Gary Gets A New Mayor With Challenges Galore

On Saturday, Gary, Indiana officially swears in its new mayor, Karen Freeman-Wilson. She’s actually been on the job since last weekend, though, with a long agenda of big and small goals.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson

Freeman-Wilson is the first African-American woman mayor in Indiana, where she served as the state’s attorney general. She’s a Gary-raised, Harvard-educated lawyer who has worked in Washington, but feels an obligation to her hometown.

“I know about the good things and the good places. It’s irresponsible to know about the good, to know about the potential, and not do anything about it,” Freeman-Wilson says.

I talked to Freeman-Wilson for this profile in The Atlantic Cities. She also spoke with our partner station WBEZ late last year about the challenges that she’ll face, namely a high crime rate, shrinking population, and citizens who feel they face obstacles in getting what they need.

On a grander scale, she wants to increase service at Gary’s under-served airport, which sits adjacent to Interstate 90; land a major hotel for downtown and spur broader economic development activities. Continue reading “Gary Gets A New Mayor With Challenges Galore”

Midwest Memo: Obama Chides China, New Detroit Dock Boosts Michigan Tourism, New Owners For Gary Casinos

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Obama chides China. Using uncharacteristic blunt language, President Obama said America had enough of China’s currency manipulation and encouraged the global power to abide by “the same rules as everybody else.” At the closing news conference of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Obama told reporters, “Enough’s enough,” and that “we don’t want them taking advantage of the United States.” The comments came one day after Obama held face-to-face talks with President Hu Jintao, according to Reuters. Obama and other U.S. leaders have grown weary of China keeping its currency value artificially low, thus hurting American companies and jobs.

2. Detroit dock brings tourist upswing. When a $21.5 million dock opened in Detroit earlier this summer, critics doubted the facility would see much use. Although only two cruise ships visited the port this past summer, according to the Detroit Free Press, cruise-ship operators have scheduled 23 visits in 2012. The uptick is expected to bring 2,500 new visitors and an increase in Michigan tourism dollars. Calling it a “significant win” for the region, W. Steven Olinek, deputy director of the Wayne County Port Authority, told the newspaper, “in future years we hope to play an even greater role in the re-emerging Great Lakes cruise industry.”

3. Gary casinos have new owner. New Mayor-elect Karen Freeman-Wilson says new ownership for two bankrupt casinos in Gary, Ind. is good for both the casinos and the city. “Investment in their structure will attract more gamers,” she said. Freeman-Wilson tells our partner station WBEZ that money is needed for infrastructure improvements, especially fixing city streets. Attendance has dropped at Northwest Indiana casinos, according to recent numbers, a falloff that comes even before a proposed Chicago casino heightens competition. Wayzata Investment Partners in Minnesota has taken over at the Majestic Star Casinos, which owe the city up to $15 million.

Beyond Issue 2: Other Key Election Day Developments Affecting The Midwest

A state-by-state roundup of key election news from around the Midwest:

Mixed news in Ohio: Union supporters succeeded in striking down a sweeping collective-bargaining state law, rejecting the Issue 2 referendum by a 61 percent to 39 percent margin. The result has been considered a rebuke of first-year Republican governor John Kasich and springboard for President Obama’s once-sagging numbers in Ohio.

Democrats should be reluctant to read too much optimism in the numbers, cautions The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. While Issue 2 failed, the lesser-known Issue 3 passed by an even wider margin. Issue 3, which proposed to prohibit the government from forcing participation in a health-care plan, won more than 66 percent of the ballots cast. It’s a sting delivered to Obama’s federal health-care law.

Implications of Michigan recall: State representative Paul Scott became the first Michigan office-holder to be recalled since 1983. He lost Tuesday’s recall election by eight-tenths of one percent, as 12,284 cast ballots for the recall and 12,087 against.

Scott had been targeted by the Michigan Education Association, according to our partner station Michigan Radio, because he supported budget cuts for K-12 schools and tenure-law revisions, and the state’s income tax extension to senior pensions. His recall is viewed as a warning sign to first-year Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

Gary, Indiana breaks new ground: Karen Freeman-Wilson has called Gary, Indiana a “blighted steel town on Lake Michigan’s southern shore.” She’s going to get a chance to clean it up. Voters elected Freeman-Wilson as the city’s mayor on Tuesday. In doing so, she becomes the first black female mayor in Indiana state history. She tells the Northwest Indiana Times she’s already working to make Gary a safer, business-friendly city.

