How Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson lost

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Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and Mayor-elect Jerome Prince

Only 27 percent voted, 73 percent not interested

The 411 News

Special toThe Gary Crusader

As election day neared last week, signs were pointing to a tight race in the Gary mayoral primary. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson was in a nine-man race that included opposition from city councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade and Lake County Assessor Jerome Prince.

Candidate forums, appearances and rallies filled calendars; TV, radio, print, and social media posts reminded voters.

When early voting and mail-in ballot results were posted at the close of polls on May 7, Prince and the mayor were nearly tied with the mayor at 1,225 holding a 41-vote lead. By 9 p.m., Prince had cinched victory with a total of 6,967 votes and a 1,500-vote lead.

Mayor Freeman-Wilson’s 5,418 votes were the lowest she has received in three mayoral campaigns since 2011, showing a big drop among her supporters. She won with an 11, 000-plus majority in 2011 and 9,000-plus in 2015.

The mayoral race only drew 14,448 votes, 27 percent of Gary’s 52,669 registered voters; seventy-three percent were not interested. The Prince campaign made enough of an impact to pull him ahead.

Last year, the mayor and her administration faced public criticism and scrutiny from the city council over the administration’s use of the Fire Department’s emergency ambulance service funds. Sparks-Wade uncovered how the funds were used to pay for city salaries and services outside of the fire department without the approval of the Gary City Council, labeling it as misappropriation of funds; a claim she carried on the campaign trail. Although a state audit found no illegalities, the mayor’s image was tarnished.

Prince’s entry on the last day of candidate filings came with talk that he was backed by Tom Collins of the Luke Oil Convenience Store chain, who had moved from the Freeman-Wilson camp.

Prince picked up the attack on the mayor and the city’s finances. His campaign commercial asked “Where’s the Money Karen?” with a claim that over a billion dollars had passed through Gary since she became mayor. Rolling in the background were yearly totals of monies that Prince said amounted to $1.4 billion. Those yearly totals came from the Indiana Gateway Portal.

Indiana Gateway is a report of how government units budget and spend local tax dollars and public monies.

Gateway puts the monies Gary gets from taxes collected, grants and other public funds in one bucket. In another bucket, are the expenditures or how those taxes collected, grants, and other public funds were spent. Gateway then adds those two buckets together, to come up with the amount for government activities. That’s what Prince’s figures show.

The Prince commercial showed Gary’s 2018 receipts were $189-plus millions. The public didn’t know that was the combination of receipts and expenditures; they perceived it to be the monies Gary had at its disposal to spend. And that was fine with his campaign.

In the bucket for monies received by the city, the total was close to $100 million.

As one voter put it, this was time for change.

Prince has reportedly begun to put together a transition team before the general election in June.

So far there is no Republican opponent, but that may change in June when the Chairman of the Lake County Republicans meets during a caucus in June to decide on a candidate to run against Prince.

Gary’s electorate is a Democratic stronghold that has never elected a Republican mayor since Richard Gordon Hatcher became the city’s Black mayor in 1968. After stunning the two-term Mayor Freeman-Wilson, Prince has a very strong chance of winning the general election and becoming the city’s next mayor.

As the current Lake County assessor, Prince reportedly is identifying people to be a part of his team as he seeks the mayoral seat at City Hall. During his campaign, Prince said three of his main areas of concern were the city’s finances, public safety and improving the city’s aesthetics. Prince in news reports said addressing those issues would encourage economic development in the city and improve the lives of Gary residents.

As an elected official, former Indiana attorney general and prosecutor, Freeman-Wilson, a two-time Harvard grad, remains low-key on her future plans, but many believe her pedigree will yield plenty of options.

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