The mayor of Gary, Ind. said Friday his cash-strapped city paid $5,000 to fly Michael Jackson’s father and seven other people out from Los Angeles to attend a July memorial for his son in the pop star’s hometown.
Mayor Rudy Clay insisted that Joe Jackson wasn’t paid any money to attend the July 10 memorial in downtown Gary, a couple miles from the Jackson family’s former two-bedroom boyhood home.
“Joe Jackson came in here for one reason: for his son, and he wanted to be with his 31 other family members who live in Gary,” he said. “There was no fee for Joe Jackson to appear. Absolutely not.”
A call seeking comment was left Friday with a spokesman for the Jackson family.
While city money helped pay to fly Jackson, the musical group the Chi-Lites and security from Los Angeles to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Clay said donations already made or promised to the city will cover all of the memorial’s expenses.
He said Gary is currently about $2,000 short of breaking even on the memorial’s costs, though he could not provide the total cost for the tribute held at a minor league baseball park.
Clay said Joe Jackson never asked for help to pay for the trip to the city he moved his family away from in 1969 after the Jackson 5 recorded their first album.
Instead, Clay said he offered to pay airfare for Jackson as well as the Chi-Lites so that the group, whose lead singer Marshall Thompson is launching a new record label with Jackson, could accompany the Jackson family patriarch.
“The Chi-Lites were out there in California mourning with the family and I thought it was good for them to appear here but also to kind of comfort Joe for being here. And they did that,” he said.
A ‘travesty’ in the face of Gary’s financial woesGary’s Jackson’s memorial at The Steel Yard baseball park drew more than 6,000 people to the city 30 miles southeast of Chicago and featured performers singing and dancing to Jackson’s hits. Joe Jackson appeared on stage with Clay and others.
Clay said Jackson and the seven others visited Gary for one day, the day of the memorial, and then stayed that night at hotels in Illinois. The city’s $5,000 did not fully cover the airfare, he said, and no city money went toward paying the hotel costs or any other expenses.
Clay said he did not know the details of whether the city directly paid the airlines or whether the money was given to Jackson to cover those costs. Messages seeking comment on the details of that payment were left Friday with City Controller Celita Green.
News of the city’s air travel expense angered the leader of one Gary neighborhood group, who said it came not long after the city halted trash collection for 11 days until the city council approved a fee hike.
Kevin Carr, president of the Glen Ryan Neighbors Organization, called the city’s $5,000 payment a “travesty” in the face of Gary’s financial woes. He criticized both Clay for offering to pay and Jackson for accepting.
“We’re talking about a mayor who said we cannot afford to pick up trash, yet we can afford to pay for someone who has plenty of money to come out,” Carr said. “It’s ludicrous.”
But Doug Grimes, the president of the Miller Citizens Corporation in one of Gary’s best-known neighborhoods, said he expected that few Gary residents would criticize the city’s “peripheral” memorial expense for airfare despite the city’s financial woes. He said residents are proud of Michael Jackson and glad the city celebrated his life.
“I think people understand our financial condition, and they would be reluctant to say that the city did not perform properly when it recognized his accomplishments and the fact that this is his hometown,” Grimes said.