GARY | The historic swearing in of the first black woman mayor in Indiana was celebrated by several hundred people, including county and state officials, and punctuated by some rousing, hand-clapping gospel performances Saturday.
Karen Freeman-Wilson was sworn in by state Supreme Court Justice Robert Rucker to launch what supporters called a new day for Gary. The event was held at the West Side Leadership Academy auditorium and included the reading of a letter from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and a personal appearance by state Attorney General Greg Zoeller.
Zoeller made light of the fact that — as a white, middle-aged male from New Albany, Ind., who also is a Republican — he is about as different from Freeman-Wilson as possible. He said he wanted to attend because Freeman-Wilson attended his inauguration as one of the former state attorneys general and stressed people need to work together despite their differences.
"It's time to put aside politics and partisanship," Zoeller told the crowd. "Karen Freeman-Wilson has a monumental task ahead. Everyone in Gary needs to get behind the new mayor for there to be a new day in Gary, and it starts with me. I'm always willing to work with the new mayor to serve the common good of the citizens."
Freeman-Wilson was one of the last to be sworn in following city Judge Dierdre Monroe, Clerk Suzette Raggs, and the nine council members. Joining Freeman-Wilson on stage for the swearing in were her husband, Carmen Wilson, and daughter, Jordan. As she completed the oath of office, she gave a special emphasis to "so help me God."
"This is what unity looks like," she said. Although very aware of the historic significance of her election, Freeman-Wilson said, "I have come to the conclusion today is not about me. It is about a God who has not forgotten about Gary. But we must remember, his hands are our hands."
Saying residents had hired her to be the mayor, she told them she was hiring them to help her achieve the vision of a new day and asked, "What are you willing to do to make Gary a better place?"
"Today Gary, once dubbed the 'City of the Century' is at the crossroads. We are battered but not defeated. We are acknowledging our past, but we are moving forward. There are some parts of our history we don't want to repeat, but our vision exceeds our past. We will be better because we have a plan."
Freeman-Wilson said $2.6 billion in development already is in the works in the city — at the airport, at U.S. Steel, on the Canadian National Railroad line and in creation of a new data storage system and a multimodal transportation center.
She promised to work to improve Gary's image by improving its appearance, addressing crime "at every level" by making it clear to criminals that "Gary is a no-fly zone," providing job training and contract opportunities for Gary residents and rooting out corruption, which she said is part of the fabric of the community.
She also had a message for those spreading negativism or pessimism about the city's future: "I invite you to leave the city by any of the many doors available."
State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, told the enthusiastic crowd, "I see people are smiling, applauding and dancing, but we need more. Karen can't do it all. If you all live up to your commitment today, Gary will be the cleanest, most prosperous city in the United States."