John Buncich was first elected Lake County sheriff in 1994 – a generation ago by most standards.
He was brash and full of himself. It seemed there had been an anointment, not an election.
Mandatory term limits forced out Buncich and led to the election of Roy Dominguez in 2002 and 2006.
Buncich returned in 2010 and is seeking a final term on May 6.
He’s a different guy. He’s all about law enforcement. The inflated ego is long gone.
When he took the sheriff’s oath in January 2011, he inherited a department in various stages of disarray. Corruption had just ripped through the upper echelon of the Dominguez administration, and the county jail wasn’t much better than Abu Ghraib.
During the two months between the 2010 election and taking office, Buncich went to work – reaching out to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to work on joint efforts on confronting gangs and drugs. It’s working.
And he has spent countless hours meeting U.S. Department of Justice demands to improve conditions at the massive county jail. He did that while sometimes battling county councilmen and commissioners who often thought the jail was Buncich’s problem, not the county’s.
Buncich has led the push for a county veterans court to assist those who come out of the military with scrambled minds, little hope and often no one who cares. It is about to happen.
Buncich ought to win this election easily. There is something to be said about experience – especially with a clean record – when it comes to law enforcement.
Four years ago there were 11 candidates in the Democratic primary. Two of those 11 are back to face Buncich.
One is Richard Ligon. He is a retired National Guard colonel, meaning he spent a long time as a weekend warrior. And he is a retired postal service inspector, which is a far cry from battling gangs and drugs.
And Ligon has made an inexcusable mistake in embracing Joe Kumstar – who was second in command to Dominguez and awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to weapons violations.
The other is Oscar Martinez, a county police officer who has had success doing drug interdiction but never has been an administrator.
With 13,027 votes, Buncich had a meager 28 percent of the total in the 2010 Democratic primary. Ligon was close with 11,898 votes and Martinez had 6,973.
Three other credible candidates – Frank Dupey, Tom Philpot and Don Parker – collectively had 11,837 votes in 2010.
And five others, who had no business running, collectively pulled 2,821 dumb votes.
So, 31.5 percent of the votes cast in 2010 didn’t go to Buncich, Ligon or Martinez in 2010.
Anyone who has earned his political stripes knows the lion’s share of those votes will go to Buncich – not just for political reasons but because he’s earned them.