A Valiant Effort

Hoosiers should applaud State Senator Fady Qaddoura.

Let me start this post with a disclosure: now-State Senator Qaddoura was a student of mine, and I also served on his PhD dissertation committee. I knew him as an excellent, very thoughtful student and a truly good human being. When he was elected to the state Senate, I was delighted; I knew he would bring both compassion and intellect to the job.

That said, let me also assure readers that–even if someone I didn’t know or someone I actively disliked was the lawmaker addressing Indiana’s truly awful landlord/tenant laws– I would be equally supportive.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle recently reported on Qaddoura’s most recent efforts.

Legislation allowing renters to withhold rent from landlords who don’t make critical habitability repairs, and expanding tax credits for renters, holds potential in Indiana, according to a report released Wednesday as lawmakers ready bills for the 2023 legislative session.

Housing constitutes the “civic fabrics of our communities,” said Indiana Sen. Fady Qaddoura, D-Indianapolis, who spoke at the report’s unveiling in the Indiana Statehouse.

The referenced report was produced by the student-run Student Policy Network of the University of Notre Dame. It pointed out what real estate lawyers ( I was once one of them) have long known–that Indiana law doesn’t just  marginally favor landlords, it is significantly overprotective of them, shielding absentee owners and slumlords from the most basic responsibilities of property ownership.

Indiana is one of only five states that lack what are called “rent escrow” laws. Such laws allow tenants to temporarily pay their rent to a third party (such as a court) acting as an escrow agent when landlords have been notified of, and failed to address, serious problems of habitability.

The report included comparisons between several other states and recommended that Indiana follow Minnesota’s highly detailed model, which includes specific scenarios, legal protections for all parties and a clear-cut definition of “essential” rental functions.

Qaddoura attempted to establish a rent withholding policy with 2021’s Senate Bill 230, but it died in a House committee controlled by Republicans. He’s taking a second stab at it next session, albeit with some tweaks.

“After further discussions with the chairman of the Local Government Committee, Sen. Jim Buck, it was clear and apparent to me that there’s hesitation within his caucus to support such ideas,” Qaddoura told the Capital Chronicle. “So we spent the summer looking at different models.”

The Capital Chronicle article referenced the recent saga of  New Jersey-based JPC Properties, owner of several Indianapolis housing complexes in which tenants have faced “utility shutoffs, lawsuits and ownership changes over dangerous living conditions and rent payment mismanagement.”

“These are individuals who, as recently as a couple of months ago, were banned from working or operating in the state of Indiana or managing apartment complexes in Indiana for at least the next seven years. These are individuals who steal money from tenants without paying their utilities,” said Qaddoura, who lambasted what he called reluctance by General Assembly leaders to “go after criminals.”

Jessica Preddie, a case worker at shelter Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis, described one family who couldn’t get its landlord to address mold in its unit, to steep personal and financial consequences. One family member was hospitalized at least three times over a period of eight to 12 weeks this year, lost her job while hospitalized, and couldn’t pay the rent she still owed on the moldy unit.

During the last legislative session, Qaddoura authored a bill that would have put teeth into  the enforcement of habitability standards. It  defined “essential services” to include utility services needed for the safe and habitable occupation by a tenant of a rental unit, and  required landlords to repair or replace an essential system not later than 24 hours after being notified by a tenant that the tenant’s rental unit was without such services. The bill also provided remedies for noncompliance.

The last I heard, the bill had been sent to a study committee (where, as I have previously noted, good bills go to die…)

If you google “most landlord-friendly states,” you will find Indiana prominently listed. The lack of balance in the Hoosier state’s landlord/tenant laws has contributed to our unconscionably-high eviction rates, a problem which Senator Qaddoura has also addressed.

If Indiana could ever rid itself of gerrymandering, we might elect more lawmakers like Senator Qaddoura, and fewer culture warriors laser-focused on banning abortion and destroying public education.

A girl can dream…..


A Once-Good Name

In High School, we all learned those famous lines from Shakespeare’s Othello–“Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands: But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed.”

Sometimes, a political attempt to “filch” another person’s good name ends up dishonoring the name of the “filcher.”

