GARY, Ind. (WLS) --There are few mayors in the United States who face more challenges than Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. Currently in her second term, Freeman-Wilson keeps working hard to try and improve a city that has struggled for many years.
Freeman-Wilson is Indiana's first African American female mayor, a graduate of Harvard Law School, a former judge, and has served as Indiana's attorney general. Elected in 2012, Freeman-Wilson has refused to give up hope on her home town, Gary.
A once thriving city with a population of close to 200,000 people, Gary is down to 77,000 residents. Half of the city's tax base is gone, and the city has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Still, Freeman-Wilson keeps smiling, even after five years in office.
"I smile because I have learned to count progress one step at a time," she said.
Serving her second term, Freeman-Wilson touted some of the city's accomplishments in her State of the City Address on Friday. But she made it clear to the audience of city employees and business owners that if she sugar coated Gary's progress, it would be propaganda.
"I want to tell you what keeps me up at night and what we are doing about it," Freeman-Wilson said.
Lack of jobs, crime, poor education and the city's finances are all on the list.
"It is a financial tsunami, but because it is not a natural disaster and because the impact is gradual, help has been slow to come," she said.
Freeman-Wilson said demolishing abandoned homes and commercial properties in hope of redeveloping the land for investors would cost $30 million, an action she said is easier said than done.
"That requires money that the city simply doesn't have," she said.
Freeman-Wilson is working on public and private partnerships to help with the abandoned building problem. She also travels around the country trying to convince others that Gary is worth saving.
"I'm looking for an opportunity to tell our story to someone who has the resources to aid the effort," said Freeman-Wilson.
As for job creation, she said there are plans for a new industrial park and a jobs training center in Gary. She is also focusing on help for small businesses.