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Gary’s new Democratic mayor takes her place in history

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Victory came quick for Karen Freeman-Wilson on election night.

Shortly after 8 p.m. on Nov. 8, Freeman-Wilson entered the Indiana Room at the Genesis Convention Center to the chants of “Karen!” “Karen!” along with Michael Jackson’s “Can You Feel It?” After thanking her supporters the candidate said she was humbled by the vote of confidence the citizens of Gary gave her.

“You have sent a message to the nation and all of Northwest Indiana that Gary, Indiana, is on the come up,” said Freeman-Wilson. “As we prepare to govern, many ask where do we go from here? What are the steps to a thriving Gary and what is needed to accomplish the new day we all desire to see?” Freeman-Wilson asked.

The Democrat said the first thing needed to get Gary back on track is to have a plan. “The shot-gun approach will not work,” she said.

Following the May primary, Freeman-Wilson formed a task force comprised of a variety of citizens, business and community representatives who were asked to assess the city’s needs.

“Earlier this year it put together a blueprint that was followed by the ‘New Day’ Task Force and as that plan continues to develop I invite citizens to visit our website for updates. That information is gleaned from the Task Force,” said Freeman-Wilson.

She said the blueprint creates priorities, deliverables and time lines and will serve as the foundation of a strategic plan that will force a direction of the city for the next two decades.

“The plan will prioritize three things. Economic development, public safety for a safe city and the city’s appearance and image for a clean city,” said Freeman-Wilson. “It is not enough to bring businesses; we must also bring residents as well.”

According to Freeman-Wilson there is close to $2 billion in development either under way or planned in Gary. She said the businesses will aid in easing the city’s property tax burden.

An aggressive approach to combating crime also is one of the mayor-elect’s top priorities. “It’s going to be done with cooperation with law enforcement at every level,” said Freeman-Wilson. In addressing the crime issue, she added that her administration would be relying on support from county, state and federal law enforcement.

Another problem plaguing the city is the high number of abandoned buildings. The mayor-elect said her administration would make the elimination of the blighted structures a major priority. “The abandoned buildings have got to go,” she said. “The trash must be picked up and the weeds must be removed,” she declared.

When the former Indiana attorney general was elected, it was Freeman-Wilson’s third run for the office of mayor. Her 2003 and 2007 bids fell short. Her victory this time catapulted her into the historic position as the city’s first female mayor and the first African-American female mayor in the state.

Upon taking office in January, she will share the distinction of being one of 12 female mayors in the state.

In 1995, Freeman-Wilson was appointed Gary City Judge, a position she held until 2000. She also served 11 months as Indiana Attorney General and following that appointment she became the CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, a non-profit organization.

The 51-year-old Gary native is a graduate of Harvard University.

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