2021 State of the City Address
Good Evening and thank you for joining us for Baltimore’s 2021 State of the City Address. I want to thank Council President Nick Mosby for the warm introduction. I have enjoyed our partnership over the years and I look forward to what we can accomplish together. I also want to thank the Baltimore City Council for their commitment to improving our great city. Your devotion to Baltimore is unparalleled. And it is an honor to serve with you.
I also want to thank the staff and residents at the Waxter Center for Senior Services for allowing me to use their auditorium to address our beloved City. The Waxter Center is a key part of our community, graciously stepping up to serve as an essential site for testing during the pandemic.
Thanks to all of the first responders and health care professionals that worked around the clock, taking time away from your families and often risking your own health to care and extend grace to a stranger. You showed Baltimore what it means to be a friend and a Good Samaritan.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank you – the residents of Baltimore. I thank you for your ingenuity that drives our economy. I thank you for your faith during the storm. And I thank you for your grit and determination to overcome insurmountable obstacles.
I am humbled to serve as your Mayor. Baltimore is the only place I have ever called home. Serving you is more than just a job – this is a calling. As a kid from Park Heights, I believe that every person and every community in Baltimore is worth fighting for.
Politics should be about working together in good faith to solve our city's problems. This means making real investments in creating jobs, safeguarding our neighborhoods, supporting local businesses and fostering communities where all families can thrive.
Our challenges require a new vision and a new generation of leadership that is committed to bringing people together no matter the cost. It is not about simply doing what is popular, but doing what is right!
Every morning, I bring you to City Hall with me. And when I leave the office at night, your issues remain at the top of my mind.
Throughout the day, I often ask myself, “Have I done everything I can to uplift Baltimore? Have I made Baltimore safer? Have my colleagues and I put in the necessary work to bring new opportunities to this city?”
As I stand before you tonight, 100 days into my Administration, I can honestly say that the answer is “Yes!” But like a true son of Baltimore, I am not satisfied.
Bringing real change to Baltimore will be a difficult journey. But in these first 100 days, I am proud to say that we are moving in the right direction.
We are governing from the ground up, by ensuring that everyday basic services are being met efficiently and effectively. And we are achieving this first-rate coordination amid a global pandemic.
The State of our City is STRONG. And I can assure you that the future of Baltimore is bright.
Building Public Trust
We have achieved a lot in very little time. But just like the start of any new relationship, establishing trust is key. This is especially true when trust has been broken over and over again. Given the public skepticism and disappointment towards City Hall, it was critical that I work to regain your faith and prove that local government can operate in your best interests. In order to restore your faith in City government, we need to deliver effective, reliable, and equitable services to our residents. In order to do that, we have to first restructure City Government to bring it into the 21st Century. That is why I established Baltimore’s first City Administrator, and brought in Christopher Shorter to serve in the role.
Next is building the right team. So, I borrowed Ozzie Newsome's formula and selected the best talent I could find. The team is mixed with great homegrown talent and fresh national perspectives. These individuals not only believe in my vision for a better Baltimore, they believe in you. They believe in your potential and your ambitions. And they care about solving the problems that keep Baltimore families up at night.
We’re already seeing meaningful results. For instance, we were able to implement one of the most efficient snow plow operations in Baltimore history amid a pandemic. And we resumed recycling collection and pursued equitable methods to reduce waste.
As I continue to build the team that will restore your faith in the City government’s ability to solve your problems, I am thrilled to announce the appointment of Dr. Jason Mitchell as Director of the Department of Public Works. We will bring much-needed needed reform to our City’s water billing system - making it more affordable and accountable. We will move away from outdated forms of waste disposal and towards Zero Waste. We will complete the work on the City’s water and waste water infrastructure. We need a national leader with proven experience on these issues. Jason Mitchell is that leader. With him at the helm of DPW, I know my administration will address these chronic issues facing our residents.
But building trust also demands that we devote ourselves to being responsible stewards of city resources and your hard-earned tax dollars.
That is why we are working diligently on a top-to-bottom assessment of city agencies and processes to inventory city property, updating the City’s 10-year financial plan, and exploring ways to expand community engagement in the budget process.