I was a Republican when the party included principled statesmen like Richard Lugar, William Hudnut, and William Ruckelshaus. I’ve watched with sadness as that party has steadily degenerated, elevating truly evil people like Mitch McConnell, incompetent would-be dictators like Donald Trump, and the racists and spineless hangers-on they control.

In the Indiana legislature, the GOP’s super-majority is split between members of the lunatic caucus and obedient servants of the party’s ever-more reactionary base, but until very recently, I thought one Republican Senator was a refreshing throwback to the party of his uncle, Bill Ruckelshaus. (Granted, John Ruckelshaus has been consistently anti-choice and has just as consistently voted the party line, but he wasn’t obnoxious about it, and he worked across the aisle on things like recycling.)

Bill and his wife Jill were a bit older than I am. They were from Indianapolis, and I knew both of them slightly. Bill served as the first Administrator of the  EPA (Republicans believed in science back then). He later served as acting Director of the FBI and as US Deputy Attorney General. Famously, in 1973 (in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre,”) Ruckelshaus and then-US Attorney General Elliot Richardson both resigned rather than obey Nixon’s order to fire Archibald Cox, the independent special prosecutor. Bill was a man of integrity.

John Ruckelshaus is his nephew, and the incumbent Republican state senator in Indiana Senate district 30. His reputation–until now–has been that of a civil, occasionally bipartisan, legislator. (They’re rare in our state.) This year, he is opposed by Democrat Fady Qaddoura, who must be mounting an effective challenge, because Ruckelshaus’ campaign has started issuing inexcusably vile and thoroughly dishonest television ads and mailers. The mailers have characterized Fady as formerly homeless–an accusation that is neither relevant nor a character flaw but is especially repugnant since Fady, his wife and young daughter were living in New Orleans when they lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. 

Fady picked himself up and relocated his family–now with a newborn– to Indianapolis, where he enrolled in graduate school at IUPUI. That is where I came to know him well. He was both a student and a “mentee” of mine, and I was honored to serve on his dissertation committee when he completed his PhD in Philanthropic Studies. I know him to be hard working, intellectually gifted and a person of unquestioned integrity.

In addition to the mailers, Ruckelshaus’ campaign is airing grainy, ugly TV ads accusing Fady of using his position as the Controller of the City of Indianapolis–a position he held during the first term of the Hogsett Administration–to “award a consulting contract to a firm that later employed him” and cutting funds for an educational program and thus causing “children to suffer. “

Rather than asking Fady what this was all about, I did a bit of research. It turns out that Fady “awarded” exactly zero city contracts–although as City Controller, he was obliged to sign contracts awarded by the various city departments–and his current employer never had one, although an unconnected firm with a similar name evidently did. The “children suffering” references a non-renewable education grant that ran out--no one cut it.

If my cursory research was enough to find the real story, Ruckelshaus’ campaign certainly could have–and probably did.

The accusations are an invention by a SuperPAC hired by Ruckelshaus– America Rising, which got its start with  Trump’s 2016 campaign, and which describes its mission as defeating Democrats and brags about its “relentless pursuit of original and effective hits against Democrats.” 

 “Original and effective,” evidently doesn’t include “true.”

Friends in the local Democratic Party tell me the GOP has put a half-million dollars into the effort to defeat Fady and protect Ruckelshaus –an absolutely stunning amount for a state senate seat in a state that is very likely to stay in Republican hands. (Given the number of times I’ve seen the grainy commercial with the phony charges, I believe it. Television is expensive.)

Evidently, the polling shows Fady ahead, and I’m sure his recent receipt of an endorsement from Jennifer McCormick–Indiana’s Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction–was unwelcome  (Ruckelshaus has made education one focus of his campaign, despite poor marks from educators). 

Whatever has  prompted these sleazy ads, and whatever their effect on the election, they have certainly accomplished one thing: by engaging in a  despicably dishonest effort to smear his opponent,  these attacks have besmirched a once-storied Hoosier name, and confirmed that this generation’s Ruckelshaus is a true member of today’s disgraceful GOP.