CHICAGO (CBS) –– Former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher, one of the first African American mayors of a large U.S. city, died Friday. He was 86.
In the late 1960s, Hatcher and Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes were the first black men to win the mayor’s office in a city with a population of over 100,000.
Hatcher died at 9:20 p.m. at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, according to his daughter, Indiana State Rep. Ragen Hatcher of Gary.
“In the last days of his life, he was surrounded by his family and loved ones,” the Hatcher family said in a statement.
“While deeply saddened by his passing, his family is very proud of the life he lived, including his many contributions to the cause of racial and economic justice and the more than 20 years of service he devoted to the city of Gary.”
“Mayor Hatcher will be mourned but remembered by the people of the city of Gary who were inspired by his leadership, his ability to bring about positive change and to never give up despite the challenges presented to him.”
In a statement, current Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said: “Our entire community mourns the loss of a great man and we will be forever touched by his selfless service to this city. I am humbled to be a recipient of his wisdom and guidance and will always be grateful for his influence on my life.”
The city of Gary unveiled a statue of Hatcher this past October outside Gary City Hall.
Elected in November 1967, Hatcher first took office in 1968 and served as mayor of the City of Gary for 20 years.
Hatcher attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money to Gary in his 20 years in office, some of which was used to build low-cost housing and the first public housing units in the city in nearly two decades. He also got federal funds to pay for jobs training, repaved deteriorating streets and put many inner-city neighborhoods on regular garbage collection for the first time.
Hatcher couldn’t stop Gary’s decline, which coincided with that of the U.S. steel industry. The company town, founded in 1906 by U.S. Steel Chairman Elbert H. Gary, had flourished as the industry did. While Hatcher was in office, U.S. Steel cut its workforce from 35,000 in the early 1970s to 25,000 by the early 1980s.
Businesses were shuttered as banks and shops moved to the suburbs. Crime increased, and by 1984, Gary had the nation’s highest per-capita homicide rate.
Hatcher was born on July 10, 1933 in Michigan City, Ind. He was one of 13 children whose father molded railroad car wheels and whose mother was a factory worker.
He graduated from Indiana University and obtained a law degree from Valparaiso University.
He moved to Gary and opened a law practice in East Chicago. In the early 1960s, he was a deputy prosecutor for the Lake County state’s attorney and was elected to the Gary city council in 1963.
He also was a player on the national political scene, running the presidential campaign for Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1984. He served as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1981 to 1985.
“Hatcher changed the course of our political river,” Jackson said in a statement. “American politics has never been the same since Dick Hatcher began this journey. The two most critical factors in our political advancement were Selma, Alabama and Gary, Indiana.”
Mayor Hatcher served as advisor to Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter on civil rights and urban policy and convened the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary.
“Ten thousands people attended including the most diverse group of blacks gathered for that political convention,” Jackson said. “The urban political progress to reconstruction grew out of that convention. People convened who did not know each other; but left there forever bonded.”
He married his wife, Ruthellyn, in 1976. They raised their three daughters, Ragen, Rachelle and Renee, in the city he loved.
“The thing I can say I am most proud of is the way the people of Gary have continued to persist in their efforts to create a better city for their children and for themselves,” he said in 2011. “We have some really wonderful people in the city.”
Contributing: Associated Press