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CROWN POINT | Jolie Covaciu became Lake County's first female county assessor Friday evening.

The 46-year-old local Cedar Lake woman narrowly outpolled veteran Deputy County Assessor Debra M. Johnson, 54, of Crown Point, in vote of a caucus of Republican precinct committee members in the county government complex auditorium.

Covaciu made an issue of Johnson's last minute real estate purchase of a tax-delinquent vacant lot in Lake Station last week to meet the state regulation of being a property owner.

She now replaces Hank Adams, who died last month.

Her 56 to 52 win was a disappointment to Johnson supporters who had counted on the endorsement of Lake County GOP Chairman Dan Dernulc and Jean Shepherd, Adams wife.

Adams was the first Republican to be elected to a countywide office in 50 years when he pulled off a shocking victory over the majority Democratic Party three years ago. 

Covaciu will complete the final year of his term and will face voters next year for election in her own right.

The closeness of the vote reflected that both women hold the highest state certification required for the office — Level III assessor/appraiser and have on-the-job experience in mass tax assessment.

But Covaciu bragged of having owned her family's Cedar Lake home for 14 years, while Johnson was left to explain her last-minute real estate deal.

The Times reported earlier this week Johnson bought the vacant lot in the 2700 block of Vigo Street on Oct. 25.

Johnson said she had owned a Crown Point home for years, but sold it to downsize her living expenses and only began looking for other real estate after Adams died and she committed herself to a run for the office.

She said found the Lake Station lot in the county's recent tax sale. The previous owner, Ile Suleski, of Lake Station, had failed pay taxes on it over the last two years and owed nearly $2,400. She said Suleski paid the delinquent tax prior to her purchasing it, although county records won't reflect that for a couple of weeks.

Hobart Republican Pete Harrigan, who introduced Covaciu to the caucus, complained of Johnson's maneuver, "It's something I didn't expect a Republican to do."

Covaciu has been a livelong county resident who has 18 years experience in real and personal property assessments including several years as chief deputy assessor at the Cedar Creek Township assessor’s office.

She stated to precinct officials, "My desire is to continue that work by striving toward fair, uniform and equitable taxation in my years working in the assessment field. By building on his successes in the office, I plan to achieve many of those same goals and be in a position to work hard as your candidate for this office in the general election in November 2014," Covaciu said.