CROWN POINT | Two men are expressing equal confidence going into Saturday's Democratic caucus.
One of them will be named the next Lake County surveyor.
Bill Emerson Jr., a Merrillville lawyer with backing from Hammond party leaders, and Gregory Sanchez, who has been interim county surveyor for the last three weeks, came out of a meeting last weekend of party leaders with good feelings about their election chances but no endorsements.
Emerson, who received the most votes from party executives, said he expects to win this weekend.
Sanchez said he believes he can win in spite of support for Emerson by Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., the Democratic Party chairman, and the mayor's political allies.
McDermott said a meeting among party leaders last weekend indicated they are almost evenly split between Emerson and Sanchez, who are seeking the support of a majority of the 526 precinct committeemen who will appear Saturday morning at the Hammond Civic Center.
John Garcia, of Hammond, and Peter Papageorgakis, of Crown Point, who both expressed interest in the job earlier, said Monday they are bowing out of the race.
The winner will fill out the remaining three years of the term vacated by former Surveyor George Van Til, who resigned Dec. 5 after pleading guilty in federal court to six counts of fraud alleging he assigned political work to his public employees. No sentencing date has been set for Van Til.
The office at stake, which oversees stormwater drainage and geographic information, has a budget of nearly $2.4 million annually and a payroll of 25 full-time and 15 part-time employees.
Emerson, Sanchez and Garcia immediately announced their intentions to replace Van Til following his resignation.
Garcia, who nearly defeated Van Til in the 2012 Democratic primary, said Monday he is withdrawing from the race for personal reasons. Garcia owns Garcia Consulting Engineers in Hammond.
Sanchez said Monday he believes Garcia's departure is part of a deal by party leaders associated with McDermott to support Emerson's candidacy.
McDermott called Democratic leaders from around the county last weekend to the party's Merrillville headquarters to decide whether to make an endorsement in the race. He said they split 14-12 in favor of Emerson.
However, McDermott said there will be no official endorsement because neither candidate captured the support of two-thirds of the leaders present.
Sanchez said six of the votes for Emerson were cast by McDermott and his allies.
"If you subtract those six, I got the lion's share of the (municipal) chairmen. I'm running against a guy with no experience. I felt really good about it."
Emerson said, "I was really happy. I feel like I'm getting a lot of support. They want a new direction. They don't want to look back."