MERRILLVILLE – Someone has forgotten to tell the city administration that Gary’s population has fallen over the years from 185,000 people to fewer than 80,000. If those at the top recognized that fact, the city wouldn’t be in the financial straits that now exist. And one has to wonder who is watching the store.

So bad is the city’s financial picture that the City Council is considering a plan to raise $40 million through the sale/leaseback of the public safety building. The city says it will be out of cash by Oct. 31. The city also has to come up with a plan to eliminate a $17 million structural deficit by eliminating jobs and consolidating departments. And in the midst of all this, the city is probing the misuse of $8.2 million in emergency public safety dollars that went to cover payroll and other expenses.

If all that isn’t enough, the city just spent $105,000 in software upgrades in an effort to get a handle on who is spending what at the city’s gas pumps. Adding to the financial woes is a growing number of crimes, including homicides.

The political atmosphere provides a snapshot of what has been happening to the city. With the Democratic mayoral primary some eight months away, there generally would be a fierce battle in progress. But that isn’t the case as Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is expected to cruise to another term.

When Richard G. Hatcher was mayor, some of the city’s biggest names challenged him every four years. He turned away four big names before losing to Thomas Barnes in 1987. While Freeman-Wilson has tried to make the city better, she has been shackled by the crime problem. And now, the Gary mayor’s job isn’t looked upon as one of the real political plums in Indiana.

There used to be an understanding that Lake County – and in fact all of Northwest Indiana – had to do everything it could to help Gary. That was done for a number of years, but I’m not so sure that still is happening. It was said that if Gary goes, so does the rest of the Region.

There are those who now say Gary is gone with no hope of again becoming a viable city. The rest of the area is doing well – and growing. 

Rich James has been writing about politics and government for 40 years. He is retired from the Post-Tribune, a newspaper born in Gary.