CROWN POINT | The Lake County Democratic Party chairman is calling on county Surveyor George Van Til to drop off the Nov. 6 general election ballot for the good of the party.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., the party boss, said Friday that Van Til has become a liability to the party's state and local slate of candidates following Tuesday's FBI raid.
He wants Van Til to finish his current term but voluntarily step aside and let the party pick a new candidate to run for the next term as county surveyor in the fall.
McDermott said, "In my opinion the FBI is not going to make a high-profile show of force, like they did on Tuesday, unless they think something is there. I have no inside information whatsoever. I know I have never seen anything like I saw on Tuesday with FBI agents making a show of force," he said.
Nearly a dozen state and federal law enforcement agents removed computers and paper documents from the office under a federal search warrant. The U.S. attorney's office has declined to comment on the nature of its investigation.
Van Til declined to comment early Friday afternoon but said he would issue a statement later in response to McDermott.
McDermott and Van Til have clashed over the years. Both competed for the office of party chairman in 2009. Van Til dropped out before Democratic precinct committeemen elected McDermott as their leader.
However, McDermott said this isn't personal.
"I have to look out for the whole party," McDermott said. "I've been getting calls since Tuesday from statewide elected officials in the party who are very concerned about what this is going to to do to the Democratic ticket."
He said the public's perception of the raid may hurt the election chances of U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky; Joe Donnelly, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar's seat; and John R. Gregg, Democratic candidate for governor.
"Two years ago, we had Carol Seaton running for a relatively unimportant office, Lake County assessor, and she became such a distraction that our whole ticket suffered," he said.
Seaton, dogged by allegations she lived out of state and in a home with an illegal tax break, lost to Republican Hank Adams in 2010. Other Republican victories in local races were blamed on Seaton's scandal.
McDermott said Friday the Democratic Party has to be hitting on all cylinders on Election Day.
"The Democratic Party has been good to George Van Til for two decades. We have constantly re-elected him and supported him. Now, he needs to do the right thing. We can't force him off the ticket. He has to do this voluntarily," McDermott said.
McDermott said a caucus of Democratic precinct committeemen would name the candidate to run in the fall if Van Til bowed out.
McDermott said he tried to call Van Til about the matter, but Van Til hasn't returned the call. "He texted me back that he talked to (Merrillville attorney and former Gary Mayor) Scott King and he can't talk to anybody until next week.
"We don't have until next week. I'm getting calls now, and they are worried now. He had a press release (Wednesday) saying the office was still open while he was being raided. George Van Til, if he wants to admit it or not, is a distraction locally and statewide," McDermott said.