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Jerry Davich: Meet your new Lake County coroner, eventually

Andy Koultourides Republican candidate for Lake County Coroner| Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media









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Andy Koultourides, Republican candidate for Lake County Coroner| Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media ptmet

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Updated: September 25, 2012 10:34AM



Does the name Merrilee Frey ring a bell? How about Andy Koultourides? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Unbeknownst to most region residents and, more importantly, Lake County voters, one of these two health care professionals will be taking the office of Lake County coroner — eventually. That’s the key word. Eventually.

Depending on the outcome of the ongoing court trial of current Coroner Thomas Philpot, which could end as early as Friday, there is the possibility that Frey could be in that office by next month. That is, of course, if Philpot is found guilty of any of the charges against him and is forced to step down immediately.

If that’s the case, a special caucus would be held to decide who would replace him in the interim, until his term ends on the last day of 2013. Frey, I’m told, is the logical candidate.

The Democrat candidate for coroner is expected to be voted into office anyway in November when she faces off against her Republican challenger, Koultourides. Being a Democrat in a Lake County political race has built-in advantages, and every source I’ve asked says Frey will be the next coroner at some point. It all hinges on Philpot’s trial.

I’m told that Philpot already cleaned out his coroner’s office in advance of his trial. And it would come as no surprise to Northwest Indiana residents, including me, if Philpot were found guilty of any of the charges against him — three counts of mail fraud and two counts of theft from government funds.

His “career politician” reputation not only precedes him, but corrupts him in the court of public opinion.

“The people of Lake County find this as appalling as I do. I’ve talked to them and they share my frustration,” said Koultourides, who was born and raised in East Chicago, for decades considered ground zero for Lake County corruption.

Frey, a fellow Democrat to Philpot, was more tactful, albeit a bit naive, with her carefully worded response.

“This election has nothing to do with anything other than the two people who are seeking this ballot,” she told me.

Either way, either Frey or Koultourides will be the next coroner — a high-profile and highly politicized position — so I thought I would reintroduce you to both of them.

Koultourides, a dentist, describes himself as a fiscal conservative who is “uniquely qualified to set straight the pattern of abuse and corruption that has come from this office at the hands of Lake County Democrat machine politicians.”

He’s been married to wife, Jacqueline, for 22 years, and the couple have four children. He’s also a two-term town councilman in Munster.

Frey has been a registered nurse for 25 years, a forensic nurse examiner, and she has earned several college degrees. She also has a lengthy list of titles, awards and volunteer activities.

“The skills that I brought to the table as a wife, mother and volunteer, coupled with the professional skills underwritten by my credentials, provide me with the professional management and medical skills to serve as our Lake County coroner,” she said.

(For more information, history and campaign promises regarding both candidates, visit my blogs at jerrydavich.wordpress.com or http://blogs.post-trib.com/davich/.)

Built-in advantage?

Koultourides is convinced the Philpot trial, regardless of its outcome, will help his chances in the upcoming election. I have to agree with him.

“Absolutely. It hasn’t escaped notice among voters that the mountains of indictments and convictions of political corruption all stem from one place, the Democrat machine,” he told me. “The voters in Lake County are smart and honest people and all they want is some genuine and honest leadership. I think this trial is a constant reminder to them not to make the same mistake again.”

The question is, will Philpot’s trial taint Frey’s chances to fill his office even though she is not considered a career politician or part of the Democratic machine?

“I am seeking this office to address positive initiatives for the office of coroner,” she said sincerely. “I will be very humbled if the gracious people of Lake County offer me their support by voting for me.”

Again, tactful, modest and sincere. But is it enough to tip the Election Day scale against any perceived “Lake County Democrat” reputation that may precede her? Also keep in mind that Republican Hank Adams beat his Democrat challenger a couple years back for Lake County assessor, so it is possible for a Republican to win in that county. Adams, by the way, has done an impressive job in that office, bringing both transparency and efficiency — two words not often associated with Lake County offices.

“I plan to do the same with the coroner’s office,” Koultourides said. “Honorable, hard-working people like we have in Lake County expect an equally honorable, hard-working government. We deserve no less.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or Democrat. None of us likes to be ripped off or lied to. I’m finding that even the most die-hard Democrats are growing tired of being used this way.”

Both candidates have little to zero experience working with “dead bodies,” as one source told me, a small detail that is often overshadowed by the political aspects of that coroner’s office. From a journalist’s point of view, extracting needed information from Philpot is about as easy as finding Jimmy Hoffa’s body.

At least with either Frey or Koultourides, transparency and efficiency should be returned to that office.

Personally, I’d rather have someone a little green about the job — but with high ethics, motives and intentions — than someone who knows where all the proverbial bodies are buried but won’t offer even a shovel-full of insight. How about you?

For more on this issue, listen to Jerry’s “Casual Fridays” radio show today at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorefm.com.



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