Roundup of Northwest Indiana primaries

Freeman-Wilson lands Gary Dems’ nomination, Janiec secures GOP spot in Hammond

May 4, 2011

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Karen Freeman-Wilson, right, hugs her husband at her victory celebration Tuesday night.

The city of Gary, Indiana, could be a step closer to getting its first female mayor.

Karen Freeman-Wilson won Tuesday’s Democratic primary over eight other candidates, including Ragen Hatcher, the daughter of Gary’s first black mayor, Richard Hatcher, who won election in 1967. Freeman-Wilson, a graduate of Harvard Law School, would also become the first black female mayor in Indiana history if she wins the general election this November.

A former Indiana attorney general and one-time Gary City Court judge, Freeman-Wilson received the endorsement of Gary’s current mayor, Rudy Clay. Clay, 75, dropped out of the race in early April because he said he’s battling prostate cancer.

With nearly 20,000 votes cast, unofficial election results show Karen Freeman-Wilson securing nearly 58 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Hatcher, a member of the Gary City Council, garnered nearly 35 percent.

In East Chicago, Mayor Anthony Copeland secured the Democratic nomination. Last fall, Copeland was selected to finish the term left by George Pabey, who resigned following his conviction in federal court. Ironically, Pabey, who rode into office in 2004 with ideas of cleaning up corruption, will be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Hammond on Thursday.

Copeland is the first African-American mayor in the history of East Chicago, a city that’s predominately Latino.
His main challenger was Councilman Richard Medina, a close friend of Pabey.

If history is any guide, Freeman-Wilson and Copeland have little to worry about in the fall; Republicans haven’t taken mayoral seats in either city in decades.

The same cannot be said for Hammond.

Incumbent Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. easily secured victory in the Democratic primary over three other challengers, including Oscar Sanchez, who finished a distant third. Sanchez had the backing of former Lake County, Indiana Sheriff Roy Dominguez.

But McDermott may not want to put his campaign check book away just yet. He’ll face Republican challenger George Janiec in the general election in the fall. Four years ago, Janiec and McDermott went head to head in a protracted campaign. Janiec lost that contest by a mere 500 votes.

In this election cycle, Janiec faced an obstacle even before getting to the primary. For the last two months, he fought to retain a place on the Republican primary ballot. The Lake County Election Board ruled in March that Janiec was ineligible to run for office because he sits on the Hammond School Board.

A Lake County judge agreed and ordered his name kept off the ballot, unless he resigns from the school board.
But the Indiana Supreme Court ruled less than two weeks ago that Janiec did not violate any state law that would keep him off the primary ballot.

Janiec promises a better-funded and more organized campaign this time around. Incumbent mayors in Portage, Crown Point and Lake Station also secured victories. Crown Point voters also approved a referendum that will increase property taxes to fund public schools.

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