GARY, Ind. (CBS) — She’s got a Harvard law degree and served as Indiana’s attorney general, but Karen Freeman-Wilson is about take on her toughest challenge yet as the newly-elected mayor of Gary, Ind.
CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley talked with the new mayor about her plans and her vision for reviving Gary.
There’s no doubt it’s a gargantuan task, trying to bring Gary back to life. but for all its problems, Freeman-Wilson says Gary also has assets that can be built upon to help turn around the long-suffering city.
Asked what is the biggest challenge Gary faces right now, Freeman-Wilson said, “You know, there are many who think that our biggest challenge is to create jobs, to make it a safer place, to make it a cleaner place. Our biggest challenge is really to restore hope in citizens.”
That hope has been eroded by years of economic decline, which led businesses to flee Gary and cut city services to the bone.
Freeman-Wilson said she hopes her own story can inspire the city’s residents and businesses.
As the daughter of a steelworker, she knows how devastating the loss of jobs was to Gary and that new jobs are the key to the city’s rebirth.
“If you can get jobs, then you get residents. If you get residents, then you get the tax dollars to make it a safer city, to develop retail around the city,” she said.
Freeman-Wilson envisions developing a vacant downtown site as a center for homeless veterans.
“On any given night, you may have 60 to 100 homeless veterans who don’t have a place to sleep,” she said.
But market-rate housing and retail will only develop if jobs do first.
Asked how to jump start the economy and bring jobs back to Gary, Freeman-Wilson said, “I think our greatest opportunity is to bring jobs that are built on our natural assets. And for us, that’s transportation and our location. So we look at developing jobs around the highways, trucking, around trains, around the airport.”
With major rail lines and several big trucking firms located in Gary, the mayor-elect said a big, intermodal facility is one obvious development target.
But, she said, no one’s ever thought of it before.
Freeman-Wilson said she intends to bring pro-business, pro-development thinking to a city that sorely needs it.
She’ll be sworn into office on Jan. 7.