CROWN POINT — A news conference held by a self-described nonpartisan political group went awry, deteriorating into a yelling match over the group’s apparent political support of Sheriff Roy Dominguez.
Two members of the Coalition Against Corruption in Lake County (CACLC) — its spokeswoman, Bess Butler-Austin, and “The Lake County Fat Cat,” a man dressed in a costume reminiscent of the Dr. Seuss character Cat in the Hat — invited the public and local media to Bronko’s Restaurant Thursday afternoon.
According to a media advisory sent by the group, it would unveil two Internet databases that would allow voters to review the policies and records of both Dominguez and challenger John Buncich.
What Butler-Austin — a political neophyte who recently moved to Crown Point from Chicago — presented, however, was a negative campaign Web site against Buncich, created and paid for by the CACLC, with nothing against Dominguez.
The domain http://www.buncichforsheriff.org
is registered to a server owned by Computer Solutions, 1312 N. Main St. in Crown Point. Last year, Computer Solutions contributed $2,412 to the Dominguez campaign — $380 in May, $705 in November and $1,327 in December.
Butler-Austin did not return phones for comment about the donations.
“We’re not here to endorse Roy Dominguez,” Butler-Austin said at the meeting. “We’re here to expose the horrid record of John Buncich, and it’s our hope that the voters will hold Buncich accountable.”
As Butler-Austin continued to read from a prepared statement, audience members started to question her about Dominguez, reminding her that two of his treasurers have been charged with crimes.
“We think you have the right (sic) to answer these questions,” said staunch Buncich supporter Sam Orlich.
Butler-Austin said the news conference wasn’t meant to be one-sided, but she couldn’t answer any questions related to Dominguez, nor could she point out any Web sites examining Dominguez’s policies.
“Our chief concern is the people of Lake County,” she said. “There’ll always be questions about people’s pasts, but it’s more important that they do research on both candidates.”
When Orlich questioned Butler-Austin about the CACLC’s members and whether or not they’re saying Buncich is corrupt, the “Fat Cat” told him they were taking questions only from the media and that Orlich should “shut up.”
Dominguez did not return a call for comment, but former Lake County Police Chief Gary Martin, who is now Dominguez’s campaign manager, said they’re “absolutely not” affiliated with the CACLC.
“We don’t know who they are; we saw their ad in the paper just like everyone else,” Martin said. “The sheriff’s been campaigning all day, and we’re too busy doing our thing.”
Larry Wirtz Sr. of Crown Point doesn’t buy it.
“It’s obvious this was a scam,” Wirtz said. “They did nothing but bash Buncich, but look at Dominguez. ... This was an insult to everyone.”