GARY — U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, felt right at home during his visit Saturday afternoon. Gary is much like Youngstown, he said.
"I'm just struck by how much it looks like where I came from," Ryan said.
Ryan, like colleague Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. Ryan was in the area for a Democratic fundraiser this weekend so took a tour of Gary while here.
Touring Gary, Ryan learned that U.S. Steel's Gary Works occupies 7 miles of lakefront. He saw many other industrial sites, some still in use, some vacant.
"This was industry. There was a lot going on here," Ryan said.
Ryan's tour began at Gary/Chicago International Airport, where he saw the new facilities built there and heard about future plans.
"The airport is super impressive," Ryan said. "That's one of the nicest ones I've seen" in a community like Gary, he said.
It shows how private investment follows public investment, he was told.
Ryan was also impressed by Gary's use of nearly $11 million in federal blight elimination funds under the Treasury Department's Hardest Hit program to demolish 700 of Gary's 6,000 abandoned houses.
At one site, crops are being raised on land that once had derelict homes. As more on that street are razed, the farm will expand, said Joe Van Dyk, the city's planning and redevelopment director.
"On the corner there were two blighted houses, and now there's a fruit orchard," Van Dyk said.
"I love the urban ag," Ryan said, especially since that section of Gary is considered a food desert, with limited access to grocery stores.
As Ryan toured the city, he talked with Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson about challenges facing Gary and plans to improve the city, with the help of federal and private partners.
"This is why we do it, right? We've just got to get everyone else on board, because everyone's in the same boat," he said.
Ryan lamented the size of the income tax cuts passed by Republicans in Congress in December.
"If we'd just put that $2 trillion into this stuff," he said. "There's a lot of potential here."
"You get the Democrats back in office, we're bringing some checks," Ryan said at the end of his tour of Gary.