubt that the process would be as objective as all the politicians and the GSA were claiming.
They had the major churches on board, and the residents that they represented. Now they needed to look at who else had influence in the community, and how they could draw them in.
"By the first public meeting, we had already brought together a very broad community alliance," says Scully. "The mayor and the city council were easy, because they were local politicians, and saw what the overwhelming majority of the voters wanted. The downtown Hammond business association, including the two major locally owned banks, Bank Calumet and the Mercantile National Bank, had been on board for awhile. The presidents of those banks were really city fathers, they grew up there, and it was the family business. One was Joe Morrow, from Mercantile, the other was Cal Bellamy, from Calumet. They were very important allies. One was an active well-connected Democrat and one was an active connected Republican. Joe Morrow was the chairman of fundraising for Dan Coat's Senate campaign.
"The Chamber of Commerce was staffed by a guy named Dennis Terry, who actually used to be a community organizer. He was a very important ally. So we were able to bring in the downtown business association early on.
"St. Margaret's Hospital was important, too, since they were located right in the downtown area.
"Later on, we got the Bar Association involved, but not at this point."
Cal Bellamy, whose family-owned Bank Calumet has its headquarters downtown, recalls that he was on board with the courthouse issue, "immediately when I heard of it. I would have thought it was my responsibility right away. It was something we all agreed on."
It was not a controversial issue in the business community. "The judges tend to stay aloof. They are not well known in the business community. They have no commitment to the city and make no effort to have a commitment to the city. And it wasn't a Democrat versus Republican type issue. The mayor was a supporter and a Republican too. We were all united.
"Bank Calumet had been the first, and perhaps for awhile the only, business contributor to the Interfaith group. Scully was working in a basement office at All Saints Church, and he didn't have any money. He came over here and asked for a contribution. Initially, I turned him down, but then I got to thinking. It's fine to say, 'Go out and do something and then I'll contribute,' but somebody needs to put in the seed money.
"I knew the business community could not mobilize the rank-and-file people, and the city didn't seem to be able to do that either. The Interfaith group had the grassroots contacts. You need the people with you when you're engaged in a campaign like this. This was the opportunity to bring all the community interests together."
Joe Morrow, president of the family-owned Mercantile Bank just down the street from Bank Calumet, also got involved right away, despite a long friendship with one of the judges. His son, Chris, who took over as bank president recently, remembers how offended everyone was by the attitude of the judges. "For people living outside Hammond, the perceptions of our area are far from what it really is. Some people won't go to Gary or East Chicago or Hammond. You'd think we were living in a Third World country or the old Eastern bloc, that our cars are covered with soot and our water is yellow or something. I take offense at that view. I think this was a rallying point that gave us the opportunity to gather steam as a community."
Dennis Terry had been executive director of the Hammond Chamber of Commerce for a few years when the courthouse issue came up. As the former director of the Hammond Community Center, he knew what the loss of jobs and the lack of economic development meant to the low-income residents of the city. "Hammond was just starting to recover from the devastation of the late '70s and early '80s. Mayor McDermott was an excellent salesperson and he got some of the huge, empty industrial space around the old Pullman car factory designated as an enterprise zone. Things were slowly turning around for the city. The courthouse issue hit people hard."
Members of the Chamber mainly saw their role as being behind the scenes, providing some funding, some contacts, some letter writing.
Terry expected some resistance among his members. "I knew we had to be careful about what we did. But at this point the Chamber had a pretty good relationship with a lot of the neighborhood groups. We had been funding community clean-ups and working with them. There was lots of discussion about being careful and that this campaign could have some negative impact on some of the businesses. I talked a lot with some of the key business leaders about what we could and couldn't do. Communication was crucial."
With key members of the coalition together, the ICO was ready for action.
Round One: Demanding a fair and objective process
The ICO set about trying to line up support from all of the public officials in the area. Naturally, they wanted to talk with the judges. However, the judges apparently had no desire to meet.
The ICO Executive Council met with Sen. Dan Coats to ask for his support, and they asked him to serve as an intermediary to set up a meeting with the judges.
