News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 18, 2008

NEW: Burke argues he did question Bennett’s eligibility prior to election

Also says special election would be a Burke-Bennett rematch

TERRE HAUTE — Former Terre Haute mayor Kevin Burke says he did question Mayor Duke Bennett’s eligibility under the Little Hatch Act prior to last year’s mayoral election.

Burke has called a news conference for 2 p.m. today at his Terre Haute home, where he says he will let Bennett’s own words in sworn testimony make his point.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled recently that Bennett violated the Little Hatch Act, which limits the political activity of federal employees, when he ran for mayor. However, the court faulted Burke for not raising the question until after the election was over.

The court ruled neither man should be mayor and that a special election should be conducted to fill the position.

“They split the hair on that … I filed no official complaint,” Burke said in a phone interview this morning. “I want Duke to tell my story at 2 o’clock.”

Burke said there is no chance he plans to withdraw his legal action. “Absolutely not,” he said.

Since losing the election by 110 votes in 2007, Burke has filed lawsuits asking courts to disqualify Bennett from the 2007 election for violating the Little Hatch Act. Burke also has asked that he be declared the winner of the election and returned to the mayor’s office.

Burke believes that he would be the likely Democratic Party candidate in a special election for mayor. In calling for a special election, the appeals court cited Indiana law that excludes candidates who were not on the original ballot, he said.

“As we understand [the court’s] instructions, they have ordered a complete re-do of the fall election between Burke and Bennett,” Burke said.

The challenge of winning a special election would be “monumental,” Burke said. “After a year of being trashed, it would be monumental.”

Bennett worked as director of operations at the Hamilton Center prior to becoming mayor. The Hamilton Center receives federal money for its Head Start program. Because Bennett sometimes signed work orders for Head Start-related projects, he violated the Hatch Act, the appeals court ruled last week.

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