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EYE ON THE PIE: Election is critical to Gary's future

April 10, 2006

Let's sell Fort Wayne and its surrounding counties to Ohio or Michigan. Or in the spirit of the day, at least we could lease out part of northeast Indiana.

If we got rid of Fort Wayne (Allen County) and two counties to the north (Steuben and DeKalb) plus one county to the south (Adams) and one to the west (Huntington), we could decrease our state's population by 491,500.

Why would we want to do that?

There's no good reason to get rid of your own taxpayers, but that's exactly what people are proposing when they suggest that Indiana give Lake County (population 493,000) to Illinois.

It seems Lake County is the state's white elephant.

Most Hoosiers see it as a place of industrial grime and noxious odors-possibly because most Hoosiers never leave the freeway system when they travel through the county. Lake County, to most Hoosiers, is rife with corruption, where business costs are higher because of unions, payoffs and indolent workers. To most Hoosiers, the people of Lake County are seen as different from the rest of us.

They look different, anyway. Lake County has the lowest percentage of white residents (66.7 percent in 2000) and the highest percentage of African-Americans (25.3 percent) and Hispanics (12.2 percent) in the state. Note: Hispanic is an ethnicity, and persons who identify themselves as Hispanic may be of any race.

It seems most Hoosiers are not necessarily comfortable with real diversity. It's OK to talk about it, but we don't want to live with it.

Gary is the largest city in Lake County-and the fourth-largest in the state-with 102,700 residents as of the last census in 2000, but probably fewer today. Lake County has 10 of the 50 biggest cities and towns in the state.

Gary is seen as an unsuccessful, bombed-out city. It has vast areas of decay and desolation, despite millions of dollars of federal aid and gambling money. Retail trade hardly exists in the city. The schools are among the worst in the state, despite high levels of expenditure.

However, several fine neighborhoods have withstood the deluge of deterioration, and local garbage collection, parks and snow removal are as good or better than in most other Indiana cities. The latter is a credit to Mayor Scott King, who, after 11 years in office, has resigned.

Two candidates have emerged to replace him. One is longtime Calumet Township Trustee Dozier Allen Jr., who is 75 years old. The other is longtime Lake County Commissioner Rudy Clay, who is 69 or 71 years old (depending on your source).

The fact that these are old men isn't what raises questions about their qualifications for office-neither age nor youth should disqualify a person for office. But the fact that both of these men represent the history of Lake County and Gary politics should.

That history needs to be rejected. New leadership is a requisite for the rejuvenation of the area, the resurrection of the economy and the restoration of community pride.

The people of Indiana should be concerned about government in Gary and Lake County, not try to distance themselves from it. Gary's future is central to Lake County, and there are great potential economic benefits to the state from this region, our primary link with the Chicago metropolitan area.



Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.
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