2023 State of the City

Good evening Mr. President, Mr. Comptroller, esteemed members of the City Council, our State’s Attorney, faithful clergy, and residents of the great City of Baltimore. I am proud to deliver this State of the City Address as your 52nd Mayor, neighbor, and a fellow Baltimorean.

Before I begin, I want to thank Governor Wes Moore, Comptroller Lierman and Attorney General Brown for being true partners in the work to move Baltimore forward. Like Governor Moore always says, “There can be no thriving Maryland without a healthy Baltimore.”

It is my greatest honor to serve our city. From a rec and parks employee, to city council president, and now, I stand before you today as your Mayor.

My life is a shining example that you can make it from Park Heights to City Hall—with a little grit, and a lot of love.

That is why I am so proud to be a son of Baltimore.

From hooping down at Towanda, eating snowballs on hot summer days, and enjoying crab cakes at Kocos, to watching the world descend upon Park Heights for Preakness.

Baltimore really is the best city in the world.

I moved my State of the City address out of City Hall and into the community—because it’s neighborhoods like Cherry Hill that put the charm in Charm City.

They deserve meaningful investments.

This $23 million Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center is a concrete example of the type of investments that we are making in communities across Baltimore. Investments that uplift our residents and pave a new way forward for our city.

So much has happened over the last two years. I took office at the height of the global pandemic—a pandemic that shuttered many of our favorite local businesses, caused thousands of our neighbors, friends and relatives to lose their jobs, shut down our schools and isolated our young people from their teachers and friends. A pandemic that shook our city to its core.

But, Baltimore . . . we don't back down from a challenge. You elected a son of Park Heights to be your Mayor—to fight for our city when we were fighting for our lives.

Through steadfast and consistent leadership at the helm . . . We met challenges head on, weathered the biggest public health crisis in modern history . . . and set our sights on a brighter horizon.

My track coaches at MERVO . . . Coach Hendricks and Neal . . . taught us that winning is a mindset. It demands more than physical ability—it takes discipline, tenacity and mental fortitude to overcome every barrier. We were also taught that your relay was only as good as your weakest leg. You had to bring everyone along.

Baltimore, we all can win–by doing this together.

Collectively, we have done so much:

We drove down unemployment from 12.6% in 2020 to 4% in 2023;

In 2021, we saw a 16.9% growth in our income tax base;

New small businesses like Urban Oyster, Ekiben and Crust By Mack, are expanding and opening across our city;

Hotel occupancy is close to pre-pandemic levels and current projections indicate the average nightly demand will hit 90% this fiscal year . . . This growth will bring hotel tax revenues up to 5.8% higher than pre-pandemic levels;

We’ve taken more guns off our streets than we have in almost a decade;

And we reduced vacant properties to a 10-year low.


But, make no mistake, we will not go back to the systems and practices that have historically failed our residents. These same practices failed our young people, destroyed families through mass incarceration, and left what used to be vibrant neighborhoods in disrepair.

Our comeback is grounded in equity and justice . . . .

This progress is because of true Baltimoreans like Officer Keona Holley, who dedicated her life to serving her community. Let us hold up her memory as an example of what it means to be a public servant and continue to move forward in her honor. To do anything less than our best would be a disservice to her legacy and to the dedication of the women and men across our city working to make Baltimore safer.

Officer Holley’s daughter Kyjonna, who is with us this evening, has been inspired by her mother’s service and has joined the Baltimore Police Department as a Call Center Agent for our Telephone Reporting Unit to continue her mother’s legacy of service.

The state – of our city– is strong. together, with the help and partnership from many of you in this room – we have continued elevating our communities and realizing the potential of a better – brighter – Baltimore.

And, while we’ve come so far together, there is work that still remains. Baltimore, you have my word that we will keep moving forward and building on the ground that we have worked so hard to gain.

We are making constant strides towards building a safer Baltimore.

In 2022, the brave men and women of BPD recovered over 2,600 illegal firearms and 485 ghost guns, more than any other year in nearly a decade. This year alone, we have already seized 515 guns. Even in the face of challenges, we were able to gain ground to restore public trust and make progress to ensure we meet the demands of the Federal Consent Decree.

To get to the root of the problem, we’re not only going after those using illegal firearms to inflict harm, we’re also holding straw purchasers . . . gun traffickers . . and ghost gun manufacturers . . . responsible for the proliferation of these weapons on our streets.

