By Stephanie Gadlin, Special to the Gary Crusader
Democrat Oscar Martinez, Jr. emerged the victor in Tuesday’s Indiana Primary, besting seven other candidates, including two African American hopefuls from Gary, according to the Lake County Board of Elections. He will face Republican Dan Bursac in November.
Neither Lake County Clerk Mike Brown or three-time candidate Col. Richard Ligon could muster enough support to break through in the crowded field. Indiana election results showed Martinez received over 40 percent of the vote (16,870), compared to Ligon’s 6,184 (14.72 percent) and Brown’s 6,079 (14.47 percent). Lake County has roughly 345,000 registered voters.
“The people have spoken,” Martinez reportedly told supporters as he commanded the lead late Tuesday.
Last year, the state reported that it had deleted nearly half a million people from the Indiana voter rolls, including nearly 30,000 voters in Lake County, citing irregularities with the database.
Brown was county clerk in 2010 and 2014 and was county recorder in 2004 and 2008 and had the support of Gary’s African American elite, including Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. Ligon, with 36 years of law enforcement and military experience was supported by veterans and community activists, who touted his leadership ability.
Martinez, who was appointed sheriff following a scandal that rocked the department, had the support of Lake County democratic leaders in Griffith, Merrillville, Gary, Hobart and Hammond.
Born in Gary, Martinez was raised in East Chicago, Indiana. He graduated from Robert Morris University in Chicago with a degree in computerized business and accounting. In 2007, he completed the Northwestern University Public Safety School of Police Staff and Command Course.
After graduating from the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in 1993, Martinez joined the Lake County Sheriff’s Department 24 years ago, and began his career in the Patrol Division.
Martinez ran twice unsuccessfully for sheriff in the Democratic primary elections. He became sheriff last September when Democratic Party members chose him to serve the unexpired term of former Sheriff John Buncich, who was convicted on multiple counts of bribery and fraud, along with other department officials.
Earlier in the campaign season observers had warned that Brown and Ligon would divide the Black vote and allow Martinez, an early frontrunner, to win. Both men told the Crusader that while they understood the dynamics, neither of them was willing to drop out of the race in order to consolidate their base and secure one of them as the first African American to hold the position.
Neither Ligon or Brown were available for comment at Crusader press deadline.