We’ll miss you Rudy
When public officials die, there’s an urgency by the media not only to chronicle their lives, but to tell us what their greatest legacy is.
Former Gary mayor Rudy Clay, who died last week, spared them the trouble. In his waning days at City Hall as he reflected on his tenure, Clay quickly went to the bottom line.
By 2010, Gary’s tax levy was in a free fall—dropping 24 percent in a two-year period. Clay said the city was $72 million in debt. “We’ll leave it almost debt-free. We’re still standing,” Clay said in January, 2012.
While Clay is also remembered for embracing half-baked or maybe unbaked projects like the 2006 hovercraft Chicago commuter plan and the 2010 Jackson Family Museum and Performing Arts Center, it was Clay who altered Gary’s dash toward bankruptcy.
The move came with tough decisions that no politician wants to make. Initial tax cap relief came with a price. Clay shored up the budget by streamlining city government and laying off employees. Those who stayed behind faced furloughs and taxpayers found themselves paying fees for services that were once free.
Even former Gov. Mitch Daniels expressed amazement at Gary’s fiscal turnaround. Had prostate cancer not forced Clay to halt campaigning in 2011, it would be interesting to see how the voters felt on the fiscal fallout.
Rudy Clay will be remembered as one of the most colorful politicians in Northwest Indiana history. He was truly a gift to reporters.
Beyond the Hummer headlines, however, Clay kept the city going, when it needed him the most.