Gary mayor leads na­tional group

She sees Na­tional League of Cities role cre­at­ing ‘op­por­tu­nity’

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Craig Lyons Post-Tri­bune

Gary Mayor Karen Free­manWil­son knows that when some­thing new comes to the city, the first ques­tion from res­i­dents is what it means for them.

Free­man-Wil­son had to ask her­self that same ques­tion ear­lier this month ahead of the Na­tional League of Cities meet­ing. Free­man-Wil­son be­came the na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion’s pres­i­dent, and eas­ily an­swered the ques­tion as to what her role would mean for Gary.

“It means op­por­tu­nity,” Free­man-Wil­son said.

Each pres­i­dent sets an agenda for the year, Free­manWil­son said, and hers is to help cre­ate cities for all gen­er­a­tions. Free­man-Wil­son said the or­ga­ni­za­tion will look at op­por­tu­ni­ties around the fu­ture of work, ed­u­ca­tion and se­nior cit­i­zen con­cerns, and ex­plore is­sues fac­ing legacy cities like Gary.

The Na­tional League of Cities rep­re­sents mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to the group, and has more than 1,900 mem­bers.

Free­man-Wil­son said she’s com­fort­able in her role as the lead spokesper­son for commu-

ni­ties whose in­ter­ests might not be the same as Gary’s.

But be­ing ac­tive in the Na­tional League of Cities isn’t just about ideas, the mayor said.

“I could list any num­ber of op­por­tu­ni­ties that ei­ther de­vel­oped or were en­hanced by my par­tic­i­pa­tion in NLC,” Free­man-Wil­son said. “And the good thing is it doesn’t cost the city any­thing.”

Of­ten peo­ple from other cities don’t see Gary the same as those who live there, Free­man-Wil­son said, and they just know of Michael Jack­son, crime and steel.

“Gary is so much more than all of those things,” Free­man-Wil­son said.

Free­man-Wil­son said peo­ple don’t know about the city’s ca­pac­ity for new trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture, like a pro­posed Buff­in­g­ton Har­bor fa­cil­ity, or the new com­pa­nies mov­ing into Gary.

In a city that has sim­i­lar chal­lenges as Gary, Free­man-Wil­son said peo­ple can’t look in­wardly for so­lu­tions. She said the city needs to look for part­ner- ships and ideas from out­side.

The Na­tional League of Cities is a place where cities can learn from each other and get new ideas, Free- man-Wil­son said.

Free­man-Wil­son said she got the idea for a block clean up pro­gram from Macon, Ga.

As ideas are ex­changed, Free­man-Wil­son said peo­ple from other towns and cities want to see how some­thing is work­ing and see­ing signs of progress.

“You can never get ad­vice from too many places,” Free­man-Wil­son said.

At one con­fer­ence, Free­man-Wil­son said she talked with the CEO of ESRI, a GIS firm, who had no­ticed the work Gary was do­ing to use the soft­ware. She said the CEO of­fered to send some­one to Gary to help in­crease the city’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties and talk about set­ting up GIS pro­grams in the schools.

That would have been a costly pro­posal if the city at­tempted to do it on its own, Free­man-Wil­son said, but ESRI is of­fer­ing it at no cost.

“That’s just one op­por­tu­nity,” Free­man-Wil­son said.

An­other ex­am­ple is when for­mer New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to Gary, Free­man-Wil­son said.

“He’s not vis­it­ing a whole lot of cities,” Free­man-Wil­son said.

The visit came about through net­work­ing and in­volve­ment, Free­manWil­son said, and that’s brought in money from the Bloomberg Foun­da­tion and op­por­tu­ni­ties through var­i­ous pro­grams.

“That all comes from be­ing in­volved,” Free­manWil­son said.

Free­man-Wil­son said she re­mem­bered when for­mer Mayor Richard Hatcher was crit­i­cized for his na­tional pro­file and lead­er­ship with the U.S. Con­fer­ence of May­ors.

“There were a lot of ben­e­fits the city re­ceived from the pro­file he had,” Free­man-Wil­son said.

Free­man-Wil­son said her lead­er­ship with the Na­tional League of Cities may re­quire some long hours and travel, but it won’t take away from her work in Gary.

“Home al­ways takes pri­or­ity,” Free­man-Wil­son said.

KYLE TELECHAN/POST-TRI­BUNE

Gary Mayor Karen Free­man-Wil­son re­cently took the helm of the Na­tional League of Cities, say­ing lead­ing the na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion means more op­por­tu­ni­ties for her com­mu­nity

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