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GARY -- Ducking through a torn screen door into a collapsing home filled with beer bottles, U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh and Mayor Rudy Clay led the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's deputy secretary Tuesday on a tour of a dilapidated neighborhood in Gary.

"We didn't pick this out," Bayh told Ron Sims as the federal officials looked at the broken windows and debris covering the floor. "We just walked down the street."

Sims inspected the neighborhood near East 5th Avenue and Georgia Street, peeking into empty homes and speaking to residents before participating later in a roundtable discussion at City Hall.

The secretary made his visit as Gary is preparing an application to HUD for $25 million from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The money would be used to tear down more than 900 abandoned homes and 200 empty commercial buildings in the city.

"The president of the United States cares about issues like this," Bayh said, "and he is not unfamiliar with Gary."

Sims, who is six weeks into his new job at HUD, said Bayh asked him to visit Gary before his confirmation, and Sims promised the senator he would do so.

"He said, 'I want you to believe in Gary, Ind., as much as I believe in Gary,'" Sims said of Bayh.

As Bayh, Sims and Clay walked south on Georgia, joined by several other city officials, two boys bouncing basketballs watched them, walking backward.

Those boys became part of Bayh's pitch Tuesday, reminding Sims and others that abandoned homes can pose a danger to children who like to explore.

As the group turned west on 6th Avenue, a school bus could be seen making a stop down the road.

"I assume they're letting out kids," Bayh said.

Sims said he was particularly impressed with Nita Moore, who said she has been organizing the community to clean up the block, and who told Bayh "teamwork makes the dream work."

Later, Sims said he noticed a man outside who was mowing not only the lawn in front of his home, but in front of an abandoned home next door. Sims said people like him still believe in the American Dream.

"He is still fighting," Sims said. "He wants his turn. He wants that promise kept."

Cheryl Sullivan, Bayh's deputy chief of staff for policy, said the city has until July 17 to file its application for a piece of the $2 billion that has been set aside nationally in the Neighborhood Stabilization fund.

It isn't clear when the city will know if its application has been approved, but Sullivan said Gary's recent approval of a comprehensive plan will help it in its bid.

"The president is looking for fast turnaround," she said.

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