Lake County Democrats mull leadership vacancy
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent May 17, 2014 11:53PM
Updated: June 23, 2014 12:58PM
A surprise announcement Friday by Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. that he plans to resign as Lake County Democratic Party chairman in June had speculation flying around the county Saturday as to who his replacement may be.
Lake Commissioner Michael Repay, D-Hammond, was the first to officially toss his hat into the ring. Repay said he was surprised by McDermott’s announcement, but he moved quickly Friday to email as many of the elected Democrats in Lake County in his address book as he could about his intention to seek the chairmanship.
“It is definitely something I have thought about in the past,” Repay said. “For me it was a pretty easy decision, one that didn’t require much going back or forth.”
He said he likes the direction the party has been going and would like to build on the programs initiated by McDermott with more of his own.
“I definitely am new and offer a little bit of change to what is usual in our area,” Repay said.
Other potential candidates have not been so quick to wade into the pool. Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Sheriff John Buncich and Lake County Clerk Mike Brown were among those drawing speculation about who may be interested in the post.
Buncich, the party’s vice chairman, said he needs time to consider his options.
“We’re really leaving the door open at this time,” Buncich said, adding he expects to make an announcement by midweek.
Repay said the new chairman will be faced with motivating the county’s Democrats to come out and vote in the fall in the wake of the dismal voter turnout for the May 6 primary, as well as preparing the party for the 2015 and 2016 gubernatorial and presidential election cycles.
Freeman-Wilson said the position of county chairman is an important one leading into the midterm elections, even in heavily Democratic Lake County. She said the new chairman will have to have enough time to produce the numbers needed for the November election.
“I think you have to have a person in that position who is going to hold the mantra, who is going to fight hard for Democrats — that means in the southern part of the county but also to unite us in the northern part so we’re ready when we go into 2015 and 2016,” she said.
Like Repay, she said the party will need to get the vote out for the larger party as a whole.
“We will have the ability to turn voters out in the numbers they need at the state and national levels,” she said.
Freeman-Wilson said she has not thought much yet about wanting to see a Gary person lead the party.
“I have literally been working on substantive issues, not that this isn’t important. With the airport extension and working with our north side development team, I haven’t had time to deal with the politics of the office,” she said.
U.S. Rep Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, chuckled when asked if he had anyone in mind for the important slot.
“I think I’ll just leave that up to the precinct organization,” Visclosky said.
Contributing: correspondent Michael Gonzalez