GARY — Lake County Assessor Jerome Prince pulled off an upset victory Tuesday night, dethroning Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.
He declared unofficial victory just before 9 p.m.
Prince also told his crowd of supporters in his storefront campaign headquarters that Freeman-Wilson has just called him to concede the race.
"Let's reimagine Gary," Prince told the crowd. "Thank you for believing in me."
His campaign headquarters was abuzz with celebration as they celebrated his victory over an eight-year incumbent.
Prince, a man with 19 years of public service as an elected official, entered the race for control of Gary City Hall earlier this year hours before the filing deadline closed.
He joined a crowd of nine Democrats and campaigned on pledges to turn around the crime, the littered appearance of the city and other issues that stifle economic development.
He said his relationships with the sheriff and other law enforcement officials would provide the help Gary needs.
He said he would advocate for the creation of a single modern campus for the city’s public school system on Gary's South Gleason Golf Course, adjacent to the Indiana University Northwest campus, as one step in revitalizing public education.
Prince was born in Gary and graduated from Gary's Lew Wallace High.
After graduating high school and finishing an enlistment in the U.S. Marines, Prince became a precinct committeeman and won election to the Gary Common Council in 2000.
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Prince said he often found himself at odds with other city officials but chose to navigate his political career in his own way.
He stepped down from the City Council in 2008 to become one of Gary’s representatives on the Lake County Council. Then in 2014 he successfully ran for county assessor, overseeing the taxation of real estate across the county.
He was reelected county assessor last year. If elected mayor this fall, the Democratic Party will have to hold a caucus to fill the county assessor vacancy.
Voters had to pick Prince out of a crowd of challengers that included: City Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade, Mildred Tinye Alcorn, Kerry Rice Sr., Carl "Doozie" Jones, Eddie Tarver Jr., Joe L. White and James "Sirmack G.I." Edward McKnight II.
While most of those were amateurs on the political scene, Prince brought name recognition and past election success against Freeman-Wilson's reelection campaign with a combined 19 years of elected service.
Freeman-Wilson received a law degree in 1985 from Harvard University, served as director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, and as Gary city judge from 1994 to 2000. She was named Indiana attorney general in 2000, and served a year in that office.
She ran unsuccessfully for Gary mayor in 2003 and 2007 before winning in 2011 and again in 2015.
Prince overcame Freeman-Wilson’s better financed reelection campaign. She raked in more than $156,000 this year, according to her campaign finance report, in contrast to Prince, who raised $66,296 and Sparks-Wade, who raised some $13,300 in donations.
But city finance scandals and continued crumbling infrastructure and violent crime were working against Freeman-Wilson, political observers say.
Freeman-Wilson defended her administration as having accomplishments as well as challenges yet to be overcome.
Her critics complained the city streets were potholed, its empty lots a dumping ground for garbage, and city workers did little to remove litter.