CROWN POINT — The Lake County Board of Elections tossed former county Councilman Jamal Washington off the Democratic primary ballot Wednesday, marking the latest stumble in the ongoing downfall of a once-promising political leader.
In a voice vote with no opposition, the five-member board upheld a consolidated challenge to Washington’s candidacy on residency grounds. Washington, who is one of 17 candidates for three at large Gary City Council seats, faced petitions from fellow at large candidate James Dillon and Gary resident Alyone Priest-Wylie.
The elections board combined the challenges because both contended that Washington hadn’t lived in Gary for long enough to run for office in the city. Under Indiana election law, a candidate must have lived in the district in which he is running for least one year before the general election.
Tuesday’s challenges continued the political fallout from Washington’s Jan. 30 arrest on allegations of assaulting his former girlfriend, Gary Councilwoman Lavetta Sparks-Wade, while living at her home. It was the latest domestic violence incident involving Washington, who pleaded guilty in 2016 to battering his wife and was convicted of misdemeanor battery in November after assaulting his 24-year-old cousin.
Priest-Wylie said that history of violence against women was part of his motivation for challenging Washington’s candidacy.
“I notified (Sparks-Wade) that I would challenge on her behalf,” he told The Times. “I did it out of respect for her and my disgust for the former councilman.
“I think the board made a decision based on what was expected by the citizenry of Lake County. (The elections board) stood with survivors of domestic violence.”
At issue was whether Washington could claim one full year of residence in Gary by the Nov. 5 general election. Sparks-Wade testified that Washington moved into her house from his former Merrillville address in October. She also said she kicked him out of the house via a no-contact order in February, meaning Washington maintained Gary residency for no more than five months.
Dillon further called into question the timeline of Washington’s residence in Gary. On Dillon’s behalf, attorney Alfredo Estrada submitted voter registration records showing Washington claiming a Merrillville address as of late November.
In any case, the petitioners argued, Washington’s arrest and incarceration in the Lake County Jail preclude him from establishing “true, fixed, permanent” residence in Gary as required by election law.
“It’s clear by the evidence he is no longer a resident of Gary,” Estrada told the elections board.
Washington, who remains in the county lockup pending a March 4 bond review, did not have a representative to speak on his behalf at the meeting. He can appeal the elections board’s decision to the Lake County Circuit Court.
Sparks-Wade, who is running for Gary mayor, said she was glad to see Washington pulled from the race.
“I’m pleased with the outcome, that’s all,” she told The Times.
Indiana law bars individuals with a felony conviction from running for elected office. Despite his domestic violence convictions, Washington was able to run for Gary City Council because both were misdemeanors.
Washington is charged with five felony counts, including confinement and domestic battery, in connection with his alleged attack on Sparks-Wade.