Regional outlook: Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard examines the impact of Tuesday’s elections on first-year governors across the Midwest. Will the momentum that swept Republican governors. Rick Snyder, John Kasich and Scott Walker into office now work against them?

She explains that it’s not entirely a partisan issue. But on Tuesday, union supporters that protested collective-bargaining limits won the day. Heading into 2012, they hold the Midwestern momentum.

Midwest Memo: Wednesday, May 25, 2011

One day after Chrysler hailed its repayment of $7.5 billion in government loans, GM announced it will add 2,500 jobs in Detroit to meet growing demand for fuel-efficient cars. Shifts will be added at the company’s Hamtramck, Mich. plant as part of the automaker’s goal in meeting growing demand for sedans and electric cars, according to the Detroit News.

Both developments are signs of progress for the American auto industry, which has emerged as a building block for President Obama’s fledgling re-election campaign. In that spirit, the President will visit a Toledo-area Chrysler plant next week, possibly on Friday.

Continue reading “Midwest Memo: Wednesday, May 25, 2011”

Across the Region, Shutting The Local Library

GARY, Indiana – What happens when your local library shuts its doors? That’s a question Midwestern towns from Evanston, Ill., to Troy, Mich., are asking as local libraries are targeted in budget cuts. I went to Northwest Indiana, where the Gary Library Board has just decided to close its main branch, to find out the impact on a local community.

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Midwest Memo: Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thanks to a rise in new car sales, the Detroit 3 (Ford, GM and Chrysler) are finally in a position to start hiring again. One economist says the number of automotive jobs will never reach its former height of nearly a million jobs. Still, the three automakers are expected to hire about 35,000 people over the next five years.

Michigan lawmakers may be getting close to a budget deal. Meanwhile, thousands of unionized teachers and public employees are expected to gather at the state Capitol today for a protest of the proposed spending plan. The rally’s organizers say this may be the biggest protest of the season yet.

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Reinventing Our Cities, From Changing Gears

LISTEN TO THE SPECIAL:

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“Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.” That’s what Carl Sandberg said about Chicago.

The poet Joseph Brodsky said, “Everything about our cities is king sized — the beauty and the ugliness.”

And President John F. Kennedy said, ” We neglect our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them, we neglect the nation.” He could have been talking about our region, too.

Reinventing Our Cities, an hour-long radio documentary from Changing Gears, looks at all the issues facing our cities, from Pittsburgh to Chicago, Detroit to Gary, Indiana. Big questions remain. Can these cities learn from each other? What are the best ideas that can work for each? Or do they have their own unique problems?

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Reinventing Pittsburgh Part 5: Answers for Gary?

Pittsburgh and steel began a courtship in the late 1800s. That courtship would eventually produce a lovechild: Gary, Indiana. In the early 20th Century, Pittsburgh’s U.S. Steel Corporation began searching for a spot to build its new steel mill near Chicago. It found one on the southern shore of Lake Michigan in Indiana. The new mill employed thousands and helped the young city of Gary grow big and strong. But when those plentiful steel jobs began to dry up, both cities fell on hard times.  Continue reading “Reinventing Pittsburgh Part 5: Answers for Gary?”

Changing Gears Presents Reinventing Pittsburgh: Part 1

Changing Gears is spending the next few years looking at ways to reinvent the Midwest economy. Today, we kick off our first week-long series: Reinventing Pittsburgh. Once, it was the Steel City, just as Detroit was the Motor City. But while Detroit struggles to find its new identity, Pittsburgh is undergoing an enormous transformation, shifting to an economy that includes technology, medicine, education and yes, steel.

Can Pittsburgh be a model for the Great Lakes region? Later this week, we’ll be looking at how Detroit and Gary, Indiana, are following Pittsburgh’s lead. But first, we look at where Pittsburgh was.

Continue reading “Changing Gears Presents Reinventing Pittsburgh: Part 1”