RICH JAMES: Rudy and I spent a number of years together

2013-06-04T17:57:00Z 2013-06-05T10:53:51Z RICH JAMES: Rudy and I spent a number of years togetherRich James
June 04, 2013 5:57 pm  • 

Nobody didn’t like Rudy Clay.

Rudy was the consummate politician, seemingly on the campaign trail 24/7.

He’ll be remembered for a good number of things, especially his natty dress and trademark muttonchops.

Rudy and I spent a good number of years together when he was county commissioner. I was the reporter and later editor.

While Rudy was devoted to his district, which was largely Gary, he always kept what was best for Lake County foremost in his thoughts.

And while Rudy was a strong Democrat, he often put politics aside when deciding what was fair and best for the county.

Perhaps the greatest example of that was when he and Commissioner Ernie Niemeyer became the most unlikely of bedfellows.

Clay, the city slicker, cast the deciding vote to make Niemeyer, a Republican Lowell farm boy, the president of the Board of Commissioners.

Clay didn’t win every battle when he was a county commissioner, but it was hard to tell. He never got angry — at least he never showed it. And he never had a bad thing to say about anyone, even opponents.

He was adamantly opposed to the gun shows at the Lake County Fairgrounds. But he was always outvoted by the other commissioners. I mentioned that in a recent column. Rudy sent an email, thanking me for remembering him.

Rudy always said he couldn’t justify county-sponsored gun shows when people were being shot to death on the streets of Gary.

But the job he most coveted but rarely talked about finally opened up for him. Rudy Clay was going to be mayor of his beloved Gary.

If anyone could revitalize Gary, Rudy thought he was the one because he cared so deeply. He may have been short on book-learning, but he was as tall as anyone when it came to heart.

Rudy had grand plans for the revitalization of downtown Gary. He was going to convert the abandoned Sheraton Hotel into senior citizen housing. Downtown Gary was to be a mini-version of the Magnificent Mile in Chicago.

Rudy had artist renderings and promises of money from would-be developers.

Most of it never materialized before Rudy announced he was ill and wouldn’t be seeking re-election.

My favorite recollection of Rudy came when he was still commissioner. A massive earthquake had hit Mexico City, killing hundreds.

A Mass was being held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Indiana Harbor.

It was standing room only as parishioners began filing down the aisles to take Communion.

And then I spotted Rudy in one of the lines sporting a “Viva Mexico” button on his lapel. It didn’t really matter that Rudy wasn’t Catholic, he just cared about people.

Viva Rudy Clay.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at The opinions are the writer’s.

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