Nightly News   |  August 24, 2013

Gary, Ind. fights avoid Detroit’s fate

One small town mayor literally is getting her hands dirty in the hopes of revitalizing Gary, Ind. NBC's Harry Smith reports.

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>>> today, gary , indiana , is a far cry from its glory days when it was a thriving steel todwn. today the unemployment number is close to 10%. continuing our series "in plain sight" which focuses on poverty in america, harry smith introduces us to its inspirational mayor who is on a mission to save her citizens.

>> reporter: gary , indiana , one of the first notches on america's rust belt , a town so long past its prime the demolition of one of its thousands of abandoned buildings is actually a small sign of progress. gary 's population is about half of what it once was. some of its neighborhoods are riddled with crime and the people who are left here have heard every political promise in the book. if ever there was a city in need of a savior, it's gary .

>> hey, what's up? good morning, how are you doing?

>> reporter: ten it might just be this woman, mayor karen freeman-wilson.

>> i grew up here, went to public schools and then went to harvard college and harvard law school . couldn't wait to get back.

>> reporter: couldn't wait to get back?

>> i could not wait to get back to gary , indiana .

>> reporter: her father and grandfather both worked in the steel mills and she herself seems unafraid of being a little elbow grease into cleaning up her town. madam mayor, you picking up trash, is this going to help save the city of gary ?

>> absoluteabsolutely. sometimes you have to lead by example.

>> reporter: it seems simple, maybe even simplistic but by example the mayor is trying to show the people of gary they have something worth saving. what's the biggest problem you've got?

>> really getting people to believe again. people have seen gary in a certain way for so long that it's hard for them to understand that it can get better, that it will get better.

>> reporter: the mayor believes gary has assets worth investing in, so the airport's getting a new runway, millions have been spent spiffing up gary 's glorious lakefront and to fill gary 's empty houses, the city will be happy to sell one to you for $1. yep, one buck.

>> i see you working on your flowers there.

>> reporter: the former high school and college point guard seems to have a knack for running gary 's offense. you don't seem like a politician to me.

>> that's because i'm not. i'm a public servant. there is a difference.

>> reporter: and maybe it's the little things that will end up making a big difference.

>> the pickup's gotten better, cleanup's gotten bet per.

>> you can see a lot of things being renovated, a lot of houses being torn down, things that's supposed to be done is being done now.

>> reporter: green grass and impat impat impatiens on the porch.