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Election night with Jerome Prince

Jerome Prince greets supporters following his primary win over Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

As it turns out, Gary's well-documented struggles and the associated poor response of current leadership isn't fake news.

And as Tuesday's mayoral primary election showed us, Gary voters get it.

The voting results were nothing short of a mandate showing residents of the Steel City are hungry for a change at the top.

It's also a reminder to some establishment Region politicians who endorsed or backed Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson that they may not have their fingers on the pulse of the Gary people.

Challenger Jerome Prince, who currently serves as Lake County's elected property assessor, walloped incumbent two-term Mayor Freeman-Wilson by 10 percentage points to win the party nomination Tuesday.

Prince is now a virtual shoe-in for the mayor's seat as he sits unopposed for the November general election.

The duty now falls to Prince to heal issues of public trust and failed promises that continue to fester like sores on Gary city government.

The cry sent out for this healing echoed from the 48.22% of voters who hit the Tuesday polls in support of Prince.

Freeman-Wilson came in at a reasonably distant second with 37.5% of the 14,448 people who cast ballots in the race.

The rest of the votes were scattered in small portions across seven other Democratic mayoral candidates.

Many Region political insiders had counted Prince out.

Some didn't believe he was running a campaign aggressive enough to unseat an entrenched incumbent.

Some surmised no amount of campaigning would dethrone the patronage machine Freeman-Wilson had built for herself.

The Times Editorial Board endorsed Prince as a needed change to Freeman-Wilson's clear shortcomings as mayor. But even some of us doubted Prince would win.

The voters, as they've been accustomed to doing at all levels of government in recent cycles, proved the doubters wrong.

For her part, Freeman-Wilson spent a portion of her campaign, including time during a recent mayoral debate at the Genesis Convention Center, bashing the big-bad newspaper and online media outlet that dared to doggedly report and provide context to her failing administration.

It had all the earmarks of a cry of "fake news."

In fact, Freeman-Wilson and some of her other local government cohorts even established a city news show to put forth a sanitized view of Gary's leadership. It's clear propaganda.

Freeman-Wilson also was able to garner her share of endorsements or support from various other Region leaders.

But Tuesday, Gary voters sounded what should be the death knell for other establishment politicians, trade groups and other associations believing that most incumbents are the sure bet and generally should get an automatic endorsement.

Voters clearly don't see it that way.

Gary voters most certainly observed recent city finance scandals in which millions of dollars were improperly pillaged from a restricted emergency services fund and used to make payroll.

They see the crumbling infrastructure of the city and the clear-as-day retail desert that has overtaken what once was a thriving city.

To be fair, this travesty has been in the offing for generations. The blame doesn't all lie at Freeman-Wilson's feet.

But when she campaigned for and became mayor eight years ago, responsibility for a sound direction with transparency and propriety in all things government, financial and otherwise, was part of the mandate all voters delivered.

They didn't get that.

Now, in a wide voting margin separating the two candidates by nearly 10 percentage points, voters are looking to Prince to provide the good government that Gary needs and deserves.

Gary's apparent and eventual mayor-elect has his mandate. There should be nowhere to go but up.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editor Marc Chase, Deputy Editor Kerry Erickson, Assistant Local News Editor Crista Zivanovic and Regional News Editor Sharon Ross.