Throughout the spring, leaders of the community organization kept trying to get Sen. Coats, Sen. Lugar and Rep. Visclosky to commit to the downtown site. All claimed that they needed to remain neutral, and that they only wanted a fair and objective process. The judges continued to put out the word that the downtown site was unacceptable, and they continued to refuse to meet with the community to discuss the matter.
In May, GSA representatives came to town to look over potential sites and to hold a public hearing.
Bellamy was on his way to Chicago with his wife for the evening, but decided to drop by the American Inn and see how the hearing was going. "When I got there, the room was full. There were maybe two or three business people and Dennis Terry from the Chamber. The rest were mostly Interfaith people, and there was a lot of enthusiasm. The GSA was taking testimony and so forth. And we ended up in a circle that encompassed the entire room. My wife was sitting in the back of the room, next to a GSA official. She told me later that he just said out loud to himself, 'This is the way these meetings are supposed to work.' He was so impressed by the way the community had come out to indicate that we really wanted this built downtown."
In late June, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee allocated $51 million to the project.
Still, the judges remained adamant that the downtown site was unacceptable, and they refused to meet with the community. GSA officials claimed they were reviewing as many as a dozen possible locations, but they refused to release their site-selection criteria to the public.
The members of the ICO were getting frustrated and increasingly suspicious about the supposedly objective process. Scully recalls that the next turning point came on a day when he was particularly discouraged.
"I was sitting in my office one day--this was one of those points where I'm wondering why in the hell are we in this campaign--I mean, these guys are never going to give in. On my desk I had printouts of financial disclosures, newspaper articles, all kinds of paper. And I'm just looking at the stuff on my desk and I see a picture of the two judges and a newspaper article when Lozano became judge. It showed Michael Kanne, a former district judge, who was now an appeals court judge in the 7th Circuit. He had the same last name as the guy from the GSA who was chairman of the site-selection committee, Ed Kanne. This little twerp who had been trying to convince people that the GSA was an upstanding organization that was making decisions based on objective criteria turned out to be the brother of Judge Mike Kanne. We were pretty convinced Judge Kanne intended to have an office in the new courthouse, and here's his brother as a chairman of the site-selection committee, trying to tell us that the judges have no influence.
"Whenever we had an issue or revelation, we would launch an action. In this case, the action was a march on the courthouse."
About 100 people jammed the steps of the old courthouse, demanding to see the judges. The judges refused to meet, and the protesters were asked by the U.S. marshals to leave. They marched four blocks to the Post Office, where Senators Coats and Lugar had their offices, and left a written message for the senators.
"It is indicative of the judges' arrogance toward the people of Hammond that they can't meet with their neighbors for two minutes," the Post-Tribune quoted Reis as saying.
A week later, 100 ICO members returned to the courthouse to deliver an invitation to the judges to attend an ICO meeting planned for August to discuss long-range planning for downtown development. "Do they want to be remembered as partners in redeveloping downtown Hammond or do they want to be remembered as judges who didn't want to drive an extra 12 minutes to work?" asked Rev. Bruce Stanek, pastor of a local Presbyterian church. Again, the organization blasted Ed Kanne and the GSA, as well as Coats, Lugar and Visclosky, who were still claiming neutrality.
"We used these marches on the courthouse pretty strategically," recalls Scully. "From a distance, it might look like a bunch of people just marching on an entrenched fortress, but we actually used them to keep the heat on a lot of people indirectly. We demanded to get in to see the judges, which we knew they wouldn't do, and the U.S. marshals threw people out, dragged people down the stairs and blocked them from going into a public federal building. We used that to accuse Dick Lugar and Dan Coats of being part of what obviously was a Republican conspiracy to benefit these judges and their friends. In addition to the Kanne connection, we had discovered that the deputy director at the GSA was a guy named John Hiler, who was a former Republican congressman from the Fort Wayne area, and well connected within the Indiana Republican establishment. We pushed these questionable behind the scenes connections to the point that the Times of Northwest Indiana, which is a Republican newspaper and generally unsympathetic with ordinary working people, began to question the judges' behavior and who was backing them. So one by one, the judges were losing their support base.
