Lake County Democrats have confirmed a date for the caucus to replace late county Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, touching off a flurry of activity from hopefuls eager to fill her 2nd District seat.
The vote is set for June 10 at the Calumet Township Trustee’s multipurpose center in Gary, Lake County Democratic chair Jim Wieser said on Thursday.
The opportunity to fill a powerful position in county government has already attracted a mix of familiar names and relative unknowns. Party insiders expect the field of candidates to swell over the next two weeks.
First to publicly declare his intent was Calumet Township Board President Darren Washington, who told The Times Monday he wants to serve the remainder of Franklin’s term and then run to retain the seat in the next election. An experienced political hand, Washington is personally close with the Franklin family and an ally of incoming Gary Mayor Jerome Prince, the head of the powerful Gary Democratic Party Precinct Organization.
Another political veteran who intends to run is Carol Ann Seaton, the Democratic precinct captain in Gary’s 5th District. Seaton sent letters of intent to precinct committee members on Thursday, inviting them to an informal meet-and-greet event Saturday, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Times.
Seaton has been involved in the Gary precinct organization for many years, but she is perhaps best known for a 2010 scandal over her residency status and illegitimate property tax exemptions. As a candidate for county assessor that year, she became the first Democrat to lose a countywide election in a half-century and was removed from the Board of Tax Appeals by the county council.
In her letter to precinct committee members, Seaton touted her “proven track record of service to the community, the Democratic Party and to the Precinct Organization.”
“I believe that it is important that the next councilperson has a sincere desire to serve all neighborhoods and communities while having a clear understanding of county government,” she wrote, adding, “I sincerely believe that these are the qualities and characteristics that best describe me.”
Some less experienced candidates are also jumping at the chance fill the 2nd District vacancy. One hopeful is Gary resident Jeremy Yancey, who ran against Franklin in the Democratic primary last year.
A 29-year-old insurance agent and financial adviser, Yancey contrasted his relative youth and professional background with the rest of the council, which skews middle-age and older.
“I think I’m well qualified to complete the remainder of the term,” he said. “I bring a fresh perspective as a millennial and not a seasoned politician. I’m also a small business owner, and we don’t have that (on the council).”
Other would-be council members have informally expressed interest in running for Franklin’s seat with varying levels of certainty, according to Griffith Democratic Party chair Michael Ball. Of them, Al Menchaca, a precinct committeeman in Gary, is the only one who has told Ball he definitely intends to throw his hat in the ring.
“He worked his tail off getting (Lake County Sheriff) Oscar Martinez elected,” Ball said of Menchaca. “He told me he is absolutely running.”
“There’s going to be others — I’m thinking at least 10 folks,” Ball added.
Menchaca was not immediately available for comment.
As the field becomes more crowded, odds fall that any one candidate can win a majority of caucus votes in the first round. In that scenario, the candidate with the fewest votes will be dropped from the ballot and precinct committee members will vote again until a majority winner is chosen, Wieser said.
Notifications of the caucus will be mailed Friday to eligible precinct committee members in the county’s 2nd District, which covers about half of Gary’s precincts plus several others in Griffith and unincorporated Calumet Township. Franklin represented the district from 2003 until her death earlier this month.
There are now 44 precincts in the 2nd District, following a state-mandated consolidation earlier this year, according to Wieser. However, at least 60 people could vote on June 10 because party rules allow committee members whose precincts were consolidated to vote in a caucus, Wieser said.