HAMMOND | Opponents of the Hammond mayor think they have found a problem with his re-election campaign big enough to drive an RV through.
City Councilman Homero "Chico" Hinojosa Jr. and John A. Nauracy Sr., an East Chicago towing firm owner known to WJOB radio listeners as "Lefty," are questioning whether Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has misrepresented his spending on recreational vehicles.
Nauracy said he can refute a McDermott campaign finance report that inaccurately lists a payment to an Albany, Ind., RV dealership that he discovered this week hasn't done business with the mayor. Nauracy has suggested at least one RV rental might be connected to one of the mayor's family vacations.
"That is absolutely false," McDermott said Wednesday.
Hinojosa provided The Times with a photograph of a recreational vehicle McDermott's campaign posted last year that Hinojosa believes casts doubt on the recreational vehicle's true use. McDermott said the photo in fact helps prove his case the RV was legitimately used for party business.
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The Lake County elections board is set next week to review these allegations. The board already has dismissed several of Nauracy's claims as not being election law violations.
McDermott, who must defeat Hinojosa in the May 5 Democratic primary to win a fourth term in office, said their allegations are false and only fit for the RV dump station.
The mayor said the RVs transport him and select supporters to the annual Indiana Democratic state convention in downstate French Lick when he conducts party business.
Hammond Fire Chief Jeff Smith, active in the mayor's re-election campaign, said Wednesday he personally rents the mayor's RVs from Illinois, not Albany, Ind.
However, Nauracy said McDermott's 2014 annual campaign finance report lists $2,964 paid to "Terry's RV, 410 E. Walnut St., Albany, Ind 47320," for "RV rental - French Lick."
Nauracy said he drove earlier this week to Albany -- north of Indianapolis, and spoke with the owner of Terry's RV, who denied renting an RV to McDermott or anyone else.
Charles Terry, whose family owns the business said Wednesday, "We haven't rented anything to anybody since 2004. We only sell RVs and with few exceptions they are towed RVs, not motorized."
Hinojosa said he shared with The Times a photo posted last year by McDermott showing a motorized Coachman RV with the caption, "McPAC party is rallying, not too late to swing by."
Hinojosa said Wednesday, "The picture looks more like a campground or a park for picnics. Was this at a convention? Is the campaign report true and accurate? Was the RV really used for official business of the Democratic party?"
McDermott said, "That photo is of the RV that we've rented. It was at French Lick in the conference parking lot. We hosted a tailgate from the RV for anyone at the convention who wanted to come by. Chico's photo is part of my own evidence to support what I'm saying."
The mayor and Smith said they cannot explain the reference to the Albany, Ind., business. Smith said, "I rent it from Terry's RV Center in Frankfort, Ill. I've been doing it every year for at least eight years. It's a 30-foot RV that holds eight to 10 people.
"They go golfing two or three days, then to the convention where the mayor has to speak. We had a little party outside with it last year and about 40 to 50 people showed up. We've tried to rent it in Indiana, but no one around here does that for the RV we want," Smith said.
Nauracy said, "Then why did they list the Terry's RV in Albany and mislead everyone with their 2014, 2013 and 2009 reports?"
McDermott has said Nauracy is filing the complaint as revenge for not getting business from the city and that Nauracy shouldn't be trusted, since Nauracy has a fraud conviction.
The mayor said Wednesday, "This just tells you that Chico and Lefty are working together."