Richard Hatcher was the mayor of Gary, Indiana, for 20 years, from 1968 to 1988. When he was elected in 1967, he became one of the first African Americans to serve as mayor of a major U.S. city, and the first to be elected to the office rather than appointed. As mayor, Hatcher took on problems in the city including prostitution and illegal gambling, though his successes there couldn’t overcome problems including the steep decline of the city’s steel industry in the 1970s and ‘80s. Hatcher brought the National Black Political Convention to Gary in 1972, and he was a national voice for civil rights. He served as chairman of Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign and was vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1981 to 1985.
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Died: December 13, 2019 (Who else died on December 13?)
Details of death: Died at Mercy Hospital in Chicago at the age of 86.
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An unexpected win: When Hatcher ran for mayor in 1967, it was all but unheard of for an African American candidate to be elected in a city the size of Gary, even though its population was about half Black at the time. His primary win came as a shock to local Democratic leaders, who then tried to get Hatcher on board with their picks for police chief and other prominent city officials. Hatcher refused, and party insiders pivoted to support the Republican candidate in the general election.
But Hatcher fought for every vote he got, mobilizing Black residents to register and vote, and running ads in major newspapers reading “Richard Hatcher is battling bigotry and ignorance. And he needs your help.” He caught the eye not only of locals but of national politicians including Sen. Robert F. Kennedy—and he got donations that helped push him over the top to a close victory in the general election. He went on to win election for four more terms.
Notable quote: “The thing I can say I am most proud of is the way the people of Gary have continued to persist in their efforts to create a better city for their children and themselves.” —from a 2011 interview
What people said about him: “Our entire community mourns the loss of a great man and we will be forever touched by his selfless service to this city. I am humbled to be a recipient of his wisdom and guidance and will always be grateful for his influence on my life.” —Gary Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson
“Hatcher changed the course of our political river. American politics has never been the same since Dick Hatcher began this journey. The two most critical factors in our political advancement were Selma, Alabama and Gary in Indiana. Take your rest Mayor Hatcher.” —Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.
“As the first African-American female and LGBTQ mayor of Chicago, I stand on the shoulders of pioneers like Richard Hatcher, the first African-American mayor of a big U.S. city. He will be remembered as a force of positive change. May he rest in peace.” —Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Full obituary: The Times