By: Giavonni Nickson
The Gary Chamber of Commerce welcomed Veteran Broadcast Journalist Charles Thomas to its monthly luncheon on Monday, October 14 at Majestic Star Casino’s Event Center.
Thomas, a multiple Emmy award-winner, spent 30 years of his career in Chicago starting as a General Assignment Reporter, then later becoming the Chief Political Reporter at WLS-TV, ABC7 Chicago.
Thomas’ career emerged at the height of the major American political Watergate scandal, where President Richard Nixon was taken down in large part because of the work of journalists.
After graduating from The University of Missouri School of Journalism (BJ ’73), Thomas made way to Chicago in the 1980s to work as a National Correspondent for ABC News’ Midwest Bureaus.
Thomas covered the Rodney King riot in Los Angeles, both OJ Simpson trials, the fall of the Soviet Union in Europe, and adventures on then U.S. Senator Barack Obama’s trip to his ancestral village in Kenya.
With a career spanning 45 years, Thomas exercised his license to talk news and politics while in Gary. Thomas opened eyes with dialogue on unemployment rates, ways to strengthen community, and Black on Black intra-community gun violence, which sparked the interest of the citizens and the business leaders.
By leveraging voting power, Thomas hopes Black voters will push politicians to focus on the individual issues that affect their communities.
“Today the majority of Black voters vote democrat. They take us for granted because they know they will get our vote, said Thomas.”
Instead of following the party line Thomas suggests Black voters elevate community over party loyalty.
“What I’d like to see Black voters do is, make voting decisions ala carte to examine each issue instead of taking the party line and running with it,” said Thomas.
Thomas declares now is the time for long overdue independent Black political action.
“I have voted democrat in every presidential election since 1973,” said Thomas. “I stand before you today and say that I am not a democrat, I am an independent Black voter who will vote in 2020 for the candidate that I believe has plans and potential policies that will affect the centuries-old struggle of African people in this hemisphere.”
Before discussing pressing community issues and major changes in news media, Thomas joked about his frequent visits across the state line.
“I’m a regular visitor of Indiana,” said Thomas. “I come here all the time to get my gas.” His trips to Indiana serve as what he calls his one man protest against what’s happening in Chicago and Illinois with high taxation.
With a combined sales tax of 8.47%, the State of Illinois ranks 7th on the list of highest sales taxes in the United States. The combined sales tax in Chicago is 10.25% which urges many consumers to cross the line for Indiana’s 7% combined sales tax savings.
“If you are a property owner and sales taxpayer in Illinois, Chicago can be a miserable place,” said Thomas in reference to a recent article published by the Business Insider that named Gary IN the most miserable city in the United States.
The article claims to have based its rankings on US Census Bureau data from 1,000 cities taking into consideration population change, working population percentages, median household incomes, resident healthcare percentages, median commute times, and the number of people living in poverty.
According to Thomas, this article is evidence of a current news climate that tends to be subjective as it rebels against traditional journalism standards. Thomas, like many others in the room, stated that he takes issue with subjective reporting.
According to leaders at Gary’s City Hall, many Gary residents were outraged after the Business Insider article was published. The City of Gary expressed its opposition to the notion that Gary is the most miserable city in the U.S. with a video and survey rebuttal.
Gary’s Director of Communication LaLosa Burns said the survey is an engagement piece. “We wanted residents to have an opportunity to express their thoughts about the article and their positive feelings about the city,” said Burns.
Survey questions include:
How do you really feel about being a current resident of Gary, Indiana?
What was your reaction or how did it make you feel when you heard a news agency named Gary “the most miserable city”?
How do you think the city can change this perception?
What makes you smile when you think of your city; perhaps a memory?
The city invites all residents to take the survey that is being distributed electronically through social media channels. So far the video has reached over 3,000 and the survey nearly 1,000. The survey ran through Friday, October 18th and the results will be shared in an official press release.
Towards the end of the luncheon, Thomas was provocative enough to act as a moderator for Gary Chamber member questions.
When asked, “What can we do as a city to change the dynamic of how people look at us?”
Thomas said, “You are doing it right now. This group is coming together to create positive change.”
The Gary Chamber of Commerce then celebrated two of its newest members, Bob Spaulding of Gary Strong LLC and Incognito Brewery owner Dwayne Williams, in joining their body of community change agents.
Like many Gary residents, these business owners see the wheel of revitalization spinning in the city and believe better days are coming. Thomas echoed this sentiment, “I have no doubt that Gary can come back. It is a valuable piece of real estate. As Chicago is changing Gary will change.
Giavonni is a passionate freelance writer native of Gary IN. She covers business, politics, and community schools for the Chicago/Gary Crusader.