DOUG ROSS: My favorite story about Rudy Clay

2013-06-07T00:00:00Z 2013-06-07T16:05:07Z DOUG ROSS: My favorite story about Rudy ClayDoug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

After Rudy Clay's death Tuesday afternoon, the memory of how Clay and Evan Bayh began working together rushed to the surface.

When Clay became Gary's mayor in 2006, he inherited a city with serious problems. Perhaps the most visible was that an estimated 1 in 8 buildings was abandoned.

That's a staggering number. The decay of many of those structures is even more staggering.

Abandoned buildings can be a haven to crime. Think of crack houses and of people being dragged into them to be assaulted. They're not what you want next door. They're a deterrent to redevelopment.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has begun a modest Dollar Homes Program to rehab 13 homes in the city's University Park project. Good.

But seriously, there are some homes that just need to come down.

I asked then-Sen. Bayh about Gary's abandoned buildings at an Editorial Board meeting. I asked if the mayor had ever picked up the phone and called Bayh's office to ask for help. Bayh said no.

So I wrote a column afterward, suggesting Clay give Bayh a call for federal assistance. Clay did, and thus began a push for federal funds to knock down those derelict buildings.

Between the time Bayh got involved and when Bayh left office in December 2010, about 100 homes in the city had been razed. That was a mere dent in the problem.

I last saw Bayh on Dec. 20, 2010, when he visited a burned-out home on Georgia Street in Gary. It was a stop on Bayh's farewell tour.

After posing for photos with a sledgehammer — it took larger equipment to do the actual work — Bayh told me of visiting that house in the summer and seeing children playing nearby. It broke his heart that children could be so near a dangerous property.

When Bayh toured the home the first time, he said, his foot broke a floorboard, and he was worried about falling into the basement.

That could have happened to a child, someone "touring" the building without police or others nearby to help.

Tearing down those structures was important to Bayh, a dedicated father. It was also important to Clay, the dedicated city father.

I was at several events where Clay talked about the importance of razing those buildings after he began collaborating with Bayh. He made it a point to give me credit for prompting the two to begin talking to each other.

But really, that's the way it's supposed to work in government. The locals talk to state and federal officials, and together they improve residents' lives.

There will be many speeches in coming days about what a great guy Clay was and all that he accomplished. Clay, who has now entered his next stage, was dedicated to bringing his city into its own new era.

To me, the best way to honor the late mayor is to knock down derelict buildings in Gary.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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