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Marc Chase is a veteran investigative reporter, columnist and editor of more than two decades. He currently leads The Times news staff as local news editor. He can be reached at 219-933-3327.

An awakening of epic proportions occurred in Hammond's 3rd District last week, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

Just a few miles east, something similar of an even larger scale revived hope for a new direction in the entire city of Gary.

These revivals of epic proportions came courtesy of urban core voters who turned their backs on incumbent leadership that wasn't living up to expectations.

It should fill us all with hope on two fronts: that higher expectations are spreading in a part of the Region that struggles with both crime and economy and that just being the incumbent wasn't automatic job security.

Voters within the boundaries of both those locations deserve all the credit for collectively saying, "Enough!"

In Hammond's 3rd District, the victory goes well beyond voters finally kicking Councilman Anthony Higgs out of office — following a 16-year tenure — in the Tuesday primary election.

That clearly was a big feat in and of itself.

But it's also about the promise of quality that voters chose in winning Democratic candidate Barry Tyler Jr.

First the obvious: Voters clearly had enough of incumbent Higgs' litany of past embarrassments.

For years, other county officials complained the councilman bullied other candidates who dared to put political signs in "his" district during election seasons.

An alleged drunken trip-and-fall in which Higgs then apparently tried to shake down a Vegas casino and hotel — all while representing Hammond at a major retail conference — was another of Higgs' crowning achievements in the category of embarrassment.

Higgs even sued one of his constituents for defamation in one of the most laughable of his escapades.

Somehow, Higgs forgot that the low-rent Facebook videos the constituent made, spoofing the public official, were protected commentary under First Amendment and high-court precedent.

His disrespectful antics toward other fellow council members in public meetings also were well known.

Yet somehow, he always found his way back into public office, in spite of the embarrassments.

That changed Tuesday when voters finally seem to have experienced enough.

They instead turned to the well-spoken and respectful Tyler, who walloped Higgs by 24 percentage points.

Tyler captured an impressive 60.4% of the 3rd District vote Tuesday.

Time will tell if he provides the quality leadership all Hammond residents deserve of a councilman. But his earnest, professional demeanor already place the district on better footing than Higgs ever mustered.

Hammond's 3rd District wasn't alone in an awakening.

Gary voters mandated a change at the top, dethroning eight-year incumbent Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson Tuesday.

Hope for a better future for the Steel City — laced with promises kept, safer streets and a better business climate — won out over the mayor as challenger Jerome Prince beat Freeman-Wilson by nearly 10 percentage points.

In a recent debate at Gary's Genesis Convention Center, Freeman-Wilson implored voters to look upon her as an experienced and trusted surgeon in the middle of a dire surgery.

They wouldn't want to change surgeons in the middle of such an important procedure, so they ought not vote her out of office, she said.

Gary voters rightly didn't buy that philosophy.

Among so many promises that have fallen short, they've also watched a mayor, who at times seemed more concerned with a national profile through her stature as president of the National League of Cities than with her city's struggles.

If a surgeon seems more preoccupied with a golf game with colleagues than a life-saving surgery, most of us would opt for a new doctor.

Tuesday's defeats of longtime incumbents Higgs and Freeman-Wilson demonstrate a clear awakening of consciousness and hope in the Region's urban core.

Now it's up to Tyler and Prince to make it count for something.

As of now, Prince is running unopposed in the general election. Tyler faces what would appear to be an easy victory against GOP nominee for the 3rd District seat, Jeffrey MacDonald. MacDonald won his party's nomination for the seat, while running unopposed, with 55 total votes, county records show.

Both Prince and Tyler are heavy favorites running in Democratic strongholds.

We'll all be watching.

Local News Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 933-3327 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.

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