"Our position was that if the GSA used objective criteria, the downtown site would be the obvious choice."
Reis' sales job meant that he was often on the road, and he remembers that he would plan his trips to fit with the campaign schedule during this period. "I would leave at 3 a.m. and get back by 9 p.m., and I wouldn't even go home. I'd go straight to the office. I can't tell you how many dozens of times I did that. We'd have diagrams on the chalkboards of the power relationships, and how things should be and what was changing. We were strategizing constantly."
The GSA released a preliminary study of the potential sites in early August, which made a strong case against the downtown site. The Chamber of Commerce wasted no time denouncing it to the press. According to Dennis Terry, the report had gross omissions and errors, including considering the Goldblatt's building a potential historical site even though it was clearly slated for demolition. The analysis of local traffic patterns was simply wrong. The Borman site was a flood plain, not currently suitable for building.
ICO members planned a huge rally for the last week of August, calculated to drive home the point that the entire city was unified behind the downtown site.
"People didn't buy it for a second that the politicians had no influence over this decision, that they had to remain neutral," emphasizes Scully. "Over 1,000 people came to the rally the last week of August, and they were unified and they were mad.
"The downtown businesses paid for the rally. Everyone could see from the GSA report that the process was not objective. The judges said, 'One of the reasons we can't be downtown is there are no restaurants.' In evaluating the area around downtown Hammond, the GSA didn't include the Calumet City side, even though the site was on the border. Most of the restaurants are on the Calumet City side of the line, just a couple of blocks away. There were other things, too. So the process was skewed."
"I've never seen a Chamber of Commerce participate in a rally the way we did on Hohman Avenue in August," says Dennis Terry. "Don Harle, our president, spoke, along with some other Chamber members. Businesses let their employees go to the rally by the Goldblatt's site. Everyone was behind it."
"The rally was great," recalls Father Rick. "The mayor had set up a little stage, and everyone asked their employees to attend. It was a luncheon rally, and they served hot dogs. The churches all asked our people to come out. It was an inspiration. I think the business people couldn't believe all those people were supporting downtown development."
"It was exciting," remembers Alexander. "I was one of the speakers. It was mostly common folks like me coming to the podium. So many people had come out to support us. Why were the judges opposing us, refusing to talk to us? They thought we were nobody. That attitude is what ticked people off."
All the local political people were there, the mayor and the city council. Visclosky was not there. Scully recalls that the ICO had planned some theatrics.
"During the program, one of the ICO leaders, a church leader, was going to get up and attack the report for being biased, and he was going to say, 'This is such a piece of trash that we are going to set it on fire and burn it in front of all of you right now.' And we had it saturated with lighter fluid and he had a match. But when he got up there in front of all these people, he chickened out. Instead, he threw the report down and kicked it, and said, 'We don't even recognize this piece of garbage.' And the people were wildly applauding. I was standing next to the mayor of Hammond, Tom McDermott, this respectable Republican, and I said, god damn it, he was supposed to set it on fire. And the mayor said, 'Wait till I get up there.' He walked up and said, 'Move aside, this thing's such a piece of trash, I'm going to burn it.' And the crowd went wild. He waved it around in flames and threw it down and kicked it. The whole event just galvanized the hell out of people."
McDermott went on to announce that if the federal government tried to build the courthouse on the Borman site, he would try to find the biggest, smokiest industries to occupy the rest of the vacant land there.
Through a well-positioned Republican sympathizer, the ICO obtained tickets to an exclusive Dan Coats fundraiser. The plan was to embarrass Coats with a public confrontation. The evening before the event, Coats' staff asked them to hold off a day, that good news was forthcoming. The next afternoon, Coats finally came out in support of the downtown site, the first federal elected official to breach the wall of claimed neutrality.
