Gary’s mayor backs former foe

Rudy Clay throws support to former Indiana Attorney General

April 12, 2011

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Karen Freeman-Wilson shakes the hand of Gary Mayor Rudy Clay.

Rudy Clay beat Karen Freeman-Wilson for the Democratic nominee for mayor in Gary, Indiana, four years ago. But with Clay bowing out of this year’s contest because of his battle with prostate cancer, he’s now backing his former opponent.

Clay made his endorsement announcement at a Tuesday morning press conference at Freeman-Wilson campaign headquarters.

“I know her vision for the city. I know her qualifications to lead the city. And, I feel extremely comfortable that she would do that,” Clay said. ”In fact, one of the candidates said they didn’t want my support.”

Freeman-Wilson is now locked in an nine-way race for the Democratic nomination, with Gary City Councilwoman Ragen Hatcher being her principal opponent. Hatcher’s father served as mayor for more than a decade during 1970s and 1980s. A graduate of Harvard law school, Freeman-Wilson says she’s honored to have the current mayor’s backing.

“It shows that he’s a wise man. And it also shows that he wants what is best for the city,” Freeman-Wilson said. “It also shows that not withstanding the start of a hard-fought campaign, that people can really get beyond their differences, the criticisms of each others agenda. They can get beyond those actual issues and do what is best for the citizens. It was a good surprise.”

But Clay’s endorsement of Freeman, Indiana’s former attorney general, came as no surprise to Ragen Hatcher, an attorney with the Gary public school system.  

“As we have said before, our campaign represents change and a new direction for Gary. Rudy Clay’s endorsement of Karen symbolizes the same old alignments between those who do not seek change to move Gary forward. The sign in [former Gary mayor] Scott King’s front yard for Karen is yet another signal that the old guard is trying to retake City Hall for its own purposes,” Hatcher said in a written statement. “If you liked the Clay administration and if you thought that Scott King was a good mayor, then Karen is your candidate.”

King served as mayor of Gary for more than a decade but stepped down in 2006 to seek work in the private sector. Freeman-Wilson didn’t take the swipe from Hatcher lightly.

“That statement shows a lack of maturity,” Freeman-Wilson said. “There is a lot to be gained from people who have gone before and we stand on the shoulders of many who have gone before. Our job is to take the baton and take it to a new and different level.”

Freeman-Wilson’s campaign also picked up the endorsements of five of Gary’s nine city council members, as well as Lake County prosecutor Bernard Carter, all of whom were present at Tuesday’s press conference.

Freeman-Wilson is set to have a fundraiser at Chicago’s Navy Pier on April 20. Early voting in the primary began last week. Traditional voting at polling sites is May 3.