Tributes Honor Late Mayor Rudy Clay

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June 6, 2013 — Political leaders are sending their sympathies about the death of former Gary Mayor Rudy Clay.

Rainbow PUSH Coalition founder and President Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., says he is deeply saddened at the passing of former Gary Mayor Rudy Clay, considering him “a friend and an essential asset to the civil rights movement.”

Jackson says Clay was, “a part of what we call ‘The Great Transformer,’” the period advancing Civil Rights into social, political and cultural progress from 1968 to Barack Obama’s presidential election in 2008.

Jackson called Clay, “an individual who galvanized people,” appreciative of his political service and coalition building. He credits Clay for preserving the (Michael) Jackson family home in Gary.

In tribute, Rev. Jackson described Rudy Clay, “He was smile, style and profile,” noting that Clay was a graduate of Operation Breadbasket as an early political development class member. Operation Breadbasket was a foundational social advancement initiative that preceded Rainbow PUSH.

Former Gary Mayor Rudy Clay spent his life fighting for Gary and its people, and that fight ended Monday when he died at the age of 77.

Born in Alabama, Rudolph Clay came to Gary as a child, graduating from Roosevelt High School and serving in the United States Army for two years during the Vietnam era before becoming a civil rights activist. In 1972 he won election to the state senate and later served as Lake County recorder and Lake County commissioner before becoming Gary’s mayor in 2006. He served as Gary’s mayor until 2011 when he announced he had cancer.

In 2005 Mr. Clay was elected the first African American to serve as Lake County Democratic chairman. He spent 39 years in elected office at the state, county and local level.

Tributes to the former mayor are already honoring his legacy, starting with a statement from Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, “On behalf of the city and citizens of Gary, I would like to express my condolences to Mrs. Christine Clay, Mr. Rudy Clay, Jr. and the entire Clay family in the loss of Mayor Rudy Clay. He was an icon in the community whose political service spanned decades. His heart for the citizens of Gary, Indiana will be remembered and cherished for years to come.”

Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley said, “Rudy Clay loved Gary—the place, its people. He was a dedicated and enthusiastic public servant. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family,”

U.S. Representative Pete Visclosky said, “I lost a friend today. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones.”

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody says, “Those who heard him speak knew him as a passionate advocate for his community and its residents, a man who could light up the room with his smile and a great story. Mayor Clay fought for civil rights, equality, economic opportunity and social justice.”

Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen also noted the loss of his friend and colleague, “He was an icon in our community and one of the most successful politicians in Lake County,”

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich who knew the former mayor for most of their adult lives said he will miss his friend. “He seemed like he knew everybody in the city, and he carried the torch for Gary.”

Photo: a campaign image from

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