Karen Freeman-Wilson, 51, knows that the third time is the charm better than most folks. Wilson tried twice before to become mayor of the city of Gary, Ind., in 2003 and 2007, and lost.
In November, however, the Democratic Harvard Law graduate overwhelming won the seat with 86 percent of the vote.
The mayor’s seat was vacant after Rudy Clay decided not to run for re-election.
“It’s an honor to make history, any way you make it,” Freeman-Wilson said.
In 2000, Freeman-Wilson was appointed Indiana’s attorney general by then-Gov. Frank O’Bannon, after Jeff Modisett resigned to take a private sector job in California. After serving the remaining 11 months of Modisett’s term, she ran to remain in office and lost to Republican Steve Carter.
Freeman-Wilson fine-tuned her message and has emerged as Gary’s great hope to bring about change. She became a pioneer in the process, as Gary’s first female mayor and the only African American female mayor in the state of Indiana.
And her responsibilities are daunting; once again Gary has topped the FBI’s list for murder rates per capita.
Mayor Freeman-Wilson’s focus today is to rebuild her city via curbing the crime rate, attracting businesses and new citizens, and developing a trans-rail system and a land-based casino.
Rolling out spoke with Mayor Freeman-Wilson at the recent holiday community event sponsored by the Black McDonald’s Operators Association.
How does it feel to be a pioneer?
It certainly feels great to be able to make history in the state of Indiana, but it’s more important for my daughter’s generation to really show them that the sky is the limit if they handle their business and do what they need to do, then they can achieve anything.
Did you expect to win by a landslide?
It’s humbling to have voters place confidence in you. We worked for it, but you never know on Election Day.
What are your immediate goals for Gary?
My immediate goal for Gary is to have a working city and a safe city. We have had some challenges relative to unemployment, we’ve had some challenges relative to crime, and my job is to make Gary a safe city so that people will want to open businesses there and people will want to live there. And we can return Gary to the center of prosperity for Northwest Indiana.
Is there pressure being the mayor of the Jackson 5’s hometown?
Well it’s pressure because a lot of the media in Northwest Indiana and a lot of people in general really have said that my leadership is the only hope for Gary. But what I say is that they hired me to do the job but now I have work for them to do. It’s all of us working together to bring the city back, so that’s my job.
Who is your inspiration?
My inspiration is my mother, Delores Freeman, she is a six-time stroke patient, but she continues to fight back. She continues to embrace life, and certainly Barbara Jordan.
What is your advice for today’s young women?
What I always say to young women is, don’t let anyone define you. You define yourself. You determine who you are. If you want more hair, buy it, but don’t let that be who you are. You have to understand that beauty emanates and it starts from within.
Is a run for the White House in your politcal future?
No. I’m where I want to be, I’ve worked hard all my life to be able to serve the citizens of Gary.