VALPARAISO — It could be a while before an experienced Republican steps forward to run next year to represent Northwest Indiana in Congress, now that longtime U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, is retiring at the end of his term.
That's the opinion of Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas. Like Visclosky, he opted out of an almost certain reelection victory this year to pursue other interests, after 16 years as the Republican leader of Porter County's second-most populous city.
"This situation came up very abruptly, and I think everybody is just trying to get their arms around it, and that includes the Republican candidates and those who might be interested," Costas said. "There's a lot of chatter."
Much of that chatter seems to center on Costas as Republicans seek a quality candidate for the first open-seat race since 1984 in the 1st Congressional District, which contains all of Lake and Porter counties and the Michigan City area in LaPorte County.
"My position right now is that I don't have any official interest in it," Costas said.
"I see the important value of being involved in government, and I've enjoyed it. I hope to continue being of value to citizens in that arena in the days ahead. What that means, I really don't know at this point."
Costas insisted he only would make a decision concerning a congressional run, or a campaign for state office, after consulting with many people to fully understand the opportunity and the challenges.
"That's just the way I'm wired," Costas said. "Whether I have minimal or no interest in something, I think it's important for conversations to be had because important decisions like this need to be made with lots of input."
Costas said a chief concern is the uncompetitive nature of the 1st District, which never has elected a Republican to the U.S. House since it first was centered on Northwest Indiana in 1933.
Indeed, Costas' father, then-state Sen. William "Bill" Costas, R-Valparaiso, was defeated in 1986 by Visclosky, 73% to 26%, and again in 1990, 66% to 34%.
Concerning the current district map, Jon Costas said, "At best it's an uphill battle. It is very difficult. It was designed, really, to make it a Democratic district, and so whether or not any Republican can win that is the initial question and it is a formidable task for sure."
"At the same time, politics are changing. It's a very dynamic time. But it's an important election for the people of Northwest Indiana, and Pete's a senior legislator. So you need somebody that can help the Region galvanize because there's a great future for us. A lot of good things are happening. There's a lot of potential for us."
Costas suggested the right GOP candidate might be Bill Hanna, who, as president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, has worked closely with Visclosky, particularly on securing federal funding for expansions of the South Shore Line.
"I think the world of Bill Hanna, and I think he's just a great leader," Costas said.
"There's very few people that have worked in all the communities like he has, and he has certainly made great progress with regard to transportation and other issues. He's on the governor's leadership team, and I know he's had an excellent working relationship with Pete."
Hanna said he was flattered by the compliments, but quickly added, "I haven't thought about" running for Congress.
"I take it as an affirmation that we are headed in the right direction as a Region and that our projects are making a difference," Hanna said.
"I am focused on helping where I can to create opportunities for fellow Northwest Indiana residents to access more and better-paying jobs and to improve the quality of life in all of our communities."
To that end, Hanna said he plans to continue working with Visclosky, Indiana's U.S. senators, Gov. Eric Holcomb and "the broad coalition of bipartisan leaders we have across the Region and state" to advance the South Shore Line's West Lake and Double Track projects to the construction stage.
On the Democratic side of the ticket, two experienced leaders — Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and North Township Trustee Frank J. Mrvan — announced Wednesday they're seeking to succeed Visclosky.
At least a half-dozen more Northwest Indiana Democrats also are known or believed to be considering a run.