By; BlackmansStreet Today
Gary, Indiana Mayor Richard G. Hatcher in 1967
Mayor Richard G. Hatcher, whose election as Gary, Indiana’s first black mayor, was a source of pride for many African Americans, but their elation hid the challenges he would face as political leader of an aging industrial city plagued by job loss, white flight and white racism, has died.
Mayor Hatcher died December 13, 2019 at Mercy Medical Center in Chicago. He was 86.
He served as Gary’s mayor for 20 years from 1968 when he defeated A. Martin Katz, the incumbent, in the 1967 primary. Mayor Hatcher remained mayor until 1988, when he was defeated for re-election in 1987.
Voters elected Hatcher and Carl Stokes of Cleveland, to office on the same day. They were the first two black men to lead cities with more than 100,000 residents. Stokes, however, was sworn into office before Hatcher. Stokes retired after serving two terms.
As the city’s leader, he faced significant challenges. Gary Works, which was owned by United States Steel of Pittsburgh, dramatically began reducing its workforce due to automation and overseas competition.
Gary Works, the nation’s largest steel mill, cut its workforce from 35,000 in the early 1970s to 25,000 by the early 1980s. The mill currently employs 10,000 workers. United States Steel blamed the layoffs ongoing financial losses as the steelmaker faced more and more competition from offshore steelmakers.
Mayor Hatcher lost another significant challenge that affected Gary’s future. He targeted the unincorporated area of Merrillville, Indiana, for annexation to recapture for suburban expansion and to attract former Gary residents who fled the city.
White suburban representatives, however, blocked Hatcher’s efforts. Merriville was allowed to incorporate into a town. The former cow pasture boomed as businesses fled downtown Gary to relocated to Merrillville. Thousands of Gary’s white residents also fled. Gary lost residents along with tax revenues.
In 1991, Hatcher was honored in South Africa by President Nelson Mandela for his antiapartheid work. That same year, Hatcher launched the black common market, which was designed to help black-owned businesses.
After he was defeated for mayor, he worked as a fellow as an Institute of Politics Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He also taught at Valparaiso and Roosevelt universities. He also founded his own consulting firm R. Gordon Hatcher & Associates.
Mayor Hatcher was born on July 10, 1933, in Michigan City, Indiana. He was one of 12 children born to a father who was a factory worker. Despite a difficult childhood, he excelled in school and graduated in 1956 from Indiana University with degrees in government and economics. He also earned a law degree from Valparaiso University in 1959.
Funeral services will be held 1p.m. Saturday at the Genesis Convention Center in Gary.