EDITORIAL: Prince is best choice for urgently needed change in Gary

In a field of nine candidates, only three appear to be serious contenders for the 2019 Democratic primary nomination in May.

Of those three — incumbent Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and challengers Jerome Prince and LaVetta Sparks-Wade — Prince is the candidate best poised for the top-down change the struggling city needs.

A look at Gary's crumbling neighborhoods, unacceptably high crime rates and shambles of municipal finances should be enough to convince any Gary voter a change is needed at the top.

Prince is an accomplished public servant who brings the freshness the entire Region should get behind.

Prince has been the elected Lake County assessor for five years, bringing a credentialed professionalism to the way our county's property values are calculated.

A graduate of Lew Wallace High School and a former Marine, he has remained a dedicated citizen of the city.

Prince has forged relationships with key Region developers, who can play a crucial role in the tear-down and rebuild the Steel City needs.

He also has a solid rapport with Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez, whose department is instrumental in providing resources to support Gary police in their ongoing battle against crime.

Prince has never been afraid to lock horns with the establishment. As a former Gary city councilman, he regularly polled his district's residents and then pursued policies in line with their desires, including opposing the construction of a minor league baseball stadium in the early 2000s.

And Prince has pledged a detailed audit of city finances to develop better controls for city accounts, some of which have been improperly pillaged to make the struggling municipality's payroll.

We also like some of the qualities we see in challenger Sparks-Wade, who is currently Gary's 6th District city councilwoman.

Sparks-Wade has been on the right side of many of Gary's most pressing issues in the past year, including publicly calling out fiscal mismanagement in incumbent Freeman-Wilson's administration.

Sparks-Wade was the first among her council colleagues to expose the improper transfer of $8.2 million from a city emergency services fund to make payroll — without the required consent of the City Council.

Two city finance officials lost their jobs in the wake of that controversy, which ultimately was spotlighted in Indiana State Board of Accounts audits.

We also admire Sparks-Wade's heroism. She is in the process of cooperating in the prosecution against her longtime political ally, former Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington, who is charged with domestic violence against Sparks-Wade.

Sparks-Wade has shown poise and bravery in that case.

But we don't believe it's enough to propel her into the mayor's office.

Meanwhile, it's time for voters to usher in an end to Mayor Freeman-Wilson's tenure.

Eight years ago, Freeman-Wilson ascended to the mayor's chair with great hope and promise.

While some things have gotten better, it hasn't been enough to make a difference that even scratches the surface of acceptable.

While a rash of shootings lit up the city over a summer weekend, the mayor seemed more concerned with stumping on the U.S.-Mexico border for a national mayors' group.

Proper financial controls within the city have been woefully lacking under Freeman-Wilson, including the unauthorized pillaging of the emergency services fund to make payroll.

The buck stops with Freeman-Wilson on those matters.

Last year, it seemed every new week brought a new financial scandal in Gary, all under the mayor's watch.

Millions in unpaid insurance premiums, audit scandals, raiding funds to make payroll, unpaid bills to vendors, council members embroiled in unsavory actions or rumors and steady crime that deters new businesses and residents were all part of Gary's woeful equation.

As Gary teeters on the edge of virtual bankruptcy, it's past time for voters to seek a new direction. Prince's 19 years of elected public service and thirst to serve his constituents is a good place to start.