GARY – The annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in Gary is more than just a tribute to the great civil rights leader. It also is one of the biggest political events held in the Steel City. For Gary politicians, the breakfast is an opportunity shore up support within the city.
For the outsiders, it is an opportunity to reach out for the backing of Gary’s heavily Democratic vote. Some of those attending the Jan.14 event said it may have been the first time they have seen long-time suburban Democrat James L. Wieser in attendance.
Wieser is a Schererville attorney. He has worn a number of political hats during his 40-year political career in Lake County. He has served on the Highland Town Council and the county council.
He also has lost races for county commissioner and in 2014 was crushed by state Rep. Hal Slager in a bid to go the General Assembly. He has served as Democratic attorney to the county election board for a number of years. He also has been a high-profile attorney on a number of public projects.
Perhaps the biggest was his representation for those wanting to build the Hickory Hills landfill in south Lake County. Although it was close to winning approval, the project was defeated by the Lake County Solid Waste Management District. And now, Wieser wants to be chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party. Chairman John Buncich, who is under federal indictment, isn’t expected to seek reelection in March. But Wieser, who is pushing 70, isn’t alone.
Also campaigning for the job is County Commissioner Mike Repay of Hammond, who was elected to a second term last year. Repay, who was first elected while in his mid-30s, may be the youngest Democrat elected to the job, although former Commissioner (and state representative) Peter Katic thinks he may hold that honor.
Repay is selling his youth and energy as he goes about trying to win the chairmanship. Wieser is selling his experience. The party is aging and needs an infusion of youth. Some think Repay can recruit and invigorate the party. And Repay has secured the backing of Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. There is another potential candidate, although he hasn’t said he wants to or will seek the job.
Jerome Prince is a rising star in county Democratic politics. Prince, who is in his 40s, recently was elected chairman of the Gary Democratic Precinct Organization. He was elected Lake County assessor in 2014 and is a virtual lock to keep the office in 2018.
Prince, who is black, has been talked about as a compromise candidate if neither Repay nor Wieser catches fire.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. He is a columnist for The Times of Northwest Indiana.