News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 18, 2008

Burke regrets not double-checking rivals' eligibility

Burke says he offered deal to drop litigation

TERRE HAUTE — Former Terre Haute Mayor Kevin Burke says he made a private inquiry into then-candidate Duke Bennett’s eligibility to run for mayor before the November 2007 election. In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, the former mayor also said he regrets not making a stronger inquiry.

Bennett won the mayor’s race by 110 votes over Burke, who then challenged Bennett’s candidacy under the Little Hatch Act, a law that limits the political activity of people who receive federal funding. While running for mayor, Bennett was employed by the Hamilton Center, which receives federal funding for its Head Start program.

Prior to the election in 2007, Burke said he privately asked Galen Goode, the CEO of Hamilton Center, whether Bennett’s candidacy for mayor was a problem under the Hatch Act and was told there was no problem.

“In hindsight, what I regret now is not double-checking the answer I was given,” Burke said in a news conference in his home Tuesday afternoon. “I readily admit … Kevin Burke made a grave mistake by believing what he was told and not double-checking. I believed what I was told. I trusted the fact that Hamilton Center and its employees were in compliance. That was a mistake.”

Burke called Tuesday’s news conference, which took place in his family dining room, in part to respond to criticism that he should have challenged Bennett’s eligibility prior to the election, not after.

“For a year all I’ve heard is that I’m a bad loser and I’m this terrible guy because I waited until after the election, when I didn’t,” Burke said.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled last week that Bennett did violate the Hatch Act, but it also ruled that Burke was not eligible to retake the mayor’s office because voters were not aware of Bennett’s ineligible status. The court also faulted Burke and Bennett for not dealing with the Hatch Act questions before the election.

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