Part 4: Honored to Have This Seat

“I am 100% committed to changing the fabric of our city.”

Part 4 of an oral history story from an interview with Mayor Jerome Prince, Gary, Indiana. You can find Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

Transcript for Honored to Have This Seat

For me, people who held government offices were – it appeared – largely connected to someone in some sort of fashion, whether it was through the school that they had attended or the fact that their family had been elected officials, or they were part of a fraternity, or some “prestigious group” of people. And if you look and think about my upbringing, we were just a poor family who migrated from Illinois to Indiana and, you know, teen parents if you will, and just not your typical average person that you would think would gravitate to those positions. But what I did discover is that I had an ability to connect with people. I understood that I had a passion to exercise and to deliver service. I understood that I had a commitment to excellence, if you will, and to do the very best I can.

I thought that by running and obtaining the position of precinct committee person, that I could change the world, you know? And I found out very quickly that you could become a little bit more involved, but you certainly weren’t in a position to impact the sort of change that I thought was necessary.

What really made me understand the relation between being a committee person at this level and actually being able to impact change was my desire to try to get streets repaved in my neighborhood. I thought that all I had to do was make some noise and get other people to join me, and so we took that path. I actually initiated a petition, took it around my neighborhood, and we submitted it to the administration at that particular time, and I don’t think it got a second look. And so, it became very clear to me that you have to do a little bit more than this, but more importantly, you have to be in the position to effectuate change. And so not even a full year after winning for precinct committee person in 1998, in 1999, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle of what’s going on here and certainly the direction in which I should take to become more engaged, and I filed to run for city councilperson.

I quickly discovered that although I could have a greater impact and a greater connection to the constituents as a councilperson, that still wasn’t the seat where I could actually initiate or implement the type of change that I believe needed to be. Because of the way the system is set up, you have nine councilpersons, and we’re a strong mayor form of government, and the initiatives have to start from the administrative side. And today I find myself sitting in that seat about thirty-six days in. However, it’s not as simple as just sitting in this seat. All of the factors and conditions that existed prior to me sitting here still exist: the financial constraints, the political aspects of it, and just the fact that the city finds itself in a really precarious situation. However, I’ve always been of the mindset that it’s what you do with the resources that you have that’s probably equally important as to attracting more resources.

The easiest thing that I could do is say, “Sure, we’re going to fix your street, and chop the tree, or do whatever needs to be done.” It’s not very realistic that I could make a promise like that today. It needs to be done in a very concise manner and that’s the approach that we’re going to take. And more importantly, we’re going to share this information with the residents and so that they have a realistic expectation.

The thing that I would want to share most to people is that I am one hundred percent committed to changing the fabric of our city across the board. I’m pleased and honored to have this seat, but it’s not an assignment or an appointment that I take lightly, and I’ll spend every moment that I am in this seat to make sure that we do the best, and also to make sure that every dollar that’s being spent in the city somehow translates to a direct benefit to the residents of the city.

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