RICH JAMES: Buncich a good choice for Dem chairman

2014-05-21T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Buncich a good choice for Dem chairmanBy Rich James nwitimes.com
May 21, 2014 12:00 am  • 

East Chicagoans John Krupa, Robert Pastrick and Stephen Stiglich led the Lake County Democratic Party for about a half century.

That control of the chairmanship ended with the election of Rudy Clay of Gary in 2005 and Thomas McDermott Jr. of Hammond in 2009.

The party will turn another page on June 28 when 526 precinct committeemen convene to replace McDermott, who is stepping down.

It is an awesome task, especially given there are 18 town and city Democratic organizations to oversee.

County Commissioner Mike Repay says he wants the job, and he insulted any Democrats worth their salt when he explained why.

“So the question is, what’s the next thing? Is it something new or do we go back? I think I represent more of what Chairman McDermott has put forward,” Repay said.

As a guy who hasn’t yet earned his political wings, Repay may not be the guy to lead an organization that long has been the pride of Indiana.

Keeping an organization of 526 committeemen together is akin to herding cats.

The guy for the job is Sheriff John Buncich, or possibly county Treasurer John Petalas. Each has earned it. And each knows what it takes to win the favor of the diverse groups that make up the Democratic Party.

But it’s Buncich who would make the better chairman.

Buncich has nothing to gain. He will surely be elected in the fall to a final term as sheriff.

Buncich understands those in the precinct organization, whether they are from Lowell or Highland or Gary. That is something acquired over time.

Buncich also has been a leading political voice for organized labor — the backbone of the Democratic organization for decades.

And Buncich knows how to turn out a vote when the bell rings on Election Day.

As sheriff, Buncich is more aware than most of the multitude of problems facing Lake County.

Having grown up in Gary, Buncich learned politics in the trenches. And, despite all the social media today, local elections still are won by knocking on doors.

Frankly, I’m a bit surprised McDermott decided to step down. Being somewhat green when he started, he learned what it was all about and was turning into a pretty good chairman.

Being Lake County Democratic chairman is about securing good candidates, raising money and turning out a massive vote.

I’m not terribly sure what Repay means when he talks about something new or going back.

Democrats don’t change a lot. They stay true to their ideals. And no one understands that better than someone who has been around and benefitted from that foundation.

When Repay talks about how it would be wrong to “go back,” I think about the massive Democratic vote that Pastrick turned out over more than 25 years as chairman. Maybe going back would be a good thing.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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