GARY | Karen Freeman-Wilson is poised to become the first black female mayor in Indiana.
Unofficial voting results Tuesday night indicated Freeman-Wilson, a former city judge and Indiana attorney general, won the city's Democratic mayoral primary Tuesday night by a 2-1 majority over Councilwoman Ragen Hatcher. Hatcher is the daughter of former Mayor Richard Hatcher who in 1968 became the first black mayor of Gary.
"It is an honor to make history, but I stand on the shoulders of great women like Earline Rogers locally," the Harvard-educated attorney said.
Seven other active candidates finished with little of the remaining vote.
Freeman-Wilson will face Republican Charles R. Smith Jr. in the fall general election, but her nomination is tantamount to victory in this overwhelmingly Democratic stronghold.
"If Gary elects an African-American female as mayor, that would be an exciting first in Indiana," said Jennifer P. Simmons, associate executive director of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns.
Hundreds of supporters, many of them wearing electric blue "Karen about Gary" T-shirts, packed the Genesis Convention Center in downtown Gary to celebrate.
Freeman-Wilson became the odds-on favorite last month after incumbent Mayor Rudy Clay announced he had prostate cancer, called off his re-election efforts and endorsed Freeman-Wilson as his successor.
"The decision people made tonight was the right thing because this is going to decide the fate of Gary for decades to come," said Clay, who made an early appearance at the party Tuesday night.
But before Clay's departure from the race, Wilson already was winning endorsements from several Democratic Party district captains as well as officeholders such as County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, and County Clerk Mike Brown.
"Today is almost overwhelming," Freeman-Wilson said. "It was the first day I really got to enjoy meeting the voters. I had the most poignant conversation with residents outside of the Dorie Miller housing projects, and they talked about jobs and crime and cleaning up the city.
"That is the message that resonated throughout the city no matter where I went, and that is my mission."