And we will soon launch the City’s first Open Checkbook. Residents can explore city expenditures thanks to the addition of our new Chief Data Officer who is working hard to foster a real data-driven culture in Baltimore.
And I have an important announcement to make regarding the upcoming tax sale.
This ongoing pandemic has impacted renters and homeowners across Baltimore. In order to support our most vulnerable legacy homeowners, I am directing the Department of Finance to use every tool and resource available to us to make sure no one loses their home to tax sale in the midst of this pandemic.
You deserve a Mayor that says what they mean, and means what they say, and I set out to govern as such. With transparency, integrity, and accountability.
A More Equitable Baltimore
A commitment to equity shapes everything my Administration does. The racial and economic disparities that persist in our city are clear. Anyone who claims to be a leader in Baltimore, elected or otherwise, who fails to acknowledge these lingering disparities not only perpetuates racism, but invites history to repeat itself. We must all work together to build a more equitable Baltimore.
My administration is committed to ensuring all Baltimoreans have an opportunity to help write the story of our great city. And to make sure of this, I appointed Dana Moore as Baltimore’s first Chief Equity Officer. In this role, Dana will apply an equity lens to every aspect of City governance, making sure the people and places most overlooked in Baltimore see themselves and their communities reflected in our local government.
And I am proud to announce that Baltimore is one of the first cities in the nation to officially appoint a Director of Broadband and Digital Equity. This role will focus on how to expand high-speed, affordable internet access to over 60,000 Baltimore households that are currently without this critical necessity. We will close the digital divide.
In the next few weeks I will announce a local language access mandate that pushes City agencies to provide access to service in languages beyond English to Baltimore residents. And my administration will invest approximately $100,000 towards the translation of vital documents across City agencies in the coming fiscal year. This is all part of my commitment to remove barriers that prevent immigrants from accessing key resources.
But equity must play a role in how City Hall conducts business, and who we conduct business with. That is why my administration is addressing the stark inequity in City contracts by reforming our outdated procurement process. When it comes to issuing contracts to perform city services, we must make the process more equitable for the women- and Black-owned local businesses right in our backyard.
For decades, too many Baltimoreans have been locked out of City government. I believe City Hall is the last place to turn away someone who wants to contribute to moving the City forward.
It’s on all of us -- from our partners to our friends in labor -- to ensure City employment remains accessible to our neighbors who have been impacted by the War on Drugs.
It is finally time to bring equity and professionalism to our City’s hiring process while expanding the pipeline to employment for Baltimore residents. That is why I will issue an Executive Order in the coming days to suspend pre-employment drug screenings for public employees in non-safety sensitive positions. This is a long-overdue first step to increasing opportunities for our hard to employ residents.
Our rich diversity is one of the many aspects of our city that makes us great. Today, we must all commit to building a better Baltimore that values and truly reflects this diversity. Baltimore must send a strong message that no matter your race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ability, income, or age, you can live and thrive here.
Prioritizing Our Youth
Throughout my career and in my first 100 days as Mayor, I have prioritized our youth. Our children are this City’s future and our greatest asset. We must value and invest in them.
My administration has a plan developed by the Children’s Cabinet to address early childhood development, food insecurity, homelessness, literacy, and many other obstacles confronted by our youth. And we’ve already started to implement these efforts that will change children’s lives.
My Administration has also begun implementation of the Elijah Cummings Healing City Act, a measure that will make sure that Baltimore City agencies take a trauma-informed approach to how they interact with our residents.
I also joined mayors from across the country in creating a guaranteed income pilot program, slated to start this fall. Although redlining and residential segregation are institutions of the past, their legacies continue to impact present-day inequality, especially during COVID-19. That is why we must consider bold solutions like guaranteed income to address historical injustices. We have seen it work elsewhere. I look forward to examining the impact of this pilot program and with the intention of building a case for federal action.
And I am currently working with my Office of Employment Development to significantly increase the capacity of virtual YouthWorks in 2021 to ensure that Baltimore youth have the opportunity to contribute to our economy and develop critical job skills over the summer.
