Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson at opening of her campaign headquarters

So many candidates for a shrinking voters' pie

Contributed By:The 411 News

It's not easy for candidates to subject themselves to the process

With every municipal office on the ballot, this year’s primary election season assures that whichever party, either Democratic or Republican overwhelmingly dominates the electorate, a win in the spring primary assures a win in the fall general election.

Mayoral and councilman at-large races drew the longest list of names in Gary’s Democratic stronghold. By the candidate filing deadline, nine hoped to unseat Mayor Freeman-Wilson; that’s now down to 8. Fifteen filed for the three Councilman At-Large seats, including incumbents Herb Smith, Mike Brown and Ron Brewer. No one was interested in contesting City Clerk Suzette Raggs and City Judge Deidre Monroe.

Between now and the May 7th primary election day, the 50-plus candidates have the winds at their backs pushing them forward.

In Gary, those candidates are seeking a piece of a voters’ pie that’s getting smaller and smaller. This is the first election cycle that voters and candidates will see the effects of last year’s state-ordered merger and consolidation of precincts in Lake County.

Precincts were reduced across the county, but northern cities were hit the hardest. Gary lost 54 precincts, where each had less than 600 registered voters; Hammond, 33; and East Chicago, 14. State election officials say the changes reflect the movement of people from the northern cities to the suburbs.

The mayor is running hard for her third term, not taking her reelection for granted. Following her state of the city speech on February 22, that afternoon was the grand opening of her campaign headquarters on 11th & Broadway. Smith had his headquarters opening the same day, at the opposite end of the block.

Flanked by posters of a proposed Majestic Star Casinos on I-80/94 and the recently opened Amazon distribution center in Gary, Mayor Freeman-Wilson opened her campaign headquarters with the message, “If you’re almost there, why would you change the driver?”

The following Sunday, she invited residents to her headquarters for an after church brunch that included her own banana pudding. She hosted bingo for senior citizens and is promoting the city’s job fairs.

The mayor said it’s not easy to subject yourself to this process.

One of the mayor’s challengers found that true when he was removed from the ballot by the Lake County Board of Elections. Jerry ‘Freeman’ Wilson was challenged by Regina Cossey, the mayor’s campaign manager, as having no history of using the nickname ‘Freeman.’

Jerry Wilson has a 2014 criminal felony conviction, the board said, which also disqualified him from holding office.

Two candidates on the ballot were involved in a domestic dispute. Mayoral candidate LaVetta Sparks-Wade was granted a restraining order against her boyfriend Gary Councilman At-Large candidate Jamal Washington, who remains jailed following the incident in late January. Election officials removed Washington from the ballot. Sparks-Wade is still in the running.

In a statement to prosecutors, Sparks-Wade said the incident began over a campaign issue.

Lacking the clout and the power of the mayor’s office to attract votes and campaign donations, getting the word out for other candidates on the ballot is mixed.

Councilman At-Large Smith believes the merged precincts will have a negative effect. “People are creatures of habit. Some will see their polling places changed and jut won’t vote.” Smith calls it a form of voter suppression. His own precinct was merged.

Smith said candidates have to contend with a muddied media market. “We don’t have a single strong media outlet. I’ll be focusing on April when early voting starts, with manpower to pass out my literature.”

Sixth District councilman hopeful Dwight Williams believes in meeting voters face-to-face. “I’m going door to door in my district.”

Second to the mayor in name recognition, Councilman At-Large Mike Brown is beginning his re-election campaign making the rounds of community events to remind voters. Brown said about his other at-large seat holders, Smith and Brewer, “We’re in this election campaign together, supporting each other.”

Prior to filling the at-large seat vacated by Ragen Hatcher, Brown held the office of Lake County Clerk for 2 terms. Before that he was the Lake County Recorder.

Ben Robinson, l-r, Herb Smith, and Lemuel Perkins, Smith’s campaign manager

Story Posted:03/09/2019

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