David J. Ruhmkorff has had a big year filled with new responsibilities – most notably, his appointment as Sixth District Vice President last June when Lonnie R. Stephenson was named IBEW president.

He added another duty in early January. Ruhmkorff, who lives in Indianapolis and is a former business manager for Local 481, was named to the city’s Capital Improvement Board, which owns and operates three major sports venues and the Indiana Convention Center.

Ruhmkorff was appointed by new Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett, a longtime friend and ally of working families. State law allows the mayor to appoint six of the board’s nine members.

David J. Ruhmkorff, Sixth District Vice President. Ruhmkorff recently was named to the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board, the governmental oversight body for three major sports venues in the city and the Indiana Convention Center.

“I talked with him in previous conversations and told him I’d like for the IBEW to have a presence in his administration. I didn’t mean for it to be me,” Ruhmkorff said.

The board oversees Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the NFL’s Colts), Bankers Life Fieldhouse (NBA’s Pacers), Victory Field (triple-A baseball’s Indians) along with the convention center.  It is in charge of day-to-day maintenance and also must approve any upgrades, improvements and new construction at the facilities. 

It also is required to sign off on any new lease agreements with the facilities’ tenants. Two years ago, the board approved a 10-year, $160-million subsidy to the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.  The combination of high-profile sports venues and teams receiving public expenditures puts the Capital Improvement Board in the public eye more than other government oversight boards in the state.

“I was concerned about the time commitment and if I would be able to fulfill the obligation,” Ruhmkorff said. “But if it’s not me, who is it going to be? If it’s not a labor person, that’s problematic. And I do believe in the call to serve.”

Ruhmkorff’s appointment received a big thumbs up from Indiana AFL-CIO President Brett Voorhies, a longtime friend and a member of the Steelworkers Union.

Voorhies said Ruhmkorff will work to have union contractors awarded contracts. He also expects him to urge fellow board members to use American-made products, including the benefit of using American-made steel as opposed to foreign imports, for instance. It’s not just because of his influence in the union movement, Voorhies said. It’s also because he’s respected by many in the business community.

“It’s one of the highest prestige boards you can be on around here,” Voorhies said. “To have someone like Dave on it representing labor is huge for us.”

Ruhmkorff said he hopes his appointment puts the IBEW and Local 481 in a positive light in a state that hasn’t been friendly to labor in recent years. Indiana passed right-to-work legislation in 2012. Republicans currently have the governorship and overwhelming majorities in both the state House and Senate. Hogsett has long been one of the state’s top Democrats and succeeded a Republican as mayor.

He’s also sees it as an extension of his leadership role with the IBEW.

“It’s not just about running the local union,” Ruhmkorff said. “It’s about being a part of the fabric of the community. You can establish faith in your own union by being involved in the community.”

Indianapolis has used sports to raise its profile in an attempt to attract new businesses and out-of-town visitors. It is the home of the NCAA and regularly hosts the men’s basketball Final Four along with numerous other college sports events and bills itself as “The Amateur Sports Capital of America.”

Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the home of the NFL’s Colts, has hosted several major sporting events, including the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four.
Photo by Mitch Doner and used under a Flickr/Creative Commons agreement.

The city has built state-of-the-art facilities mostly with public money to house those pro sports teams and events like the Big Ten football championship game. The convention center was doubled in size in 2011 as the city continues to use its central location to attract more meetings and events. About 41 percent of the U.S. population lives within a 500-mile radius of the city.

Ruhmkorff and the other eight board members now are in charge of making sure they remain at a high quality.

“You just can’t build these buildings and wash your hands,” Ruhmkorff said. “You have to take care of them. That’s a big undertaking for a number of years.”

Ruhmkorff was initiated into Local 481 in 1979 and is a journeyman inside wireman. He was elected business manager in 1990 and became an international representative in 1994.

He said he hopes his appointment will encourage more labor leaders to get involved in politics in the Hoosier State.

“There’s a lot of other committees that we need to have labor leaders on,” he said. “That’s what our leaders need to step up and understand. It will benefit us in the long run.”