Sometimes it takes something like a bolt of lightning to jolt us out of the complacency of our daily lives, forcing us to contemplate how others see us. I received such a jolt when the headline “Gary named the most miserable city in America” leaped out at me from a Tuesday, Oct. 1, Times article. Written by Times reporter Joseph S. Pete, the news item recounted an article in Business Insider written by James Paisley and Angela Wang, which included a list of the 50 most miserable cities in the country.
I won’t name any of the other cities, as not to play Paisley’s and Wang’s game. I confess that I am mostly unfamiliar with Business Insider and its reporters, but I am open to accept them, as well regarded in their fields. What I take issue with is their conclusion that ours is the most miserable city in the country. The metrics and data they use certainly paint a bleak picture, but those are not all there is in Gary.
I’m familiar with most of the data cited by the reporters. As a matter of fact, when I ran earlier this year for the Democratic mayoral nomination, I had such data in mind as I formulated my campaign. How could I not? But as a lifelong resident and public figure from Gary, I pride myself in being attuned to the rhythms, feelings and human longings of our residents.
We should be thankful The Times reported the Business Insider item or most of us, me included, would have been unaware of it, for how many of us are Business Insider readers? And the facts are what they are. It is true our economy has been in the doldrums for decades, crime is rampant, our schools need improving and there are a host of other ills. Perhaps Business Insider should have done a more in-depth article analyzing how our city has reached this point.
Placing no blame, but stating the facts, our decline started about four decades ago when the Civil Rights Movement and real democracy helped overturn an entrenched system that largely excluded the majority of the city’s population. White flight and business migration to newly opened communities helped spur the decline. Some of those might have been valid decisions taking advantage of new opportunities. Some could be considered otherwise. Then came globalization, which put its own pressure on businesses to compete internationally. The downsizing of U.S. Steel and other bulwarks of our economy hastened the process. Gary and other Northwest Indiana communities took a pummeling. While much of America and the so-called Rust Belt underwent massive economic decline, Gary spiraled into economic depression from which it still hasn’t recovered. A number of mayors have tried various remedies, pretty much to no avail, but they should certainly be credited with trying. I salute them.
While very little has worked to really turn Gary around, one thing has remained constant: the indomitable spirit of its residents. Yes, many made personal decisions to migrate to greener pastures or just to try their luck elsewhere. That is part of the American character — exploring the unknown. Another American characteristic is to buckle down and face challenges. Those are the hardy folks who have remained. Some have seen opportunities, even in our adversity, and prospered. Others have buckled down for the long — really long — haul. There are also those who have no alternative, and they deserve our compassion and helping hand.
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While I now hold a county office, I have served on the Gary Common Council and interacted professionally, and in personal friendship, with countless residents of our city. In doing so, I have been astonished by the resilience of most of the folks I have met. Whether in pockets of affluence, yes, Gary has them, or poverty, I’ve always sensed a can-do, never-give-up spirit. Sure there are wants and demands, but when the city’s plight is explained honestly, people understand. And why shouldn’t they?
Many of the small population of whites are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who fled persecution or civil strife in their ancestral lands. The even smaller group of Hispanics is no different. The bulk of the black population is descended from those who migrated north during World War II to seek employment in the burgeoning steel industry and to escape the Jim Crow South, so eloquently and movingly recounted in Isabel Wilkerson’s epic book “The Warmth of Other Suns.” Ours is a city of proud, hard-working immigrants and their descendants. They left their miseries behind in Europe, Latin America and the Deep South.
Gary is also fortunate to be served by two vibrant daily newspapers of fair reportage, the well regarded Indiana University Northwest and Ivy Tech, a concerned chamber of commerce, active religious denominations and many community groups doing great grass roots work.
As I await my inauguration on Jan. 1, 2020, I have established a transition team that’s hard at work analyzing all facets of city government and formulating policies, protocols and programs I believe will pull our city out of the doldrums. I make no overblown promise turning our fortunes around within any given time. But I promise to establish an administration of ethics, transparency, accountability and fairness to all in moving Gary forward.
Although it will take time, I shall work in such a manner that might prompt Business Insider to do another item on Gary; this time one putting us in a new category, one of achievement and satisfaction.