ELKHART — After being attacked for having to foreclose on his house a decade ago, the Democratic candidate for Elkhart mayor, Rod Roberson, is attacking his opponent, Republican Dave Miller, for running a negative and personal campaign.
This happened after the political action committee named Best for Elkhart, run by Jeff Petermann, wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday that Roberson has been sued in Small Claims Court nine times since 2006.
Most of the lawsuits are related to a foreclosure on Roberson’s home during the Great Recession. Before the recession, Roberson worked in sales for Coachmen RV. He said his income dropped by about 70 percent from 2005 to 2008, first at Coachmen and then as he was trying to regain his footing elsewhere before the bank foreclosed on his home.
Following the foreclosure, Roberson said, he suffered life-threatening pneumonia, which added to his financial burdens. As a consequence of not being able to pay all of his bills, he was sued by several businesses. Those creditors have all been paid now, he said.
A current case claims that Roberson was negligent in a crash in the summer of 2018. Roberson was not cited or charged in the crash.
“He has a history of not paying his bills and that is not a characteristic that is acceptable for someone that wants to be the Mayor of our city,” Petermann wrote in the Facebook post.
He claimed that the current lawsuit would negatively affect Roberson’s job performance if it continues into his mayoral term should he win the Nov. 5 election. The term begins on Jan. 1.
“This isn’t just simply ‘not good’ it is bad for Elkhart,” Petermann wrote.
In the days since, Petermann has criticized Roberson for not responding. The candidate was quiet about the issues until Thursday evening when he used his own Facebook page to claim that the Miller campaign is working with Petermann and making the election negative and personal.
“This is a local election – not national politics – and we do not have to stoop so low as to bring the same kind of divisive and vicious political partisanship to Elkhart. We are not people who live different lives in different cities; we are neighbors. Our children go to the same schools, we drive the same roads, we work together every day,” he wrote.
As evidence for his claim, Roberson provided screenshots of the Best for Elkhart and Dave Miller for Mayor pages on Facebook having the same cover photo, and Petermann’s own page and another page that, according to Roberson, is run by Petermann posting the same graphics as Miller with identical captions at the same dates.
“It’s identical pictures, identical verbiage, hashtags and all,” said Roberson. “And it’s not shared. It happened on both pages. There’s a low chance, very low, that they were two separate posts done by two separate individuals.”
Petermann declined to be interviewed but responded on Facebook to a person noting that Roberson had made the allegations.
“It is a post full of lies. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. You have to consider the source. He is desperately trying to find a person to blame all of his problems on. Well, I can tell you which person deserves the blame. It is Rod Roberson,” Petermann wrote.
Roberson said he does not want to run a negative campaign and invited Miller not to do so either. He has not spoken with Miller about the claims.
The Democrat also said he has spoken publicly about his previous problems.
“I’ve been in public settings and said how tough my family had it in 2008,” he said.
Roberson said he sees this as a story of redemption since he could have chosen to file for bankruptcy but didn’t, because he felt the right thing to do was work to get back on his feet and pay his creditors.
“I do know that what we went through created strength in our family and made me just as human as anyone else that suffered through those years – and will make me a better mayor because of it,” he said.
Roberson said the 2018 crash was an unfortunate accident that is “part of living.” He said there is little reason to worry that it will be a distraction for him, as his insurance company is handling the case.
Miller did not immediately respond to interview requests Friday.
Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter at @ReadRasmus