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Local News Editor

Marc Chase is a veteran investigative reporter, columnist and editor of more than two decades. He currently leads The Times news staff as local news editor. He can be reached at 219-933-3327.

Organizations plagued by scandal and spinning out of control need a steady pilot — a firm-handed leader to end the nosedive.

But a chief aviator can't right a swooning aircraft when his focus remains out in the clouds and not on the controls.

In many ways, aspects of the Lake County Democratic Party are descending into a lame-winged descent.

There's no better example than the recent guilty plea by Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington to charges he battered his wife.

He pleaded guilty on a Thursday in December, and then one day later had what some county officials referred to as celebratory cocktails with other county political officials and allies.

It seems Washington was happy he was able to plead guilty to misdemeanor battery to avoid the felony strangulation charges he had faced.

Then, nearly a month to the day after the guilty plea, Washington's fellow County Council members voted 4-3 to elevate what should have been a scandal-plagued untouchable to the prestige of Lake County Council vice president.

Lake County government and its penchant for political corruption notwithstanding, most of us expect more out of our leaders.

Some of us also pine for a Democratic Party leader to step in and channel World War II Gen. George S. Patton, slapping helmets to knock its soldiers back in line.

And man, have some of the county's Democrats really fallen out of line.

It doesn't get much more out of line than celebrating victory after pleading guilty to domestic battery and then having your political cronies — plus one really misguided Republican swing vote — elevate you to a position of higher power and prestige.

So where is the Patton who can smack helmets and reorient the local Democratic Party's course with a bona fide moral compass?

"Why, that hard-handed field general ought to be the party chairman," many of us likely have said to ourselves.

And to be sure, the Lake County Democratic Party Chairman John Buncich has expressed no real love, in the past, for Jamal Washington and his indiscretions.

As the county's chief lawman — Buncich also is Lake County sheriff, in addition to party chairman — one would expect Buncich to have extra motivation for dropping the hammer on Washington's embarrassments and all party members who've fed into them.

But he can't, and it's just one more reinforcement of why Buncich should abdicate his roles as both sheriff and party chairman.

By now, most of you also know Buncich was indicted in late 2016 for an alleged indiscretion of his own.

Buncich awaits a federal felony trial on charges alleging he took bribes related to towing contracts funneled through the sheriff's office.

Unlike Washington, who already had his day in court and pleaded guilty to the state battery charge, Buncich has not yet entered any pleas nor faced trial in the unrelated federal bribery case.

Buncich is presumed innocent unless proven — or pleading — guilty.

But the very nature of a federal bribery indictment creates a distraction that would render any leader ineffective.

Yet proven or not, federal indictments erode credibility in the minds of most people. That's because the Hammond-based U.S. attorney filing the charges doesn't tend to seek grand jury indictments unless he has plenty of evidence. The U.S. attorney's success rate in winning guilty convictions or prompting guilty pleas in a plethora of Region public corruption cases has been near-perfect in recent decades.

Buncich can't lead in the wake of these allegations — not his party and not his law enforcement office.

So we wait to see if a leader will emerge — someone with both the will and power to quell such extraordinary embarrassments as a wife batterer being rewarded by his peers.

We all need to be transmitting a mayday call and hoping a fit pilot from Lake County's party of power is listening.

Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or Follow him on Facebook at or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.