Finally, a week after the huge rally, the GSA made its announcement: the courthouse would be built at Douglas and Hohman, four blocks from the Goldblatt's site in downtown Hammond. ICO members felt that Coats' break had been key, and that he was able to talk to Hiler at the GSA and engineer the change.
Celebrations were launched, and everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief. Work was to begin in 1994, and construction was to be completed by the end of 1996. Father Rick publicly declared victory on behalf of the ICO.
Exactly a week later, Judges Moody and Lozano released a three-page statement declaring the site "totally unacceptable" and announcing that they would refuse to move to the new courthouse if it was built there.
Round Two: "Hammond has a mess on its hands."
Needless to say, everyone was stunned.
Through a spokesperson, P. Gerald Thacker, chief of the space and facilities division of the administrative office of the U.S. courts, the judges blasted the site as too far from the expressway, lacking in restaurants and other facilities, crime-ridden, without sufficient space for parking, and just entirely unsuitable. Thacker stated that he saw no way the GSA could force the judges to move. "It so happens that we're not an executive agency, but a third branch of government. So there is no arbiter." (Hammond Times, 9/11/92)
The GSA declared itself to be stumped. It would stick by its site selection, but did not know how to proceed beyond that. The situation was unprecedented.
ICO members were outraged. Tom Reis told the Hammond Times, "Two federal judges, who are ironically sworn to uphold the law, now see fit to hold the entire system upů They're lawful until it doesn't suit them." (9/11/92)
Upping the ante, Rep. Visclosky announced that the whole project was in jeopardy, because the House Appropriations committee would be revisiting its funding decisions that week, and the Hammond project was unlikely to make the final cut if the site remained in dispute. Visclosky and Lugar both told the media that if the project was not approved that week, it would be many years--if ever--before funds would be available again.
The tensions played out in the local media and beyond. Thacker told the Hammond Times that the judges were not bluffing. The local newspapers editorialized that the judges should withdraw their objections. Various spokespeople for the Interfaith Community Organization blasted Moody and Lozano and branded them "childish bullies." Dennis Terry and the Chamber of Commerce called the situation "horrible." Visclosky met with the judges, but told the Washington Post that they "appeared unmoved." The Post went on to say, "Hammond, in short, has a mess on its hands, and the rhetoric from politicians and the community is getting accordingly nasty." (9/16/92)
McDermott and Visclosky desperately tried to work out a compromise to save the project. The Woodmar Shopping Center site, closer to the Borman expressway but not as isolated from the rest of Hammond, was suggested as a middle ground. The ICO opposed any compromise, and so did the judges.
On Saturday, Sept. 19, the Chicago Tribune declared, "Courthouse project in Hammond killed," and stated that Visclosky had heard from a House subcommittee that the funding was gone.
But the ICO members had never trusted Visclosky, and many of them felt this was one last deception on his part. "No way these judges were going to allow this to happen," comments Scully. "No way Visclosky was going to allow this to happen. It was a ruse."
At an ICO emergency executive committee meeting, no one was ready to give up.
"A lot of people, including some of my parishioners, were taking the position of, 'See, you can't fight city hall,' " says Father Rick. "Some of our allies were all for the Woodmar compromise. But the ones that were closest to it, like I was, and the executive committee, we vowed to continue fighting. In fact, we made a spur-of-the-moment decision that we should go to Washington and find out for ourselves whether the money was gone or not. About six or seven of us left Sunday evening in a van."
"I called off work for two days to go," recalls Reis. "They didn't have to ask me twice. The leadership was like lightning in a bottle at this point. We all trusted each other, and we were ready to go the distance. It was guerrilla warfare. They never expected us to show up overnight in Washington."
It is one of Scully's more vivid memories. "On Monday at six o'clock in the morning, a van full of leaders, pastors, lay leaders, black, white, Latino, showed up at Union Station, went in the bathrooms, changed their clothes, put their best lobbying clothes on, and went to the Capitol. We showed up at the chairman of Appropriations' office before Visclosky even knew we were there."
