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BusINess » Business Government » Clay says he’s right man for the job

Clay says he’s right man for the job

Gary Mayor Rudy Clay announces his plan to run for re-election at Gary City Hall on Thursday. (Photograph by John Luke/The Times.)

Gary Mayor Rudy Clay announces his plan to run for re-election at Gary City Hall on Thursday. (Photograph by John Luke/The Times.)

Rudy Clay will ask Gary voters to give him another term as their mayor.

Clay made the announcement at a Thursday morning news conference in a meeting room adjacent to the mayor’s office at City Hall.

“I work 24/7 to make Gary a better city,” Clay said. “That renders me the best qualified person to bring jobs, hope and quality of life (to Gary). . . . We are prepared, we are experienced, we are proficient, and we are ready.”

In a speech rich with the metaphors the career politician is known for, Clay said he plans to make job creation and restoring the tax base priorities.

“Gary needs a mayor that’s already been in the cockpit and flew the plane,” he said. “You’ve got financial turbulence on one wing over here, lightning over here. . . . We have the best mayor right here now. I don’t even know what all the fuss is about.”

The 75-year-old mayor was first won election to the post in 2007.

Clay has come under fire for the city’s dire financial situation throughout his tenure as mayor. Most recently, city officials delivered layoff notices to 34 firefighters Dec. 27, blaming the move on 2011 salary budget cuts they expect will be required by the Distressed Unit Appeals Board.

The state board granted the city $21 million in relief from tax caps in each of the past two years. Still, the city’s property tax revenue has been cut in half since the tax caps were instituted.

“We’ve been able to streamline city government,” he said. “I think that’s great. I think that in 2012, we will be one of the few cities that’ll be prepared for property tax caps because we were one of the few cities creative enough to go to the (board) and get help.”

The city plans to appear before the board again Friday.

In addition to property tax revenue losses, the city also has lost revenue because of the bankruptcy of the Majestic Star Casino.

Clay was quick to point the finger of blame at previous administrations for the city’s financial woes.

“After the abrupt resignation of the former mayor (Scott King), we inherited a city that was financially drained,” he said.

Clay said on his first day in office, he was handed a $4.5 million NIPSCO bill, $900,000 water bill and $30,000 cell phone bill.

“A small city like Gary, Ind., reduced spending $62 million,” he said. “There is no city in America the size of Gary that could reduce spending $62 million and still keep the doors open, but we did.”

Other successes Clay pointed to included using federal funds to demolish 101 abandoned buildings, paving 22 streets with $2.8 million in state funds and putting 96 police squads on the street with federal dollars.

There have been five police chiefs since Clay took office, including the late Thomas Houston, who died in prison in November after being convicted of violating the rights of a man accused of burglarizing his home.

Clay insists that in spite of the turnover in the top cop’s seat, firefighter layoffs and a high crime rate, “public safety is the No. 1 priority in our community.”

Clay previously served as a Lake County commissioner and chairman of the Lake County Democratic Central Committee. He lost the chairmanship to Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. in 2009.

Many said the tides turned in the party during the 2008 presidential primary. When Indiana’s returns were delayed by a long wait for Lake County’s vote returns, the two sparred live on CNN. Clay supported Barack Obama, and McDermott backed Hillary Clinton.

McDermott accused Clay of holding back the returns. Clay said it was a computer glitch. The exchange was parodied by Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.”

Among the close to 30 people in attendance at Thursday morning’s announcement were Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter, who hugged Clay after he finished his speech.

City Councilwoman Ragen Hatcher; attorney Karen Freeman-Wilson, a former city judge and former state attorney general; and Gary businessman Jack Lieske are among a number of candidates who already have entered the Democratic primary.

“We’re going to run a vigorous campaign,” Clay said. “This will probably be the most vigorous campaign I’ve ever run in my life.”

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