By Erick Johnson, Gary Crusader
Just before 2017, many people across the nation watched her on “Undercover Boss” wearing a wig and workman’s clothes as Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson raked human waste at one plant in the Gary Sanitation Department. As she plowed through the stuff, she was warned about mice that occasionally run through the facility.
For years Gary’s economy had been stinking. Freeman-Wilson in her state of the city address in February was at times raw in expressing her frustration in getting companies to relocate to the city. At the Genesis Convention Center–the same place where she had her “Undercover Boss” watch party Freeman-Wilson kept it real. But for the rest of the year several projects will have her and many in Gary dreaming again with hope.
In 2017, two companies made deals to relocate to the city, bringing hundreds of jobs with them. Together, HMD Trucking and Alliance Steel have the potential to give Gary’s economy a big boost it needs to help turnaround the city’s economy. B. Coleman completed a construction of its 40,000-sq. ft. hangar at Gary/Chicago Airport 95,000-sq. ft. A proposal to reinvent the City Methodist Church was among many plans to share a $33 million prize in the Knight Foundation Cities Challenge.
They are signs of progress in a city whose patience continues to be tested by time and hardships. While the Gary School district continues to struggle under state control, thousands of students from Chicago are flooding the district in droves. Their migration may bring fresh opportunities and relief to a school system that has been suffering from dwindling enrollment in past years. The city continues to make sound decisions in cutting the Gary Air Show while taking a hard look at the burdens of the Genesis Convention Center. They are actions that are reflective of a city that’s making sound financial decisions to move Gary forward. The Gary Crusader looks back on how it all unfolded in 2017.
LEADERS MEET TO ADDRESS PROBLEMS IN GARY SCHOOL DISTRICT
Former State Senator Earline Rogers, State Senator Eddie Melton and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson meet with Senator Luke Kenley, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Senator Karen Tallian to address the problems in Gary Schools. The meeting took place a few weeks after Gary voters rejected—for a second time in 18 months—a referendum that would have raised $8.7 million annually for seven years to aid the school system.
RUCKER RETIRES FROM INDIANA SUPREME COURT
Indiana Supreme Court Justice Robert D. Rucker announces he’s retiring after 19 years on the bench. Rucker, 70, is the second African American to serve on the state’s high court. He was appointed by then governor Frank O’Bannon. The Lake County Court Building in Gary was renamed the Robert D. Rucker Court House in his honor. Rucker served on the state’s appellate court for eight years after he was appointed by Gov. Evan Bayh. During his career before his court appointments, Rucker practiced law in Gary and East Chicago. The Gary native has received numerous honors and recognition during his 19-year career as a judge.
MISSING TEENAGE LATER CHARGED IN MOTHER’S DEATH
After an intense search and hours of uncertainty, Chastinea Reeves was found safe and unharmed on Feb. 15 at 2027 Maine St. the next day, police charged Reeves in the stabbing death of her mother, Jamie Garnett, who was found dead in her home in the 4400 block of West 23rd Place in Gary on Monday, the successful search to find Chastinea capped a dramatic effort to locate the 15-year-old amidst heavy speculation and rumors. Westerfield did not comment on a possible connection of this case to the death of the 34-year-old woman. The deceased woman’s home is not far from the location where Reeves was recovered on Tuesday.
GOV. HOLCOMB VISITS EAST CHICAGO TO RESTORE TRUST
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb visited East Chicago on February 17, trying to salvage whatever trust in government is left, nearly eight months after his predecessor ignored the pleas of residents living in the West Calumet housing complex and other areas with high levels of lead contamination. Holcomb, who was elected governor in November 2016, spoke with residents of the complex and other parts of East Chicago during his visit, hoping to restore trust after former Governor and now U.S. Vice President Mike Pence declined requests to come to East Chicago before he became U.S. Vice President.
WOMAN ADMITS LYING IN EMMETT TILL MURDER CASE
The woman whose accusation led to the brutal killing of 14-year-old Emmett Till from Chicago admitted that she lied during the trial, according to a new book. Till was killed by two white men in Money, MS after he allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant Donham at a grocery story. Till’s mother Mamie Till-Mobley, had an open-casket funeral to show the world what the men did to her son. In the book, The Blood of Emmett Till, Donham said she lied in the criminal trial, where Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were acquitted after the proceedings lasted for only an hour.
Till-Mobley, who lived in Woodlawn, never found justice for her son before she died in 2003.
SCHOOL BOARD TRUSTEE ACCUSED OF STALKING PRUITT
On February 22, Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt filed an emergency order of protection against Trustee Carlos Tolliver in the Lake Circuit Superior Court in East Chicago. Pruitt claimed that she has been the victim of stalking during two incidents where she said Tolliver threatened her. The protection order was dismissed in March. The move escalated tensions at the Gary School Board where infighting and financial woes were taking an emotional toll on members.
