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Editor

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.

We all know the havoc subprime lending can wreak on the core of our economy and the fabric of our society.

Look no further than the Great Recession of 2008 for the bitter economic fallout that follows from a society wrapped in the folly of subprime mortgage loans.

A glut of these loans ravaged our economy, killed jobs and left many of us struggling for our financial lives for years.

Thankfully, some leaders have learned from history.

Jerome Prince, essentially the Gary mayor-elect after defeating incumbent Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson in the May primary and facing no general election challenger, appears to be one of those people.

Gary needs such leadership right now.

Though not yet sitting in the mayor's chair, Prince became a responsible adult in the room last week, publicly decrying a Freeman-Wilson plan for fast cash that would end up encumbering already financially beleaguered Gary with a bad financial deal for decades to come.

We all should hope Prince's public stand against the deal will be enough to get financial institutions to walk away from the table.

Clearly, Freeman-Wilson is worried that Prince's stance will do just that.

On Thursday, Prince issued a public statement, denouncing a plan to sell the city's public safety building to a nonprofit — established by the city for the sole purpose of buying the building — and then paying on bonds for the next 20 years in a horrible deal that could cost taxpayers some $80 million while only generating a quick $35 million in revenue.

Freeman-Wilson spearheaded the idea, and then a majority of the Gary Common Council drank the proverbial Kool-Aid, passing a plan that wreaks of a shell game and carries all the earmarks of a high-interest, subprime loan.

Now Freeman-Wilson is trying to scare her constituency into pushing back, saying Prince's public statements put her incredibly short-sighted deal "in jeopardy" — presumably by discouraging lenders.

"He is negatively impacting the city's ability to meet current obligations as well as his own ability to meet payroll, insurance, utility and other vendor payments required to fulfill the basic needs of citizens," Freeman-Wilson said.

It's a convenient argument to make when you're trying to ram a policy of scorched earth down the throats of taxpayers on your way out office.

Taxpayers shouldn't be fooled. They should reject Freeman-Wilson's scare tactics with the same decisiveness in which they voted Freeman-Wilson into lame duck status and ultimately out of public office in May.

There's no doubt Gary's municipal finances are in shambles.

There's also no doubt it will take smart analysis and tough decisions to come anywhere close to righting the ship.

But playing shell games and thrusting an already tumultuous financial situation further into encumbrance isn't leadership.

It's reckless and irresponsible.

Even more disturbing is Freeman-Wilson's propensity in recent weeks for blaming others for her own shortcomings as a leader.

The mayor has told local radio audiences and others in recent weeks that a grand conspiracy involving Prince, The Times and a business leader I've never even met was behind her election loss.

It would seem the mayor is borrowing a chapter from a tactic most people in her political party have decried in recent years.

It's not all that different than President Donald Trump's cries of "fake news" or contentions of media conspiracy against his policies.

The only people conspiring to toss Freeman-Wilson from office were the 63% of participating Gary voters who handed her defeat in the May primary.

A litany of well-documented financial scandals and failed promises by the mayor no doubt fueled those voting conspirators to action.

Now she wants to blame Prince for putting a hair-brained scheme for fast cash in jeopardy.

Time will tell if Prince will be able to affect positive change in Gary.

But if his stance against this financial scheme is enough to kill the deal, he will already have succeeded in at least one taxpayer arena before he even steps foot in his new office.

Meanwhile, Freeman-Wilson can continue to solidify a legacy remembered by a last official act of blaming others, rather than working toward more sensible financial fixes for her struggling city.

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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