By Al Kamen
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Tough news last night in the closely watched Republican primary in Indiana's 2nd Congressional District.
Loop favorite Tony Zirkle, who had lost two primaries to former congressman Chris Chocola-- albeit with 30 percent of the vote against incumbent Chocola in 2006 -- was soundly defeated.
Zirkle, whose top campaign issue is opposition to pornography and prostitution, finished a distant third behind Goshen, Ind., businessman and GOP establishment candidate Luke Puckett and Culver, Ind., newspaper delivery man Joseph Roush. Puckett won with 48 percent of the vote; Zirkle drew 16 percent.
Unclear why he did so badly this time. Maybe it was that outreach effort April 20 when he spoke at an Adolf Hitler birthday celebration sponsored by the National Socialist Workers Party, also known as the Nazis.
In response to a question from the Michigan City, Ind., News-Dispatch on whether he is a Nazi, or sympathizes with them or with white supremacists, Zirkle said he didn't "know enough about the group to either favor it or oppose it."
He reportedly also told a local radio station he didn't think all the 50 or so people at the party were necessarily Nazis, because the group's name isn't "Nazi" but National Socialist Workers Party. Apparently clues such as the large swastikas or that picture of der Fuehrer right behind him didn't arouse suspicion. (Thought it was Charlie Chaplin?)
Zirkle said his appearance at the birthday celebration in Chicago -- which also featured a cake that said "Happy 119th" -- was in keeping with his pledge that he would speak to anyone who wanted to hear him.
In this case, he told the News-Dispatch, the Nazis wanted him to discuss the effects of pornography and prostitution on young white women and girls.
The party "was interested in the targeting of white people for prostitution," he said, noting that he agrees with the party's view that trafficking of "young white women should be stopped."
And the Northwest Indiana Times quoted Zirkle as saying in his defense of his appearance: "I'll speak before any group that invites me. . . . I've spoken on an African American radio station in Atlanta."
Maybe the birthday gambit reduced his vote total?
Don't Do Any Environment Stuff
Loop Fans know to be highly skeptical of those political announcements that a top administration official is resigning "to spend more time with the family," or maybe to "return to his first love," coin collecting or weight lifting. These phrases are almost always euphemisms for getting the boot or being squeezed out.
But there was even greater skepticism Thursday at the Environmental Protection Agency when deputy administrator Marcus Peacock circulated this e-mail to senior officials at 5:06 p.m. about the resignation of EPA's administrator in the Chicago region.
Subject: Region 5 Personnel Announcement
As of this afternoon, Thursday, May 1, 2008, Mary Gade has resigned her position as Regional Administrator for EPA Region 5. I want to thank Mary for her many years of service to the people and the mission of EPA.
She has worked hard to help protect human health and our environment.
Mary plans to return to private life and spend time with her family.
Bharat Mathur, the Deputy Regional Administrator, will assume the responsibilities of Acting Regional Administrator. I thank Bharat for his continued service and leadership.
Problem was, the e-mail came 1 1/2 hours after the Chicago Tribune posted a story online quoting Gade, who said she had been forced out of her job because of her aggressive stand on dioxin flowing from Dow Chemical's Midland, Mich., plant into Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron.
Gade said two political appointees at headquarters told her to quit or be fired by June 1. The EPA confirmed she was leaving but declined to discuss a personnel matter.
Gade, appointed by President Bush 18 months ago, told the Tribune: "There is no question this is about Dow. I stand behind what I did and what my staff did. I'm proud of what we did."
Gade had been trying to force Dow to clean up several inland hot spots contaminated by the cancer-causing chemical. She told the Tribune that top aides to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson repeatedly questioned her actions against the chemical giant.
Next thing you know, she "plans to return to private life and spend time with her family."Too Sore to Answer Questions
Speaking of administrator Johnson, he was scheduled to appear at a hearing tomorrow of Rep. Henry Waxman's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, but that has been postponed because Johnson's got some back problems.
No, it was not from carrying heavy golf bags or luggage on his important two-week tour of Australia last month. He had plenty of staff help for that.
EPA officials say Johnson had a "recurrence of ongoing back issues stemming from a car accident years ago." Something like this happened another time he was to appear for a ritual pummeling -- which is what happens when any administration official appears before Waxman (D-Calif.). No new date for a hearing has been set.
Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), whom Johnson stiffed to go to Australia, is still lying in wait for him if he survives Waxman.Housing Crisis Hits Home
You might have thought things would have calmed down at the Department of Housing and Urban Development with the departure of former secretary Alphonso Jackson, who's under investigation by HUD's inspector general and the Justice Department for various alleged misdeeds.
But no. Now employees in the Office of Policy Development and Research are unhappy about an order from Assistant Secretary Darlene Williams to move out of the building for several months while their eighth-floor offices are gutted and renovated into smaller cubicles.
An employee union poll showed overwhelming opposition to the plan, which includes absorbing 49 employees from the general counsel's office who are being moved in from rented office space three blocks away.
The key objection, we're hearing, is that this particular move, scheduled for next month, comes at a time when the economists and housing policy specialists in that office -- these are the people who work on mortgage market matters related to HUD's regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- are really, really busy dealing with the biggest mortgage mess since the Depression.
HUD spokesman Jerry Brown said the dispute "is unfortunately a case where a few of our employees don't understand the economics involved," and that HUD will save $1 million a year in rental costs by consolidating.
This is not "something cooked up by" Williams, but rather part of a larger "10-year plan, approved by Congress," that will save the Department $48 million over 10 years, Brown said.