Rich James: McDermott becomes kingmaker with Van Til
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 5:44 AM
MERRILLVILLE – Tom McDermott, Hammond mayor and Lake County Democratic chairman, added kingmaker to his titles last week. In doing so, he essentially stripped the local Democratic Party of its democracy.
He did that when he called on long-time Lake County Surveyor George Van Til to resign from the November ballot. And he did it on the radio, not during a personal conversation with Van Til.
Talk about a total lack of class.
What’s prompting McDermott is that the FBI went into Van Til’s office last week and took computers and paper records. The computers were returned in less than 24 hours. Neither the FBI nor the U.S. attorney’s office would say what they were looking for. McDermott told the Times of Northwest Indiana, “In my opinion the FBI is not going to make a high-profile show of force, like they did on Tuesday, unless they think something is there.”
In other words, he called Van Til a crook. Yet, as of now, no one else is saying that – not the FBI, not the U.S. attorney, not the big man himself. Nevertheless, McDermott says the public perception is that the seizure of unknown records pertaining to unknown issues could hurt the party in the fall, including U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, if Van Til remains on the ballot. Get real, Tommy, Visclosky has one of the safest congressional seats in the country.
When he isn’t playing mayor, McDermott is a lawyer. Yeah, a lawyer – those people who deal with the law that says a person is innocent until proved guilty.
In his quest for Van Til to resign from the ballot, McDermott drummed up the case of Carol Ann Seaton in 2010. Even though few knew her and she campaigned little, Seaton was a surprise winner in the Democratic primary for county assessor.
Then things quickly unraveled as questions were raised about her residency, with some thinking she lived in southwest Michigan. And there were questions about tax exemptions on a home in Gary that she claimed as her residence. If ever there was cause for someone to get off the ballot, this was it. She didn’t. And McDermott didn’t call for her to do so.
Because of Seaton’s vulnerability, Republican Hank Adams – a fellow popular with Republicans and Democrats – was appointed to fill the vacancy on the Republican ballot. Being a township assessor, he was a natural. Adams won, largely because of the Democrats who crossed over and voted for him. That’s not going to happen with Van Til, who should win easily over Eric Krieg, a Republican who likes to see his name on the ballot.
The FBI frequently has walked into the county government center and city halls across the county, picking up records and saying nothing about their mission. Sometimes those investigations result in an individual or two being charged. Other times, nothing comes of the federal probe. When that is the case, one would think the FBI would announce that they didn’t find any wrongdoing and that they were sorry to have tarnished someone’s reputation. Nope. That doesn’t happen.
No one seems to know what the FBI is looking at in the surveyor’s office. There’s not much there but a bunch of maps that pertain to drainage. Some contend it is a witch hunt based on baseless allegations. That’s been known to happen. All we know is that records were confiscated for an unknown reason. And because of that, McDermott wants Van Til to voluntarily end a long and mostly respected political career.
No! A true Democratic county chairman would stand up and defend Van Til’s place on the ballot, saying that he hasn’t been accused of anything. You don’t have to like Van Til – and some don’t because he can be abrasive – but don’t infer he has done something wrong because records were taken from his office.
McDermott says his movement to have Van Til banished from the party isn’t personal because the two were opponents for the county chairmanship in 2009 and the two have clashed on political and governmental issues since. Tell it to the jury.
Perhaps McDermott is trying to come across as being holier than thou because he has his eye on something bigger politically down the road. But throwing a colleague under the bus for your own political gain doesn’t seem like a very Christian thing to do.
Rich James is the former editorial page editor and columnist for the Post-Tribune in Merrillville.