GARY — As Jerome Prince walked into a stripped-down version of his mayoral campaign headquarters at 3885 Broadway — save for the two election posters tacked to the wall behind him — he was greeted by a round of applause.
“People are excited and they have an absolute good reason to be,” Prince said.
Fresh off his May 7 Democratic primary win, Prince kicked off a series of community meetings Friday night in the city’s 6th District as a way to connect with voters, lay out challenges ahead and answer residents’ burning questions about the state of Gary.
At least 200 people, many of them supporters, attended.
Prince currently faces no opponent in the Nov. 5 general election, and with Gary’s Democratic stronghold, he has virtually set himself up to take incumbent mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson’s seat come Jan. 1.
Prince, who is currently Lake County's elected assessor, highlighted the need to tackle the city’s rampant crime problem, wrap his hands around the city’s financial crisis and demolish homes and structures — not only strategically, but at a quickened pace to make way for economic development.
“Why we’re in this position is that in the past, the approach to government was to do things the way that they’ve always been done. Secondly, the city has no long-term plan for sustainability. That’s my responsibility. That’s what we’re going to do,” Prince said.
The 6th District community outreach session was sponsored by the Committee to Elect Democratic Nominee Jerome Prince.
The same problems that have plagues Gary for decades — blight, violent crime, illegal dumping, a crumbling public school system and the city’s inability to attract business — were on the minds of those in attendance.
Michael D. McGinnis, a retired firefighter of 31 years, told Prince he has to set aside funds to beautify the city and to improve conditions at the fire stations across town.
“I’ve worked under six mayors and 50, 60 different council people. I’m tired of how if you go by any other city, you look at the fire stations, you look at the properties, and everything is beautiful,” McGinnis said.
Others, like Mildred Sease, a resident living in the 6th District, told Prince he must do more to ensure people are not delinquent on their property taxes; the city's inability to collect tax revenue cripples operations.
“People are buying up all this property, and yet the tax base is zip to none. How do we go about making sure people pay their taxes?” she asked.
Prince said a functioning legal department and an aggressive approach to going after delinquent taxpayers is key.
While Prince mentioned some of his more long-term, lofty goals he had — such as creating a single, modern campus for the city’s public school system on the city's Gleason Golf Course — he also told the crowd he doesn’t want to make any promises he couldn’t keep.
Prince has 19 years in public service as a city councilman and a county councilman representing Gary prior to being the Lake County assessor. He was born in Gary and is a graduate of Gary's Lew Wallace High School.
“I knew what I was signing up for when I asked for the job. I’m not naïve. The easiest thing to do would have been to stay out there in the county and be the happiest assessor in the world,” he said. “But when I come home, to 35th and Jackson, I have to see the same things you see. But by being in office … what I’ve learned is to effectuate change, you have to be in a position to do so, and that position for me is at (City Hall) 401 Broadway.”