Chesterton Tribune



Chesterton Republican voters to decide two primary races

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The Republican Party has slated two contested races in the Chesterton municipal primary election on Tuesday, May 5.

Jim Ton (incumbent) and Jeff Trout are seeking the nomination to the 1st District seat on the Town Council; Nathan Cobbs and Kevin Jakel, the nomination to the open 4th District seat.

By some strange quirk of political magnetic attraction, both races feature candidates who are well paired to run against each other.

1st District, Town Council

Jim Ton vs. Jeff Trout

The premier race pits two highly accomplished, long-standing public servants--and until a few months ago, colleagues--against each other. Only one is an incumbent. But the other one used to be.

Jim Ton is the incumbent. He’s had the 1st District seat since 2004, when elected to it by caucus to fill a mid-term vacancy. Ton completed that term and won two more, in 2007 and 2011.

Jeff Trout was an incumbent. In 2007 he was elected to the 2nd District seat and was re-elected to it in 2011. But in December 2014, Trout resigned his seat after he and his wife, Bonnie, bought a house outside the 2nd District--and in the 1st District.

Then, when the filing season opened in January, Trout threw his hat in the ring to challenge Ton for the 1st District nomination.

Ton and Trout served seven collegial years together, both on the Town Council and on the Redevelopment Commission. Indeed, Ton and Trout continue to serve together on the Redevelopment Commission, to which Trout was appointed as citizen-member after he resigned his 2nd District seat. They rarely, if ever, split-voted, and whatever disagreements they might have had over policy were never publicly broached. Each has run a campaign respectful of the other. Each is seeking the Republican nomination based on his own accomplishments and interests. And each has a quite distinctive appeal to make to the voters.

Ton’s priority is folks’ quality of life. His understanding of that term, however, is expansive, what he calls a “global view of the quality of life.” According to that view, not just the town’s recreational amenities but its nuts-and-bolts infrastructure can enrich a resident’s life. With that in mind, Ton has championed projects which would make living in Chesterton safer, more productive, less sedentary, easier on the eye.

Those projects include Phase II of the Westchester-Liberty Trail, that section of the 1100N sidewalk extending from the Rosehill Estates subdivision to Fifth Street.

Ton is also green and was a member of the local group which in 2012 proposed a not-for-profit approach to rehabilitating the Pavilion at the Indiana Dunes State Park beach, and has publicly voiced his opposition to the for-profit venture which includes the construction of a banquet facility next to the Pavilion.

Ton is an active member as well of the Northwestern Regional Planning Commission’s Executive Committee, serving this year as NIRPC Vice-Chair. During Ton’s tenure at NIRPC, the commission has awarded nearly $1.3 million in grants to the Town of Chesterton, by far the largest part of that sum for Phase II of the Westchester-Liberty Trail.

Trout’s priority is economic development. Trout is a businessman--the owner for 32 years of Trout Glass & Mirror--and it was his experience in construction and land development which first landed him a seat on the Advisory Plan Commission, in 1998. The Plan Commission promptly appointed him to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Trout says that he learned a lot on the job while serving on both. But he may have brought most to the table as a planner, during those years especially when the Plan Commission was gestating the various PUD ordinances for the Lake Erie Land Company’s Coffee Creek Center.

Trout will probably be best remembered, however, for two things. He was a driver in the creation of the town’s first tax increment financing district, which has captured millions of dollars in property taxes for use in infrastructure projects, including two in particular: the South Calumet Business Distinct and the Ind. 49 Utility Corridor.

And Trout played an integral role in the successful effort to recruit Urschel Laboratories Inc. to Coffee Creek Center. Worth noting: the town incentivized that move with a kind of tax abatement which depends precisely on the TIF structure advocated by Trout more than 15 years ago.

The Democrat Party has not to this point slated a candidate to face the winner of the 1st District primary.

4th District, Town Council

Nathan Cobbs vs. Kevin Jakel

Nathan Cobbs and Kevin Jakel have a great deal in common.

They both have young families. And they both make a living in management.

Cobbs is a trust officer with Harbor Trust & Investment Management, where he’s responsible for administering his clients’ investment portfolios.

Jakel has spent a quarter of a century in food-service management and currently manages the Tippecanoe Place restaurant in South Bend.

Both believe that their respective backgrounds have prepared them for the challenge of public service. Cobbs vows to use his analytical skills “to make the optimal financial decisions” for the town. Jakel says he’s learned a lot about people, has learned that “it’s all about people.”

And in both candidates’ campaigns economic development has become the chief issue.

Cobbs hails Urschel’s re-location to Chesterton and cites it as an example of the sort of development he favors, one in which a corporation’s values reflect the community’s own. Other developers--whatever or whoever they might be--must share those values as well, Cobbs says.

Jakel, on the other hand, wants to see the Ind. 49 corridor, south of the Indiana Toll Road, become home to “larger, regional businesses,” the “kinds of companies that bring employment.” But Jakel has also cast his eye on the “uniqueness of the Downtown” and sees opportunities there for more small-business development of the sort likely to attract visitors from out of town.

In one material way--or maybe it’s not material at all--Cobbs and Jakel differ. Cobbs was born and raised in Chesterton and then returned here after college. Jakel was born and raised in the Southwest and recently moved his family here from Albuquerque, N.M.

Cobbs believes that his lifetime in town would bring added value to his service on the Town Council, that his knowledge of the community and its people would give him an immediate leg-up, that as a policy-maker he would be guided by Chesterton’s heritage as he looks to the future.

In response, Jakel says that he and his wife chose Chesterton for its values, that they found “its reputation as a close-knit community” appealing, that the Midwest has a substance wholly lacking in the Southwest. In any case, Jakel says, his very newness means that he would bring a fresh eye and perspective to municipal government.

The winner of this race will face Democrat Scott McCord in the general election.

Posted 5/4/2015