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EAST CHICAGO | Anthony Copeland put the months of rumors to rest on Friday, officially launching his campaign for mayor in 2007.

"It's easy to say, but so very hard to do," the at-large councilman and Fire Department district chief said to a room full of family and friends at Shriner Hall. "I am up to the challenge."

The road to Copeland's quest for the city's top job has been a long one.

He first ran for an at-large City Council seat as an Independent candidate in 1995, and was finally victorious in 2003 as part of a groundswell of popular dissatisfaction with incumbents, which culminated in the election of Mayor George Pabey a year later.

Six months ago, he stood at the same spot in the Indiana Harbor banquet hall, accepting his election to city Democratic Precinct Organization chairman, responsibilities he first sought in 1997.

But now it's time to take the next step, said Copeland, who often has been critical of many Pabey administration practices.

"I enjoy being a councilman, I could do it for the next 20 years if the people let me," he said. "But if this mayor won again, I could not endure four more years of watching -- I can show you, better than I can tell you."

Out-of-control spending and failed budget restraints have led to high taxes, forcing residents out of their homes and making businesses leery of investing in the city, he said.

Copeland promised to reduce the city's budget by 20 percent within four years.

He also pledged that as mayor he would establish a civil service or state-certified merit system for police and emergency medical technicians.

In addition, Copeland said he would establish an elected, not appointed, School Board, and reinstate public access to programming on the city's television channel -- both 2003 Pabey promises, which have not been realized.

"Mistakes of the past will not be the bridge our children cross into the future," Copeland said.

Pabey declined an opportunity to comment on Friday's announcement.