Everyone who grew up in Baltimore knows how important rec centers are to our communities. Tonight, I am announcing that rec centers will be reopening on April 5. And in Early April, we will open the Cahill Fitness and Wellness Center, a world class recreation facility in West Baltimore.
Over the course of this term, my administration will make investments in recreation facilities and youth programming, so that every young person in this city can access safe, modern recreation facilities.
As Mayor, I understand that it is impossible for Baltimore to thrive when residents are not safe in their community. Violent crime is our biggest challenge, and reducing it remains my top priority. Last year, 335 people in Baltimore lost their lives to violence. This year, we have already lost 57 Baltimoreans to violence and recorded 115 non-fatal shootings.
This issue is personal for me. This is about my friend Dante Barksdale.
After turning his life around, Dante dedicated himself to keeping our neighborhoods safe from gun violence as an outreach coordinator for Safe Streets. He was the heart and soul of our City.
Earlier this year, Dante was a victim of the very problem he worked so tirelessly to prevent.
My heart breaks whenever I think about Dante. And it breaks again and again and again each time another life is ruthlessly cut short. This frequency of violence has plagued communities across Baltimore for as long as I have been alive. Too many of us for too long have known someone who was killed. Too often, this perpetual pain is part of the Black experience growing up in Baltimore.
We cannot allow this legacy of pain to continue to be passed down from generation to generation. As your Mayor, I will do everything in my power to stop the violence in our communities.
My Administration is increasing Baltimore’s capacity to fight crime, addressing trauma and the root cause of crime, and building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. And I am fully committed to implementing and reaching full compliance with the Consent Decree.
To strengthen accountability and oversight, my Office holds PoliceStat meetings with Commissioner Michael Harrison and the Baltimore Police Department every other week. We also hold monthly updates on consent decree milestones to increase community engagement. This process was designed to build a better department by tracking day-to-day performance. Moreover, every aspect of how the BPD does their work is discussed in a solutions-oriented review of the Department’s data.
In order to ensure that all public safety agencies are working in true partnership to reduce violence in Baltimore, I asked Governor Hogan to allow me to restart the now-defunct Criminal Justice Coordinating Council out of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. We look forward to working with the Governor and his team to make that happen.
I am also working with BPD to improve methods for identifying and restricting the flow of illegal guns into Baltimore. Sixty-three percent of the guns recovered in Baltimore last year were purchased from outside the state of Maryland. This fact is alarming and unacceptable.
We will continue to focus on holding those who commit violence in the city accountable for their actions. But it’s also essential that we focus -- for the very first time as a city -- on those bringing weapons into our city.
That is why I partnered with Everytown for Gun Safety for a first-of-its-kind data intelligence tool to identify illegal firearms, solve crimes, and eliminate gun trafficking. This tool will help BPD, through a dedicated assignment of detectives, to identify leads and make connections more quickly and comprehensively, for crimes involving firearms.
I also established the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, appointing trusted advocate Shantay Jackson as Director. This organization will be working on implementing our comprehensive violence reduction strategy which was released at Safe Streets Cherry Hill on Monday. This plan is based in equity, healing, and trauma-informed practices to improve public safety in Baltimore.
But if we are serious about making neighborhoods safe, we must also make sure that police officers have the time and flexibility to address issues of violence while working in partnership with the community. This is why I am introducing a bill into the Baltimore City Council to reduce the number of false alarm calls that require a police response. Right now, Baltimore residents are allowed to make as many as 15 false alarm calls to BPD before the police stop responding. Each of these calls take an average of 15 minutes of officer time. That’s time that officers are not spending on the calls that demand the most urgent response.
Thousands of calls a year come into our 911 system for people who are in crisis. As the home to world-class health institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Systems, we must ensure that we are delivering premier clinical care for our residents experiencing behavioral health or substance use crises. Many of our 911 calls should receive a response from a clinician, not a police officer.
I am excited to announce that we are on the cusp of implementing a cutting-edge 911 diversion pilot program with our partners. This measure, which is similar to legislation U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen is advocating for in Washington, will ensure that we are sending the most appropriate resources when our neighbors call for assistance.