EDISONLEARNING TO MANAGE ROOSEVELT A SECOND TIME
EdisonLearning Inc. signed another contract with the State Board of Education to manage Roosevelt College, Gary’s oldest historically Black school. Under the agreement, EdisonLearning will continue running Roosevelt, but will do so with support and guidance from the Gary Community School Corporation. The contract began in July and will run for five years. It’s the second contract for EdisonLearning, which began managing Roosevelt after the state took over the school in 2011, following six straight years of F grades. EdisonLearning was paid with Gary’s share of tuition support money for Roosevelt, about $3 million to $4 million annually.
FIRM PICKED TO RESURFACE GARY AIRPORT RUNWAY
Rieth-Riley Construction Co., a Goshen-based firm with a location in Gary, on March 13 was given a multi-million-dollar contract to resurface the 7,000-foot original runway at the Gary/Chicago International Airport. The Gary Airport Authority selected Rieth-Riley out of three competing bids. During the project, Rieth-Riley will replace the asphalt with concrete. The company will start the first phase of the project by resurfacing 2,000 feet at the east end of the runway. The airport project is expected to last three years. The second phase will be done in 2018 when Rieth-Riley will pave up to 3,000 feet of the runway’s mid-section. The remaining portion will be resurfaced in 2019.
FORMER GARY MAYOR ‘JOHNNY V’ VISCLOSKY DIES
On Friday, March 31, Visclosky, known to many as “Johnny V” died after living an extraordinary life of 101 years. Family and friends all over Gary and Northwest Indiana remembered Visclosky during services at Brothers Funeral Service on Monday, April 3 and at St. Mary Catholic Church on Tuesday April 4. His son, longtime U.S. Congressman Peter Visclosky, remembered his father as a man with a zest for life and humanity. Visclosky was a charming politician who steered the city through a dark period in 1962 after Mayor George “Cha Cha” Chacharis pleaded guilty in 1961 to conspiracy and tax evasion. He served for one year as Gary’s interim mayor until Judge A. Martin Katz was elected in 1963.
GARY CREATES BUDGET TO ATTRACT TOURISTS
On April 4, the Gary Common Council approved a $15,400 budget to hold walking tours. The tours were held during the summer and took guests to the city’s historic sites, including the old post office, City Methodist Church, the train station, Gary Land building and City Hall. Gary leaders hope the historic tours will generate interest in the city and attract more tourists.
COUNCIL APPROVES $3M TO REHAB FITNESS CENTER
On April 19, the Common Council unanimously approved a $175,000 project budget increase to fund a rehabilitation project for the Hudson-Campbell Sports & Fitness Center in downtown Gary. The grand total for the project is $2.62 million. In an 8-0 vote, the council approved a new ordinance that would pay for the rehab costs that are more than what was originally budgeted. Second District Councilman Michael Protho was absent. The funds will come from a Community Block Development Grant.
HOLCOMB APPROVES STATE TAKEOVER OF GARY SCHOOLS
After years of spiraling debts, dwindling enrollment and school closures, Gary school officials lost full control of the district system after Governor Eric Holcomb signed a bill on April 28 that gave the state financial and academic control of the school system. Last-minute appeals By State Senator Eddie Melton and other Black lawmakers fell flat as Holcomb approved the bill to close out the spring session of the Indiana General Assembly in Indianapolis. Former State Senator Earline Rogers was appointed in an advisory role for the district, but school board members will no longer have a say in academic and financial decisions of the district. Clorius Lay, a prominent Gary attorney who has built a stellar career of activism and community service, was appointed in May to serve on the fiscal management board that will advise a state-appointed emergency manager who seeks to turn around the district’s financial and academic fortunes.
GARY AIR SHOW CANCELLED AFTER NO COPORATE SPONSOR
The Gary Air Show, a popular attraction that lures thousands to Marquette Park in the Miller Beach neighborhood, was cancelled on May 6. The news came after organizers of the annual summer event failed to secure a corporate sponsor by a deadline. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said in a statement the city could not afford to pay for the $350,000 debt without a sponsor. While the cancellation of the Gary Air Show was a disappointment to many, the decision drew praise from local leaders and residents who said the move was a wise one considering the city’s current economic problems.
PROPOSAL REINVENT CITY METHODIST WINS KNIGHT CHALLENGE
On June 13, a proposal to change Gary’s crumbling, but historic City Methodist Church into a ‘ruins garden’ and wedding chapel won the 2017 Knight Cities Challenge. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced that 33 innovative projects will share $5 million as winners of the Knight Cities Challenge. Each of the ideas center on helping cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunities and create a culture of civic engagement. Submitted by Samuel Salvesen, a volunteer with the city’s redevelopment department, the ruins garden project will receive $163,333 for winning first place.
CRUSADER PUBLISHER ELECTED TO LEAD BLACK PRESS
On June 23, the Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell elected chairman of NNPA at the organization’s annual convention in Oxen Hill Maryland. St. Louis American wins Russwurm trophy for Best Black newspaper for sixth year in a row. She succeeds Washington Informer Denise Rolark Barnes, who served as Chairman for two years.