"All the senators and congressmen we spoke with told us, 'I don't know why you're talking to us, talk to your congressman,' " says Reis. " 'If he wants it funded, it's going to be funded.' "
At four in the afternoon, says Father Rick, they went to see Visclosky. "That's when he found out we were there. He went nuts. He shook his finger and he said, 'This is a done deal, the funding is gone.' And he pointed at each of us that were there and he said, 'You can't change it, you can't change it, you can't change it, even I can't change it.' But that just wasn't true."
"So for a period of time," says Reis, "Pete Visclosky became our number one enemy, and we became his number one enemy. We had a series of actions on him, which drove him absolutely crazy."
First, they produced and distributed a flier featuring a wicked caricature of the congressman as Peter Pan and suggesting that he had lost touch with reality. "Help us to help Pete snap out of it! Remind him he's not in Never-Never Land, he's in Northwest Indiana!"
Next, they sent out letters to all of his major donors, saying that they were concerned for his mental health and wanted to discuss his behavior.
But they didn't limit their attacks to Visclosky. "We believe the judges have overstepped their bounds in attempting to control the General Services Administration in the site-selection process and that in itself may be grounds for investigation," declared Father Rick. He stopped just short of calling for their impeachment.
At this point, in fact, the ICO printed up "Impeach Rudy & Moody" bumper stickers and got ready to distribute them.
"We eventually won this fight because we weren't afraid to use our power," says Reis. "Our allies in political office and in business wanted the courthouse, but they weren't ready to take any risks. The people won this, because we weren't going to give up, we took risks, and we had enough people to force the politicians to support us."
The ICO held a 1,500-person rally on Sunday, Nov. 2, to underline its determination to continue the fight.
Round Three: Pressing on to victory
There appeared to be a lull over the winter, although behind the scenes, the ICO was applying pressure in every way it knew how.
The judges were also maneuvering. They organized a unanimous vote by the federal judicial conference calling for a repeal of the 1978 law requiring the courthouse to be rebuilt in the same city, and suggesting that a site could be found elsewhere in "Lake or Porter counties."
The next day, Visclosky declared that he would revive efforts to secure funds for the Hammond site, and that his new position as vice chair of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over funding for federal buildings, combined with the presence of a Democrat in the White House, would enable him to secure the money needed. He denounced the judicial conference as "nothing more than 'the club' approving an idea by two of its members. It has no legal weight." (Post-Tribune, 3/19/93)
Unwilling to give up, the judges announced a poll of the Northwest Indiana chapter of the Federal Bar Association, to be conducted by the association itself. The judges met with several attorneys, who began advocating for sites outside Hammond, including Gary, Merrillville and elsewhere.
The Lake County Bar Association was somehow left out of the meeting, perhaps because its president, Jim Wieser, was sympathetic to the position of the Interfaith organization. Bellamy, from Bank Calumet, had been soliciting the support of the association, of which he was a member, for a long time, although they had not formally taken a position.
Only 366 attorneys out of 1,070 responded to the poll; not surprisingly, 70 percent indicated support for the judges' position. The Hammond Times chided Judges Moody and Lozano for lobbying attorneys who were appearing before them in court, saying that it raised ethical questions.
Meanwhile, Visclosky called on the GSA to purchase the land at Hohman and Douglas.
As if enough outrageous things had not yet occurred, P. Gerald Thacker, who had served as spokesperson for the judges the previous fall, was suddenly appointed acting commissioner of public building services for the GSA, overseeing all construction and location of federal buildings.
The conflict of interest was immediately denounced by the ICO leadership, Visclosky and the Hammond Times. Within two weeks, Thacker had recused himself from the decision.
One week later, on April 23, 1993, the GSA announced that it would proceed immediately with construction at Douglas and Hohman.
"The ordinary people won this victory."
Many community organizing campaigns take unexpected twists and turns, and take longer to win than seems reasonable, and this one was no exception.
Ground was finally broken for the courthouse. As of the end of 2001, the building was almost ready for occupancy. Rumor has it that the judges have caused much of the delay by fussing over every detail, right down to the way the wood paneling was installed.
Downtown Hammond has seen a clear revival, with numerous new projects bringing jobs into the area.
