Buncich tops field to lead Lake Democrats
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent June 28, 2014 11:14AM
Sheriff John Buncich is sworn in by Judge George Paras as the new Lake County Democratic Party Chairman in Crown Point on June 28, 2014. | Jim Karczewski/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 30, 2014 6:29AM
CROWN POINT — Lake County Sheriff John Buncich came out on top Saturday in the race to succeed Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. as Lake County Democratic Party chairman.
The packed Syd Garner Auditorium erupted in cheers when Buncich was announced as the clear majority winner after only one vote. Buncich received 289 votes from the 469 precinct committeemen and vice committeemen. He needed 235 votes to win.
Clerk Mike Brown and Commissioner Mike Repay, who also sought the post, came in second and third respectively.
“Let’s move forward and set out to win the races we need to win,” Buncich said over the roar of the crowd.
In an equally decisive vote, Michelle Fajman, director of the board of elections, was tapped to replace Buncich as the party’s secretary with 251 votes, defeating Mike Troxell and Camille Clayton for the seat.
McDermott, 45, mayor of Lake County’s largest city, announced on May 16 he was stepping down as county chairman. 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. On Saturday he thanked the rank and file, party leaders and their workers for their support over the past five years.
“To everybody in this room, you are the backbone of this party,” McDermott said. “We’re a great party. We’re a strong party. The state relies on us and we perform.”
Party fundraising is one of the main missions of the party chairman. When McDermott took over the helm from Clay, the party’s accounts were $30,000 in the hole. Since that time he has raised more than $1 million for the party.
Prior to the vote, Buncich told the gathering he was the man to continue that fundraising momentum.
Lake County has the second largest Democratic voter turnout in the state and the state party counts on the county for results, he said, adding a number of key elections are coming up this fall and next year, but it is also important to focus on 2016.
“We’ve got to turn the state blue again. With the help of Lake County we can do it,” Buncich said.
While Republicans are in control in Indianapolis, Buncich said, Lake County can still win support from legislators on important local issues.
“We need the respect back we deserve from Indianapolis,” he said.