GARY CRUSADER JOURNALIST’S DEATH STUNS COLLEAGUES
Crusader colleagues were stunned by the death of Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, who died on June 27. On Saturday, July 8, family, colleagues and friends packed the St. James Missionary Baptist Church to pay their final respects. Woodson-Wray, 56, died of medical complications at Methodist Hospital Northlake in Gary. Even while hospitalized several times, Woodson-Wray continued writing stories for the Crusader and would have the nurse fax them to the newspaper. Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Woodson-Wray was a devoted member of St. James Missionary Baptist Church. She was a graduate of West Side High School, class of 1979. Woodson-Wray is highly regarded for her 31 plus years of reporting the news as a journalist and photographer for the Info Newspaper and Gary Crusader. She also interviewed Gary’s most distinguished political figures.
HMD TRUCKING TO HIRE LOCALS FIRST
In an unprecedented deal, officials announced that HMD Trucking, a growing Chicago-area business, is moving to Gary and will build a new facility that will hire locals first as part of an agreement with the city. The deal is expected to bring much-needed jobs to Gary and give the city’s economy a healthy boost. HMD plans to build the new facility at 1350 Texas Street, nearly three miles or six minutes from City Hall. One of the fastest growing independent trucking companies in the Chicago area, the 19-year-old business plans to expand its operations to the city and hire about 500 people to work at its new Gary facility. Several city ordinances will give $1.1 million from bonds to help HMD relocate to Gary. The city also will be covering costs of repairs to 15th Avenue to provide direct access from Interstate 65 to their proposed site on Texas Street.
RETIRED EDUCATOR TAKES OVER SCHOOLS
Dr. Peggy Hinckley, a Schererville resident with a track record for turning around schools was appointed on July 31 as the new emergency manager of Gary Schools by the state’s four-member Distressed Unit Appeal Board. Hinckley signed a two-year contract, which later was disclosed at $6.1 million in addition to performance bonuses. While Hinckley will serve as the emergency manager, MGT Consulting of Tallahassee, FL will manage the Gary Community School Corp. MGT was chosen out of seven firms that were competing for the two-year contract. Hinckley was given full academic and financial authority to reduce Gary Schools’ debts totaling over $100 million. In her first week on the job, Hinckley closed Watson Academy for Boys at 2065 Mississippi St. The school board had already voted to close the school before, but it remained opened anyway.
ALLIANCE STEEL PLANT TO BRING MORE JOBS
On Wednesday, August 2, officials voted to approve Alliance Steel’s $925,000 bid for 25 acres of land for construction of a new 250,000-square-foot production facility that could bring 100 new jobs to Gary. It’s another sign of economic growth in Gary as multi-million dollar companies continue to view the city as an ideal place to relocate their businesses. Alliance Steel Corp., an Illinois steel company, wants to relocate its suburban Chicago plant to Gary.
GARY SCHOOLS HIT WITH FIRE CODE VIOLATIONS
Gary Fire Department officials cited fire code violations to all 12 Gary schools. A spokesman said officials found fire extinguishers that were not recharged and some fire systems were not connected to the fire department, according to one news report. In addition, officials found that some vendors who serviced school fire equipment declined to return, because they haven’t been paid. Money to correct the violations was found to pay the vendors and have the schools in compliance by September 15.
MAKES AMAZON BID
Gary was one of 238 cities in the United States and Canada to submit an application to land Amazon’s lucrative second headquarters to the city. In September 2017, Amazon announced the initiative, along with a request for proposals from governments and economic development organizations. Amazon intends to have 50,000 workers at HQ2 and is planning to invest $5 billion in new construction. The project would have unprecedented impact if it were to land in Gary. In addition to submitting an application, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson made headlines when she placed an advertisement in the New York Times, asking Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to consider Gary because of the city’s large swaths of available real estate, its airport and proximity to highways and Chicago. Indianapolis and other Indiana cities also submitted proposal. Amazon will make a decision in 2018.
GARY MARKS 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF HISTORIC ELECTION
Hundreds attended a ceremony at West Side Academy to mark the 50th Anniversary of the historic election of America’s first Black mayor, Richard Gordon Hatcher. Rev. Jesse Jackson, Minister Louis Farrakhan and Crusader Publisher and NNPA Chairman Dorothy R. Leavell were among the many speakers who gave tributes to Hatcher as he sat with his family. On Nov. 7, 1967, Gary’s mayor ushered in an era of Black political power that led thousands of whites to flee the city and formed the nearby Merrillville. At the end of the 50th Anniversary ceremony, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson unveiled a rendering of a statue of Hatcher that will be placed in front of City Hall in 2018.
- Coleman Aviation has completed construction of its 40,000-sq.-ft. hangar at Gary/Chicago Airport located 25 mi. from Chicago. The construction expands the facility to about 95,000 sq. ft. of fixed base operation and hangar facilities. The new hangar can accommodate four large-cabin aircraft and eight small-to-midsize aircraft, it said. The addition was added to meet the growing demand in the region for business aviation services as hangar options at Midway Airport continue to decline.