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Former Mayor Daley’s students reach out to help Gary, Indiana

Former Mayor Daley jokes with medias he leaves University Chicago after press conference with Karen Freeman Wilscurrent mayor Gary Indiana.

Former Mayor Daley jokes with the media as he leaves the University of Chicago after a press conference with Karen Freeman Wilson, the current mayor of Gary, Indiana. He laughed that he missed the media attention and maybe he might hang out at City Hall sometime. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: September 26, 2012 8:59AM

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley has aimed the brainpower of his University of Chicago graduate students at solving some of the problems that plague the once-booming steel town of Gary.

Daley has taken Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson under his wing and become her mayoral mentor, regularly offering her advice learned during his 22 years at the helm in Chicago.

Daley announced Tuesday his students have been in Gary this spring and summer conducting an inventory of abandoned buildings and finding new ways to approach budget problems in a city whose population has mirrored the decline of the steel industry from a booming 200,000 residents in the 1950s to 80,000 today. Students also evaluated simple city services such as filling potholes or picking up branches.

“They are looking at government from a totally different perspective,” said Freeman-Wilson.

The plan was hatched after Freeman-Wilson spoke to Daley’s students in January. On Tuesday, it was touted as one offering fresh ideas for Gary and real-life experience for the school’s Harris School of Public Policy students.

“We were received with open arms,” said grad student Bradley Crawford. “They treated us like partners, like ‘this is a place with limited resources, and we could use the extra help.’ I think this type of partnership is something you’ll see more and more of in the future.”

Chicago has a personal bond with its neighbor to the South, Daley said.

“There’s a long relationship between Gary and Chicago, historically . . . people working in Gary from Chicago,” said Daley, whose grandfather was a sheet metal worker who helped build Gary’s city hall.

Freeman-Wilson graduated from Gary public schools, Harvard and Harvard Law School and went on to become Indiana’s attorney general. Her father was a steelworker and her mother managed a community center.

Daley, who is a distinguished senior fellow at the university, declined to weigh in Tuesday on how Mayor Rahm Emanuel handled the recent teacher strike.

“I’m not going to talk about that. I have the utmost respect for the office; it’d be unfair,” he said.

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