Phone call could transfer federal dollars to Gary

Doug Ross' column
2008-12-19T00:00:00Z Phone call could transfer federal dollars to GaryDOUG ROSS
December 19, 2008 12:00 am  • 

When Evan Bayh was governor of Indiana, he came to Gary's rescue. If Mayor Rudy Clay plays his cards right, that might happen again.

In 1995, then-Mayor Scott King asked Bayh for help in bringing down the city's crime rate. Gary had the highest per-capita crime rate of any major city in the nation.

Bayh sent 50 Indiana State Police officers to patrol Gary's streets, giving the city time to hire and train new officers.

That was 13 years ago, and now Gary has more bad luck. The city is drowning in a budget quagmire.

Clay says when he took office, the city had to borrow money to pay off millions of dollars in past-due utility bills. All those years of poor financial decisions by past administrations -- and Clay's as well -- have finally caught up with the city government, thanks to the property tax caps being put in place by the Indiana General Assembly.

Meanwhile, the city has two big problems caused by its 4,000 to 5,000 derelict buildings. They are a magnet to crime, and they are a deterrent to economic development.

Blight feeds upon itself. Who wants to open a business -- unless it's illicit -- in the shadows of all those economic failures?

Some of the downtown buildings are historic and protected by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Clay said the city is working out compromises with the DNR on those buildings.

But that still leaves thousands of other buildings with no such protection.

Clay put forward the idea of having the Indiana National Guard raze those abandoned buildings, but even though everyone seems to like the idea, the equipment to do the job is in Iraq, not Indiana.

Which brings us back to Bayh.

Bayh is an influential U.S. senator now and a force in the Indiana Democratic Party.

Bayh is helping put together a list of infrastructure and construction projects in Indiana that can get under way quickly if President-elect Obama's economic stimulus plan is approved.

Obama's philosophy, and Bayh's, is to spend federal money quickly to put Americans back to work on projects that will position the nation better for the future once the economy does bounce back.

Infrastructure and construction projects that don't require additional studies before work begins are expected to be a high priority.

If the National Guard can't tear down those buildings, why not private contractors using federal dollars?

Bayh told The Times this week that he likes this idea because it's a "twofer" -- it fights crime and increases the likelihood of economic development. And it puts Americans back to work.

But Bayh also said he hasn't been approached by Clay about this project.

If Clay needs it, I'd be happy to pass along that phone number. I want to see Gary thrive again. It could start with a simple phone call.

Hello Bayh, hello opportunity.

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