In the intervening years, the Interfaith Citizens Organization has merged with similar organizations in East Chicago and Gary to form the Interfaith Federation of Northwest Indiana. Together they have taken on gangs and drugs, with a series of candlelight vigils outside drug houses in each of the cities. They are currently engaged in a major campaign to change the face of public transit in the region by creating routes between the older cities along the lake, where many low- and moderate-income workers live, and the largely middle-class suburbs to the south, where most of the new jobs are being created. In the face of major opposition, they demanded the creation of a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to develop bus routes across city lines and across racial and economic lines. A major victory came in December 2001, when the Lake County Council voted to create the RTA.
The Rev. Cheryl Rivera, associate pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, became board president after Father Rick. "Community organizing gives our faith feet. Organized people can rise up and cross the divides our society creates. The courthouse fight had a big impact on the Interfaith organization. We would not have had the audacity to take on regional transportation had we not had some of those early victories like the courthouse. We are continually building momentum and building courage to take on the bigger battles, and to overcome the racial and economic divides in this region." Rivera was elected board president of the National Leadership Assembly of the Gamaliel Foundation, the national organizing network of which the Interfaith Federation is a part.
Paul Scully left the Federation in 2000 and moved to New Jersey, where he is a union organizer. He was replaced as executive director by Cindy Bush.
Scully says it will probably take another generation before you can talk to people in Hammond and not hear about how they and their churches and the businesses and the mayor triumphed in the struggle for the heart of downtown Hammond.
The effort left its mark on the people who participated as much as it did on the city itself.
Banker Cal Bellamy remembers it as a beautiful moment. "I keep telling the various leaders of our government and the business community that based on that example, we have to keep our contact strong with the Federation because if we ever want to accomplish something, just like with this building, we can't do it alone. The Federation uses some confrontational tactics. But I would say that we keep coming back to this building because it's the best example we have of all working together. The thought still sustains me today that if we can get together, nothing can stop us."
Dennis Terry moved from the Chamber of Commerce to chief of staff under Mayor Duane Dedelow, the city council member chosen to replace Tom McDermott when he stepped down as mayor.
Terry says that the presence of a lively community organization holds the mayor, council and the city departments accountable. "You've got to be out there doing the right things, and then having the neighborhoods and community people on your side can help you get things done. People have to have high expectations for their city and beyond. Then we can really get things done."
Father Rick was asked to move to a suburban church in the diocese, but turned it down. He's now at St. John Bosco in Hammond, and is president of the regional Interfaith Federation, having replaced Rev. Rivera when she was elected to the national post.
"The people in my parish are proud of what we accomplished. The strongest thing we have is that we don't go away. We're still going to be there next year, and we'll be there the year after. We're going to win. That's what I learned from the courthouse. We're taking that lesson into our fight for better transit so people can get to jobs in the suburbs. And we keep looking for new ways to build the coalition.
"It used to be that the name of my game was basically, if you stay out of the way of the Bishop, he won't think to give you any new jobs. After I got involved with the Interfaith organization, we had the Bishop out to a pastors' meeting. Toward the end, he said, 'I have to go home and contemplate what's happened to Father Orlinski. You know, all of a sudden, he went from a quiet, unassuming person to the vibrant president of this organization.'
"Right now, I'd have difficulty considering my ministry without being involved in work for justice."
Tom Reis left his job as a paint salesman to work for Mayor Dedelow as his administrative assistant, then became the superintendent of parks and recreation, as well as the mayor's liaison to the Interfaith organization. "Everything I've done since that organizing campaign has been influenced by what I learned. Paul Scully got me in touch with things that were important to me. It's almost spiritual. I made good money as a paint salesman, but my worst nightmare was to see my headstone read 'Paint Salesman.' That would mean nothing to me.
"The ordinary people won this victory. We built the power and took the risks. It's politics, and it's not a dirty word. It's what citizenship is about. It's hard work, but I think we all have an obligation to participate. It's also one of the most exciting things I've ever done. It was a privilege to be a part of it."