an election 
that changed history
By Jon Seidel
Post-Tribune staff writer
Published Nov. 11, 2007

GARY — Until the certainty crept in, a voice on the radio ruled the night in 1967.

Two young teachers listened to that voice as they fought their way through the crowds to Broadway.

The son of the outgoing mayor tuned in, home from law school to be a witness to history.

And Richard Gordon Hatcher, a 34-year-old black attorney and at-large City Council member who was about to make a statement heard far beyond the reach of the radio antenna, listened at his law office at 17th and Broadway.

It was physically impossible, Hatcher said, for him to thread the crowd and reach his headquarters three blocks away.

He wasn’t about to attempt it until the radio told him it was time.

“By the time it became very clear we actually had a chance to win this election,” Hatcher said, “they sent five or six people over to take me over to the headquarters.”

A plate-glass window in the storefront at 2017 Broadway rattled when people, on both sides, cheered to see the young attorney escorted to the scene.

“I thought it was going to shatter,” Hatcher would say 40 years later.

Hatcher has told this story hundreds of times.

An icon to the people of Gary today, he chooses a gas station cafe on Grant Street for a meeting place.

Hardly taking time for a sip of coffee, he chooses from his favorite anecdotes.

He has come upon the 40th anniversary of the night when, on Nov. 7, 1967, he was elected one of the first black mayors of a major American city. Carl Stokes was elected mayor of Cleveland the same night.

Ragen Hatcher-Matthews, his 29-year-old daughter, was elected at-large to the City Council this week, on the eve of the anniversary.

Forty Novembers ago, there was dancing in the streets of Broadway.

Tuesday night, when the polls closed, Hatcher-Matthews sat in a small cafe in the city’s Small Farms area. There was no party. There were no crowds. No radio.

She ate eggs, sausage, toast and hash browns, talking about her dad, her city’s future, and its fateful past.

About race, about politics, and about Democratic machines in Lake County.

“I wish I, kind of, could have been around for it,” Hatcher-Matthews said.

1967: Troops move in

As Nov. 7 dawned, 4,000 Indiana National Guard troops were waiting for orders in Valparaiso. They were there to quell the riots expected if Hatcher lost.

As much as this election was about racial equality, it was also about an entrenched Democratic party boss in Crown Point, John Krupa, and what was allowed to go on in Gary.

Prostitution and gambling were rampant.

Blacks in the city, who until just a few years before were not allowed to live outside Midtown, were rewarded with the most menial patronage jobs the Democratic Party had to offer, according to local history books.

Hatcher was a surprise winner in the May primary, ousting Mayor A. Martin Katz in a three-way race.

But party support, Hatcher found, came at a cost. Krupa wanted to pick Hatcher’s police chief and controller.

Hatcher refused, so the leader of the Lake County Democratic Party put his support behind a white Republican: furniture salesman and political rookie Joseph Radigan.

Even then, Democrats had the power in Gary, and Hatcher saved little money to campaign with in the general election.

The fight he found went beyond even the worst smear campaign.

One week before the general election, a federal three-judge panel ruling purged more than 1,000 names from voter rolls in Gary.

As Hatcher tells it today, Krupa counted the windows in all the apartments in Gary, gave them all names and put them on the county’s voting rolls.

Krupa planned to bus “iron-workers and prostitutes” to the polls, Hatcher said, give them the names and tell them to vote.

“Of course, they certainly were not planning to vote for me,” Hatcher said. 

Marion Tokarski, a precinct committeewoman fearing for her life, told the story to a pair of reporters covering the election for a national magazine, Hatcher said. They told Hatcher. He filed a lawsuit.

By Election Day, a group of U.S. marshals had been sent to Gary to protect Tokarski. Richard F. Walsh, now a Cook County Circuit Court judge in Illinois, was one of them.

One marshal was assigned specifically to Tokarski, he said. The rest were looking for a man, with a deer rifle, apparently wandering Gary trying to kill her. He was never found.

Contemporaries of Hatcher, including state Reps. Charlie Brown and Vernon Smith who taught in the city schools that day, believe a pulsating sense of racism was concealed at the core of the rabid politics. 

Either way, at 1:20 a.m., those National Guard troops mobilized in Valparaiso, shifting to a ready position in Gary’s Gilroy Field.

That’s how Election Day began in 1967.

2007: Quiet election

No campaigning was necessary for Hatcher-Matthews on Tuesday.

The young attorney went to work, had her evening “breakfast” at the cafe, and went home to her husband and three children.

The primary in May was close. She won by 2,000 votes then, placing third among the at-large candidates. This time she placed second.

