CROWN POINT | Lake County politicians were scratching their heads Wednesday over voters rejecting the well-known former sheriff Roy Dominguez's bid to return to public office, but embracing a 28-year-old virtual unknown who Dominguez is widely believed to have thrown on the ballot as a prank.
Tuesday's primary was notable for the choices voters made in several local races, including county recorder.
Michael B. Brown never had run for public office before and was even barred from politics by his former job as a court bailiff. He had little money and none of the endorsements of the Democratic Party's precinct organization.
Nevertheless, he defeated well-regarded and well-funded incumbent Recorder Michelle Fajman by 457 votes in Tuesday's primary.
"I knew she was endorsed by the party. I knew I wouldn't have enough volunteers or money. I knew if I jumped out strong early Michelle would have ramped it up, and I wouldn't have been able to win. So I sat on my money and waited until the last minute to do everything," Brown said.
"Nobody took me seriously until this morning, but I was confident with my public service in the courts. My father was a Gary cop, and I've wanted to be a public servant in Lake County all my life. I will do nothing but what is in the best interests of the voters."
Fajman complains she is the victim of a same-name candidate who put his name out but kept a low profile in the hope voters would confuse him with the popular Lake County Clerk Michael A. Brown, the first black to hold that office. "I believe Dominguez put him into the race," she said Tuesday night.
Michael B. Brown, who is white, denied he was hiding from voters or was anyone's pawn.
"I feel bad because everybody thought (Dominguez) put me in the race. I dated his daughter. She has since gotten married, and I've distanced myself, out of respect for his family. I think Roy Dominguez is one of the best men I ever met, but by no means did he put me in this race."
Rich James, a columnist for Howey Politics Indiana, a blog on local and state politics, said, "Who really knows or cares what the recorder does? Michelle Fajman isn't a household name, and Mike Brown is. It does prove the point that oftentimes, voters don't think. They look for something that's familiar."
Dominguez himself was expected to give a strong showing in challenging County Commissioner Gerry Scheub on Tuesday, but Scheub won by a 2-1 margin.
Incumbent Surveyor George Van Til only was able to squeeze out a 2,218-vote victory over challenger John Garcia, a man he walloped by almost 17,000 votes four years ago.
James said, "A commissioner's race is high-profile. People have a lot of contact with that office. Gerry Scheub is constantly in south county looking at drainage ditches and getting them fixed, while Roy Dominguez left the sheriff's office a year and a half ago, and he wants another office. I think by and large people have gotten tired of the musical chairs."
James said, "George Van Til has done some wonderful things, bringing communities together on projects, but he also has a way of irritating people and that has a way of catching up to you when you've been in office four or five terms."
Van Til said Wednesday he realizes his positions on Little Calumet River flood-control policy generated opposition to him in communities in its flood plain, but he said he doesn't regret it. "It's the kind of issue you have to stand up and be counted on, and I think my input improved the final legislation," he said.
North Township Board member Richard Novak said he will decide by week's end whether to challenge County Councilman Michael Repay's 74-vote apparent victory over him in the 3rd District county commissioner race.