Rich James: Philpot has overstayed his welcome on the ballot
September 24, 2011 9:08PM
Updated: November 11, 2011 12:53PM
Lake County Democratic politics has a storied history.
But if the book were closed today, the ignominious side would be best remembered.
And right there in Chapter 1, you’d likely find the story of Tom Philpot.
Philpot flim-flammed his way through Lake County politics for almost 20 years.
He was good at what he did — impressing some people and intimidating others into supporting him.
Chances are good that Philpot has waged his last campaign and gotten his last vote.
U.S. Attorney David Capp announced the indictment of Philpot on mail fraud and theft charges on Thursday.
What Philpot allegedly did was stuff $25,000 into his pocket. The money went to his office when he was Lake County clerk. The office was entitled to a cut of the delinquent child support money his office helped collect.
But Philpot wasn’t entitled to spend it on himself.
Typically, Philpot couldn’t be found on the day he was indicted. That has been the case during most the the 20 years he has held a variety of offices.
His name may have been on the door, but he was nowhere to be found.
Chances are he was out campaigning or sucking on a beer or currying someone’s favor.
I have to give the guy credit. He was a campaigning machine. Don’t think he ever slept. And I know he never shut up.
He was in his early 30s when he ventured into politics.
He was a foot doctor by trade so his first bid for elected office was for county coronor. He won — not so much because he was the most qualified, but because he knocked on the most doors and bent the most ears.
Half way through the term as coroner, Philpot apparently became bored with the office and announced his candidacy for Hammond mayor.
Republican Duane Dedelow beat him in 1995. A year later Philpot ran for re-election as coroner and won easily. After all, he had been campaigning nonstop for four years.
Because he had the attention span of a gerbil — whether it be professionally, politically or socially — he again turned his attention to seeking the Hammond mayor’s job.
I guess there is a bit more prestige in being called “mayor” than “coroner.”
God bless Dedelow, he beat Philpot again.
Somewhere along the way, Philpot got bored with the foot doctor business and got a law license. But he never gave up politics.
For the first time in about a decade, Philpot was a man without an office in January 2002 when he no longer was coroner and couldn’t seek a third term by law.
But you can’t keep a perennial campaigner down. He ran for county clerk in 2002 and was back in the saddle.
Four years later, he was re-elected clerk. Before he could start the second term as clerk in January 2008 — there is a one-year lag before taking office — he announced his candidacy for his third term as coroner.
He was elected coroner in 2008 and took office in Janurary 2010 — because, yes, there also is a one-year lag after being elected coroner before taking office.
So, just a month into the coroner’s job, Philpot had to move again and filed his candidacy for county sheriff in early 2010.
If that race had been decided on campaign signs, Philpot would have won easily.
But finally, the voters figured out that Philpot wasn’t a public servant, but a flim-flam man instead.
John Buncich won the sheriff’s primary. Philpot ran a distant fourth.
Although he lost the 2010 sheriff’s primary, Philpot was still coroner. He still is today.
When he wasn’t running for his own office, Philpot was working on the demise of others.
He had a particular dislike for County Surveyor George Van Til, County Treasurer John Petalas and former Sheriff Roy Dominguez. Philpot publicly said he hoped for Dominguez’s demise.
Through the years, Philpot had one constant in political operative Bob Cantrell.
Philpot marched to Cantrell’s drum — particularly working to defeat those Cantrell didn’t like or couldn’t control.
The dirty politics and ill-gotten money finally caught up with Cantrell. He’s sitting in a federal prison cell.
And the word is that there’s one bunk open.