East Chicago, Ind., councilman Robert Battle was sworn into office for a second term. This time around, though, the event was a rather low-key event. Instead of the mayor conducting the ceremony, it was an “unnamed official,” according to the Chicago Tribune. And instead of City Hall, the venue was the county jail. The insideof the county jail. The councilman is currently behind bars on multiple felony charges. And while he certainly isn’t the first politician to face legal trouble, he does face quite the uphill battle, so to speak.
It’s not often, after all, that an elected official is accused of murdering a man in cold blood during a drug deal. Battle has pleaded not guilty. But the gruesome alleged crime is causing serious problems for his party. Democratic officials in Lake County, Ind., just across the border from Illinois, find themselves facing an unusual problem. Their headache stems not from their candidate failing to get elected, but rather from him refusing to resign.
“I can’t remember a situation like this,” Sheriff John Buncich, chair of the Lake County Democratic Central Committee, told the Tribune in November, when Battle was reelected just a few weeks after being charged with murder and drug dealing. “It’s wrong for the taxpayers, wrong for our party.” Under Indiana law, there is nothing that Buncich can do to oust Battle unless the councilman resigns, admits to either charge or is found guilty in court. In the meantime, Battle gets to keep his seat — and his $42,365 salary.
“I’m very, very upset about this,” Buncich told the Tribune in November after Battle won his seat. “To me what is right is right. You are innocent until proven guilty, but the fact remains you are not going to get out. There is no bond on the charges. As the Democratic leader of the county party, I need to look out for the best interest of the party.” How, exactly, a man charged with murder and drug dealing just days before an election could win reelection says a lot about life in this poor northwestern corner of Indiana.