3rd time the charm for Gary mayoral candidate
By Jon Seidel Sun-Times Media May 3, 2011 9:26PM
Karen Freeman-Wilson celebrates with supporters as she appears to declare victory at Karen Freeman-Wilson's election night party at the Genesis Center Tuesday May 3, 2011 in Gary, Ind. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 23, 2012 2:18AM
The first woman to lead Gary City Hall will almost certainly be Karen Freeman-Wilson after she won the Democratic nomination for mayor Tuesday with the help of outgoing Mayor Rudy Clay.
Freeman-Wilson claimed victory at a packed-house party at the Genesis Center, where much of the city’s political establishment gathered to cheer her on.
“It’s time to change the world’s impression of Gary,” Freeman-Wilson said, “and it’s time to change our impression of ourselves.”
Republican Charles Smith Jr., who secured just 23 percent of the vote four years ago against Clay in the heavily Democratic city, stands in Freeman-Wilson’s way in November. She didn’t discount November’s general election, but she also said she’ll be preparing for her new role between now and January.
“I would be disingenuous if I said I wouldn’t spend much of the summer really focusing on transitioning into the office,” Freeman-Wilson said.
This was Freeman-Wilson’s third attempt to win the mayor’s office. She lost in previous elections to Clay and former Mayor Scott King. Her campaign got a boost this year after Clay said in April he’d suspend his re-election effort because of prostate cancer. Clay went on to endorse Freeman-Wilson as his successor.
“I feel that the people of Gary did the right thing at this time in history,” Clay said.
Freeman-Wilson defeated another candidate who set out to make history. Ragen Hatcher, daughter of former Gary Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher, placed second in the 10-candidate Democratic ballot that included Clay. Fans of her father, one of the first black mayors of a major American city, wanted to see her become Gary’s first female mayor. In a written statement, she congratulated “all the winners of this very competitive race.”
“Because I have always focused on the purpose and not the position, I look forward to watching Gary progress in the areas of economic development, job opportunities, public safety and improving the quality of life,” Hatcher said.
Former Mayor Hatcher joined his daughter at her headquarters on Grant Street to examine early numbers with the candidate and volunteers. Hatcher’s headquarters was a much more low-key affair than Freeman-Wilson’s heavily handled Genesis Center party, where tables were reserved for elected officials and vote totals were counted in a guarded room. The likely mayor-elect eventually emerged to thank volunteers and supporters.
“It is a great honor to open another chapter in Gary history,” Freeman-Wilson said.