Rich James: Buncich and McDermott feud; Wieser wins chair
Thursday, March 09, 2017 9:58 AM
MERRILLVILLE – Lake County Sheriff John Buncich and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. don’t especially like each other. That’s not about to change any time soon.
That disdain was emphasized in the days leading up to last Saturday’s election of a new Democratic county chairman. The two candidates for the job were Hammond’s Mike Repay, a county commissioner, and Schererville attorney Jim Wieser. Wieser and Repay campaigned for more than two months to win the favor of 523 precinct committeemen and their vice committeemen. But the campaign came down to the final three days.
On Thursday, Buncich, the outgoing chairman, sent a letter to the committeemen and their vices. In the letter, Buncich essentially said he had been the only effective county chairman in recent years and said the party should elect Wieser as his replacement. The only problem is that Buncich replaced McDermott as chairman, and the Hammond mayor took that as an insult.
The timing couldn’t have been better for McDermott, who has a show on local radio every Friday morning. McDermott used his time on the radio that morning to slam Buncich. And the Hammond mayor also lashed out at Wieser for accepting the support of Buncich, who is under federal indictment. Wieser was born and raised in Hammond and was counting on a good bit of support from there, even though Repay is a Hammond resident and comes from a long line of Hammond politicos. McDermott’s radio tirade worked and swung most of the Hammond vote to Repay.
What McDermott ultimately did was throw the caucus into a tie vote at 305 each. Buncich had the last laugh and cast the tie-breaking vote for Wieser. Wieser said he and Repay departed the convention as friends and pledged to work together for the good of the party. Wieser took it a step further and said he will name Repay the 1st District representative to the Indiana Democratic Central Committee.
While Wieser will serve a four-year term, Repay’s day will come. At 41, he represents the future of the party. At 69, Wieser has 50 years of knowledge to rebuild the organization.
Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years.