DOUG ROSS: Gary turns to old ideas for new help

2013-07-19T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Gary turns to old ideas for new helpBy Doug Ross, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357

This is a story of bipartisanship, of partnerships, of Bayh partnerships. It is a tale of helping the needy. And Gary needs help. In many forms.

The cautionary tale is Detroit, which filed a bankruptcy petition in federal court Thursday for help in discharging debts, including pension obligations. I expect Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and other state officials, as well as Gary officials, will be watching that case closely.

Gary received necessary prodding from the state Distressed Unit Appeals Board, which forced Gary to begin slashing expenses. That work is not yet done, but it's underway.

To call Gary a heavily Democratic city would be an understatement, but that doesn't mean Republicans don't care about the city. The DUAB was a Republican creation. This is about helping a city, not about politics.

But that wasn't the first intervention, nor will it be the last.

One of the older ideas is being recycled.

In 1995, when Evan Bayh was Indiana's governor, he sent state troopers to Gary to help the city get crime under control. Scott King was mayor at the time.

When I talked to Bayh a few weeks ago, he suggested what was a good idea then is a good idea now. 

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson clearly agrees. She has asked Gov. Mike Pence to send troopers to the city. Today, she plans to provide Pence more details on what she's asking the state to commit to.

She's also reaching out to the state to follow up on another idea that is dear to Bayh's heart, and to mine.

When Bayh was a U.S. senator, he toured abandoned buildings in Gary with Ron Sims, an undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce. It opened their eyes, with "liquor bottles and drug paraphernalia scattered all over the place," Bayh said.

Bayh wants the Indiana National Guard to help reduce the vast number of derelict buildings in the city.

But what about all the red tape?

Bayh reminded me of when Chicago Mayor Richard Daley sent bulldozers to destroy the runway at night, with zero notice, at the problematic Meigs Field airport.

"That was the end of Meigs Field," Bayh recounted. Problem solved.

"Get a bulldozer on, get a hard hat on, and tear down a building," Bayh said. 

When then-Mayor Rudy Clay talked of having the National Guard raze buildings in Gary, the plan was defeated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Guard's heavy machinery was in use overseas.

But those wars are winding down, so Freeman-Wilson is following up on this idea.

"About a month ago I discussed (demo assistance) with the adjutant general," she said Thursday. "It is essentially a training exercise when troops are less active. Now that some of the Indiana companies are headed home, there may be an opportunity for that to happen. I will follow up with him."

When Freeman-Wilson ran for mayor, her ties to President Barack Obama were a selling point. We'll soon see evidence of federal help as well.

That's good, because Gary needs these partnerships. It mustn't become a Detroit. It mustn't give up.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Follow him at and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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