Kyle Allen, an incumbent at-large councilman, was the only candidate to earn more. 

His father, Dozier T. Allen, was elected to the City Council the same night Hatcher was elected mayor.

Allen and Hatcher-Matthews each earned more votes Tuesday than Mayor Rudy Clay who, at age 71, is a member of their parents’ generation.

Clay has represented Gary as state senator, county councilman and county commissioner during his 35-year political career.

He also now has Krupa’s old job as chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party.

The job of the mayor today is difficult. 

More people have already been killed by violence this year than in all of 2006. 

The median income level, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, hovers at nearly half the national average.

Slightly more than 10 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree.

Hatcher’s critics say Nov. 7, 1967, is when it all went downhill, when it had twice the population it does now.

Suburbanization, or “white flight,” began before the election but increased afterward.

Depending on who is asked, Hatcher drove people out because he was too militant or too black.

It wasn’t until the mid-1990s, though, that the city became known as the country’s “murder capital” his daughter points out. “Can you really say that that happened because Dad got elected?” Hatcher-Matthews said. 

And there were no casinos funneling revenue into the city, she adds, as there are now.

Finally, despite all the civil rights accomplishments of the last 40 years, many believe racism exists in a less tangible way.

Rep. Smith says the black community has freed itself from the “political bondage” of the 1960s, but not from the “economic bondage” of today.

Despite the times, 11,000 people voted for mayor Tuesday in a city of 97,000.

1967: A private meeting

The police station garage at Broadway and 13th Avenue was always filled with squad cars and motorcycles.

Not on Election Day. This time it was empty.

About 10 a.m., a car driven by Mayor Katz, joined by son J. Michael Katz, pulled in.

Ten minutes later, Hatcher arrived in a separate car with his team.

Michael Katz, who works as an attorney today in Highland, said neither camp truly trusted the other.

The two men, though, shared a mutual, professional respect that later grew into a personal friendship. 

Hatcher said he woke up that morning worried about the scheme uncovered by Tokarski.

He’s still sure that a few bogus names stayed on the voter rolls that day.

So, to scare the machine straight, he enlisted the help of the “Miller Mafia,” a Jewish liberal group in the Miller area that became key to Hatcher’s first election.

“We knew the Lake County Democratic machine too well,” Hatcher said.

The Miller group, wearing trench coats with hats pulled down in front of their faces, piled into five cars, Hatcher said.

These cars would stop at every polling place in the city, Hatcher said.

Looking mysterious, the men would jump out of the car, take notes, say nothing, and leave.

By midmorning, Hatcher said, the rumor was out that the FBI was watching.

“The word spread like wildfire,” Hatcher said.

With poll workers behaving as well as he could hope, Hatcher met with his predecessor in the empty police garage on Broadway.

Katz’s son said he didn’t hear the conversation, but he saw the two men pull out polling charts. They appeared to be comparing numbers.

Another, very similar meeting occurred in the same place that afternoon, Katz said. 

Each meeting ended with a “warm handshake.”

“My dad was helping him in the background,” Michael Katz said. “There were no newspaper reporters around. He was not looking for any notoriety. He felt he was doing what had to be done.”

Hatcher did, too.

He went to his office to listen to results on the radio.

Then he worked the crowd outside his headquarters before declaring victory.

The two teachers, Rep. Smith and Brown, joined in the celebration in the streets.

“That’s an indescribable moment, when you think about the joy,” Brown said. “This was historic. And also because we won. We beat the machine.”

2007: What’s next

Hatcher-Matthews didn’t give a victory speech Tuesday night. There was no dancing or singing.

She spoke at the cafe about her plans as an at-large member of the City Council, which largely orbit around the city’s youths.

To find funding for a college youth program, similar to Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.’s, she plans to scour the city’s casino tax revenue agreements.

She has waited for her election victory to begin research on the effort, though.

Now that it’s official, she is also likely to look for a spot on the council’s finance and planning committees once she takes office Jan. 1.

The building of a National Civil Rights Hall of Fame in Gary, a goal of her father’s that became a divisive political issue in the city, will be another priority.

“There is nothing like it in the country,” Hatcher-Matthews said. “It could be a huge economic generator.”

Beyond her first term on the council, though, Hatcher-Matthews isn’t answering.

A new generation is eager for its turn to lead the city, and she’s just one member of it.

But the connection has been made several times that a young attorney named Hatcher is once again perched in an at-large council seat.

“People mention a lot of stuff,” Hatcher-Matthews said. “I think that I could not have had a better teacher than my dad.”

© the post-tribune company. 
reprinted with permission.
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