We are also excited to partner with Behavioral Health Systems Baltimore and other regional partners on the Greater Baltimore Regional Integrated Crisis System program, which will develop improved care coordination for those experiencing crisis throughout the region. This $45 million partnership will help transform behavioral health response services over the next five years -- making a huge difference in the everyday lives of so many Baltimoreans in need of help.
If combating crime was easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. Keeping neighborhoods safe is hard work, and it takes a comprehensive approach that requires all of us to play a role. And the vision I laid out for Baltimore is a major step forward.
It has been a little over a year since COVID-19 changed our lives forever. As of today, we have lost 823 residents to this deadly disease. My heart goes out to all of the families and loved ones of those lost.
As Mayor, I was forced to make some tough decisions. But real leadership requires us to have courage and always do the right thing. Baltimore, I want you to understand tonight that each and every decision related to COVID-19 was made out of my love for the people.
Guided by science, public health experts, and data, we were able to formulate a plan to slow the spread of COVID-19, and we have seen real results.
Through neighborhood mutual aid efforts, street-level public health interventions, and educational campaigns to combat misinformation, we have shown what is possible when we unite as one Baltimore.
From the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 to today, Baltimore City and our devoted partners united to rekindle hope when hope for many families seemed lost. Together, we delivered over 8 million meals, 18 million pounds of boxed groceries and produce, $6 million in direct food assistance, and $740,000 in community food grants. We even created the City’s first cash assistance program and are currently distributing 1500 prepaid debit cards.
I am also committed to supporting our neighbors experiencing homelessness in non-congregate care settings during the recovery. And we are equally committed to engaging hotel owners in the City to add more permanent supportive housing to the portfolio of housing options within our community.
My administration will continue to expand our mobile and community-based vaccination efforts to reach more of our residents where they are, especially as production of the vaccine increases. While I’ll continue to push for an equitable distribution of this vaccine, I want to highlight that, to date, 80 percent of the vaccines administered by our mobile vaccination units have gone to Black Baltimoreans.
Leadership must meet the moral challenge of its day. And our Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa boldly reflects this each day. We owe her, the entire Baltimore City Health Department, and their partners much gratitude.
There are too many people to personally call out. You might not know their names, but they have saved countless lives across Baltimore.
Lastly, I want to thank the Biden Administration for taking this pandemic seriously. I also want to thank President Biden and Maryland’s federal delegation for their leadership in passing the American Rescue Plan.
American Rescue Plan
This plan offers a real lifeline for Baltimore families and small businesses struggling to navigate the challenges of COVID-19. My office has followed the development of this legislation and we are working closely with local agencies to prepare for an equitable, transparent, and expeditious distribution of these federal funds.
Look, $670 million is a historic investment in Baltimore’s future. But my goal for issuing these federal funds is clear - Baltimore will prioritize these funds to get Baltimoreans working again, help our businesses recover and invest in our people and places that have been left out due to the inequitable policies of the past.
I look forward to providing you with more details on the distribution plan in the days and weeks to come as we get more information from the Treasury Department.
Baltimore should be proud of all that we have accomplished in such a short time, but we know we still have much hard work ahead. We must remain steadfast, honest, and true to our mission. And though I am committed to bettering the City for all of its residents, I recognize that I cannot do it alone.
When I was first sworn-in as Mayor of Baltimore, I called on each and every one of us to get to work. Tonight, I call on you again.
And to all of you who proudly call Baltimore home, rest assured that my Administration is just getting started. I know this past year was tough, but I will not give up and neither should you. That is not what we do in Baltimore. We fight and we overcome the odds. But we can only do this together.
If we want to make Baltimore the best version of itself, everyone must stay engaged. You can influence how decisions in City Hall are made. You can determine the solutions that we promote. And you have the power to shape how things are done.
So, keep organizing. Keep volunteering. We can defeat COVID-19. We can build a Baltimore that is strong to support your ambitions. We can build a safer Baltimore where children can thrive.
Together, we will build a better Baltimore that works for everyone.
Thank you. And God Bless the City of Baltimore.