In January 2012, I began my tenure as mayor of Gary. While it is an honor and privilege to gain the confidence of citizens, it is, at times, also a blessing and a burden. But it was an undertaking I felt strongly about.
Upon taking office, we proclaimed a new day in Gary — one that promoted transparent and responsive government. Most citizens welcomed a new approach, while others expressed doubt about whether our administration had the sincerity and political resolve to change the status quo.
During 2012, the New Day administration accomplished a number of goals. We gained the support of a regional federal task force and gained new investment; established working relationships with Indiana University Northwest, Purdue University Calumet, Ivy Tech Community College and the University of Chicago; improved the delivery of general services and reduced the cost of trash collection.
We also negotiated union contracts and restructured an insurance benefits program that had previously resulted in medical liabilities for city employees.
Finally, we were able to address multiple federal inquiries and establish a plan of action that engendered cooperation and new benefits for Gary citizens.
Despite the accomplishments outlined above, a number of our goals require long-term planning and others remain somewhat elusive. While we saw a reduction in robbery and burglary, there was an increase in violent crime. We are still confronted with daunting unemployment and a staggering poverty rate. While we are hopeful about the educational partnerships in elementary, secondary and post-secondary education, statistics tracking the progress of our students give us cause for consternation.
As much as we note the positive outcomes that result from the extension of olive branches to other parts of Northwest, we are often faced with ignorance fueled by paternalism, self-hatred and racism.
Our goals for 2013 must be informed by our success in 2012 and our determination to overcome our challenges.
Jobs remain at the top of our agenda because economic development has the ability to address many of the other ills that plague our community. This will occur with the establishment of new and existing transportation assets like the airport, trucking, rail and the port. Jobs will also come as a result of our support of longstanding businesses, small and large, that have demonstrated loyalty to this city.
We must also develop new strategies to address crime and educational deficits because these three priorities are so closely related.
By the end of June, the downtown Sheraton Hotel will be a memory. When it was erected near the Genesis Convention Center, this represented the potential for Gary to attract conferences, entertainment and other sources of commerce.
The demolition some 30 years later will also mean growth opportunity for downtown Gary and will be an announcement that it is in fact a new day in Gary. However, it will also represent the hope of residents that we have the resilience to recover from the circumstances of life that have plagued our community. It will be the best evidence that while Gary has many challenges, our wealth of assets and the resolve of our citizens lend themselves to a bright future.