McDermott stepping down as chairman of Lake Dems
By Christin Nance Lazerus and Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com May 16, 2014 9:35AM
Updated: June 18, 2014 6:08AM
Citing the stress of juggling two jobs and his family, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. is resigning as chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party.
McDermott, the leader of Lake County’s largest city, made the announcement Friday morning on his weekly radio show on WJOB-AM. He’ll step down at the end of June. McDermott succeeded then-Gary Mayor Rudy Clay as party chairman in 2009 and was re-elected last year.
McDermott cited the stress of the political job and his desire to focus on the city of Hammond.
“Stress is there in a number of ways,” he said. “The chair has to raise $200,000 each year just to keep the party machinery running and it goes back into the precinct organization; I’ve raised more than $1 million which takes some effort. I’m the mayor of Hammond, Lake County’s biggest city, where there are some complicated issues we’re dealing with. I’m also a father of four kids, a husband and the coach of my son’s baseball team.
“Like I said on the radio, if I keep going at this rate, I’m going to end up in a casket soon.”
McDermott, 45, said his resignation isn’t a signal that he’s stepping away from politics.
Under his tenure, he said that he is proud of putting the party on a firm financial footing. The party’s accounts were in a $30,000 in the hole when he took over. He also was instrumental in the party’s 60-member governing board, which gives smaller municipalities more of a voice in party decision-making, and he has actively discouraged in-fighting among fellow Democrats.
“Typically, in Lake County Democratic politics, there are two, or three, major political Democratic figures at war with one another at any single time,” McDermott said. “If there is one thing I am most proud of as party chairman, it is the fact that there has been relative peace in the party since I have been the Chair. I hope that trend continues with the election of the next chairman.”
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, in the Black Oak section of Gary for a groundbreaking with Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, was surprised at the announcement, adding “I certainly respect the incredible job Tom has done as county chairman in bringing party together and bringing great leadership.”
Freeman-Wilson echoed Visclosky.
“I’m surprised to hear it, and I’m sure the jockeying will begin,” she said. “I think he was a hard worker. He was great in terms of fundraising and bringing the party together. I was pleased with his leadership.”
McDermott said the caucus election to succeed him will likely take place sometime in June in Crown Point, though the exact time, date and place hasn’t been nailed down yet. All precinct committeemen are eligible to vote in the caucus.
“I think my announcement caught a lot of people off guard,” he said.
McDermott said there are definitely some rewarding moments in the post.
“I will miss working with the precinct people, and the city and town chairs, from around Lake County, now that I am resigning as Lake County Chairman,” McDermott said in a statement. “These people form the backbone of our party and are the ones who make our party work so well, not the county chairman. This party will move on, after my departure, and continue to operate at a high level, getting Democrats elected, as it always has historically.”
Michelle Fajman, director of the Board of Elections, said she was saddened to hear McDermott was resigning as party chair.
“He was great for our party. He did a wonder job as chairman keeping the peace and raising funds,” Fajman said.
Commissioner Gerry Schueb, D-Crown Point, said McDermott was a very good chairman and everybody in the party was pleased with his administration. He said McDermott’s political desires may be in other directions.
“Anybody from Lake County who has further ambitions outside of Lake County, I think that’s great,” Schueb said.
He said it will be interesting to see who the new administration will be and if some of the programs McDermott put in place inside the party during his five years as its leader will remain intact.
“You hate to see a person resign but his explanation is good… I think he’s looking at his political future,” Schueb said.
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said he, too, was surprised by McDermott’s announcement and praised the party chief’s efforts.
“He’s done a good job and it hasn’t been easy with the Republicans trying to make inroads, particularly in south Lake County,” Buncich said.
The party will need a strong leader moving forward especially with the gubernatorial and presidential elections on the horizon. He declined to comment further without first speaking to McDermott about his decision.
— Correspondents Carrie Napoleon and Michael Gonzalez contributed to this report