CROWN POINT | Lake County's incumbent officeholders will put their future in the hands of voters Tuesday.
Democratic primary voters can chose from among 79 candidates fighting in nearly three dozen contested races for legislative, county, township and town offices. Republican voters can select from among 35 seeking 20 offices. Another 77 candidates are unopposed.
Political challengers will be testing the voter appeal of more than a dozen battle-hardened incumbents.
In the Democratic primary, Sheriff John Buncich faces Richard D. Ligon, a former federal law enforcement officer, and county police Sgt. Oscar Martinez Jr.
Buncich has been elected the county's top cop three times since 1994, but his opponents have their own followings as they proved four years ago when Ligon finished a close second and Martinez third in a pack of 11 Democrats.
The sheriff has defended his administration of the once-troubled Lake County Jail, saying he has transformed the jail from a lockup that routinely violated the civil rights of inmates into a model of security with improved health care for inmates, as certified by semi-annual federal inspections.
Ligon and Martinez have questioned the cost to taxpayers, which has exceeded $25 million over the past four years, and observe the jail still isn't fully compliant. Ligon argues the county isn't pursuing federal funding through Obamacare. Buncich said federal and state law prohibit that idea.
Buncich has slammed Ligon for accepting support of disgraced former county police Officer Joseph Kumstar, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to federal gun running charges he bought and sold machine gun parts only authorized to military and law enforcement on the open market.
Ligon's campaign shot back Buncich is employing former East Chicago City Councilman Randall Artis in an administrative position and Robert M. Nickovich as a clerk at the county police Bureau of Identification, and accepting campaign support from Edward Davies, a former county cop with a misdemeanor conviction from 15 years ago.
Artis was convicted in the East Chicago concrete-for-votes scandal and Nickovich pleaded guilty to accepting money from sheriff's work-release inmates to let them leave their minimum-security facility without official permission.
County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen Jr. has been under attack by challenger Lita M. Iatarola Filippo for accepting campaign contributions from government contractors and his family's funeral home for receiving veterans burial benefits paid by the Board of County Commissioners on which Allen sits.
Allen has dismissed both complaints, saying state law permits government contractors' donations, which are received by many candidates. He said the veterans burial payments aren't a conflict because his funeral home only passes those payments on to the cemeteries or the veterans families.
Allen is running for his third term as a CEO of county government in a newly drawn district that now includes Hobart, Lake Station, New Chicago and sections of Merrillville and Crown Point, where he hasn't run before.
Allen said he ran well countywide in the 2004 Democratic primary for coroner and nearly won in the face of strong opposition from the party's leaders. He was elected on the Calumet Township advisory board many times over two decades and won his first term as commissioner in 2006 despite opposition from the late Rudy Clay. "It was the only election Rudy ever lost," Allen said.
County Clerk Mike A. Brown faces Josefina Magallanes, of East Chicago, in his bid for a second term. He previously served as county recorder.
Three Lake County Council members have opposition from fellow Democrats.
Councilman David Hamm, who is running in his first popular election, faces off against Antonio Daggett Sr., of Hammond.
Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, who is running for her fourth term on the fiscal body, is opposed by Arcella L. Moxley, Andrew Ledbetter and Carol Ann Seaton, all of Gary.
Councilwoman Christine Cid also is running for a fourth term. She is opposed by Alberto "Beto" Ochoa Sr., of Hammond, and East Chicago City Councilman Juda S. Parks.
County Councilman Jerome A. Prince, of Gary, is vacating his seat. Ron Matlock, of Gary, a member of the Calumet Township board, Jamal Washington, of Merrillville, and Omar M. (Carl Hemphill) Abdallah are on the ballot to replace him.
Prince is running for county assessor. He is opposed by Schererville Town Councilman Michael A. Troxell and Jesus L. Ortiz Jr., of East Chicago
In township races, Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin must get past challenger Gary City Councilwoman Kimberly "Kim" Robinson to win a fourth term in office. Ross Township Trustee Joe Shudick is opposed by Ronald P. "Ron" Dudley, of Hobart.
In the Republican primary, John Ramos and Lake County police Officer Dan Bursac are competing for their party's nomination for sheriff.
St. John Township Trustee Jean E. Shepherd is running for her fourth term and opposed by Daniel C. Langmesser, who is running in his 31st election since 1976 and hoping to win for the first time.
Winfield Township Trustee Roland "Rollie" Brauer Jr. must defeat Winfield Town Councilwoman Paulette Skinner to win his second term in office.