GARY — At a special caucus Monday night, Lake County Democrats elected longtime precinct committeeman Al Menchaca to serve the remainder of late Councilwoman Elsie Franklin’s term on the county council.
Menchaca beat out Calumet Township Board President Darren Washington on a second ballot, 28-20.
“Thank you to everyone who believed in me,” Menchaca told the gathering of Democratic precinct committee members. “I will represent all corners of the district. I can assure you that.”
The owner of a small auto sales business in Gary, Menchaca has been involved in the Gary Democratic Precinct Organization for more than 20 years. He recently lost his committee spot when Gary and other cities in Lake County were forced to consolidate their precincts.
Menchaca was one of four candidates who officially declared their intention to take over for Franklin, who represented the county’s 2nd District from 2033 until her death last month. The others were Washington, Gary 5th District precinct captain Carol Ann Seaton and former county council candidate Jeremy Yancey.
The caucus was forced to go to a second ballot after none of the candidates received a majority of the votes in the first round. Menchaca received 24 of 48 votes cast in the first ballot, just one vote shy of a victory. Washington received the second-most votes, with 18, while Yancey and Seaton received 4 and 2, respectively.
Under party rules, Yancey and Seaton were dropped from the ballot going into the second round. Of the six vote up for grabs, four went to Menchaca and two went to Washington.
Among the four candidates, Washington was the only one to lay out policy specifics in opening remarks to the committee members. He proposed holding quarterly meetings with precinct committee members from the 2nd District and to require elected officials such as the county assessor and auditor to be present at public council meetings.
Menchaca, on the other hand, touted his volunteer work in Gary, which he was inspired to begin after an unsuccessful run for city council 16 years ago.
“I’ve been directly involved in the community and I’ve given back,” he told committee members.
While Menchaca’s remarks were light on policy ideas, he did guarantee that he wouldn’t use the position as a springboard to another political office.
“(If I’m elected) I assure you I will not run for another office while holding this office,” he said.
Franklin won re-election in November 2018, meaning Menchaca is expected to serve on the county council until at least the end of the term in January 2023.