We’re suing the nation’s largest ghost gun manufacturer, Polymer, for circumventing gun laws and intentionally putting the tools of death and destruction in the hands of young people and known violent offenders; and working with State and Federal law enforcement to break up gun trafficking rings across Baltimore.

We cannot afford to stand idly by while the growing presence of illegal firearms threatens the safety of our communities. I am calling for real . . . meaningful . . . gun reform in Congress that bans ghost guns in this country, removes these weapons from our streets, and allows for enhanced cross-jurisdictional enforcement.

We have to address violence at every level!

But . . . for far too long . . . the argument has been either we arrest everybody and drive mass incarceration or drive investment into our communities.

Baltimoreans elected me because we were approaching public safety in a way that was not producing results.

As someone who has lost friends to gun violence and led the 300 Men March movement, I reject this false choice. As mayor . . . I have chosen to both invest in law enforcement and in our communities. AND . . . it’s working!

When I launched Baltimore’s Comprehensive Violence Prevention Plan, I promised to reduce homicides and non-fatal shootings by 15 percent.

This– is my–top priority.

And thanks to two years of hard work, and the tireless efforts of our police officers, violence interrupters, and public safety partners, homicides and non-fatal shootings are down 16 percent and 21 percent . . . respectively.

Police serve a purpose and a function in the reduction of crime, but as I’ve said . . . the full weight of public safety cannot, and should not, fall only on their shoulders. Our success has come from emphasizing prevention . . . intervention . . . and re-entry alongside traditional law enforcement.

Last year, our Group Violence Reduction Strategy pilot in the Western—our most violent police district—produced a 34 percent decrease in homicides and nonfatal shootings by focusing in on residents most at-risk for being involved in gun violence and giving them the choice to take assistance to step away from the life or face the consequences if they do not.

Following expansion to the Southwestern in January, we’ve seen a 39 percent reduction in homicides and non-fatal shootings.

We established a 9-1-1 diversion program, a leading model for cities across the country, diverting 874 incidents since launch. Because of that work, we’re now expanding that program to more call-types—including calls that involve young people experiencing behavioral health crises.

We are investing in proven intervention efforts through Safe Streets to mediate conflicts and stop them from escalating to violence. As a matter of fact, an external evaluation from Johns Hopkins demonstrated the impact that sites like Safe Streets Cherry Hill have on reducing homicides and nonfatal shootings—by 22 percent— and— 23 percent on average. So far this year, our violence interrupters have mediated over 512 potentially violent conflicts.

We launched our Returning Citizens Behind the Wall program designed to connect Baltimoreans re-entering society with meaningful employment. Baltimoreans like Ms. Gwen Levi, who made national news when at 76 years young… She was almost forced back to prison for violating parole after she missed a phone call from her parole officer. I’m proud to say we were able to connect her to employment at the Enoch Pratt Free Libraries, but too many of our neighbors share this experience.

And, we’re excited to announce hospital-based violence intervention partnerships with the University of Maryland Medical System . . . LifeBridge Health . . . Medstar Health . . . Ascension St. Agnes . . . and Johns Hopkins Medicine to address trauma for victims of violence and prevent retaliation.

With redistricting and local control—which I have personally fought to achieve for over a decade—in the pipeline and planned expansion of GVRS into the Central, Eastern and Southern Districts by the end of the year—we are prioritizing the safety of all Baltimoreans regardless of zip code.

My administration through Director Jackson and Commissioner Harrison has proven that you can invest in prevention and intervention while also holding those who choose to engage in violence accountable. This is not an EITHER…OR but a BOTH… AND.

And, I want to be clear that despite the progress we’ve seen, like jurisdictions across the country, we’ve also experienced a heartbreaking uptick in young people losing their lives to violence in our city.

Any life lost is one too many and I want to take a moment to acknowledge and hold space for the families of everyone—especially our young people—who have been touched by the disease of gun violence in our communities . . . .


Losing young people to violence should be unacceptable to everyone who lives . . . works . . . or visits our city, but as someone who has poured their heart and soul into making sure our young people have the opportunity to thrive and grow into their best selves, I promise you we are leaving nothing on the table when it comes to safeguarding the lives of our children.

Frederick Douglass said it well, and we all know it to be true: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Our young people are the pride and joy of our city. When you see them you see me.

Everyday . . . they defy the odds—and silence the naysayers by winning.

Like Angel Reese… who knows what it means to be young and from Baltimore. She knows what it feels like to have the world bet against you, but you can't stop a winner from winning. . . especially if they're from Baltimore.

I want everyone in this room, everyone watching clips of this speech on the evening news, every media outlet, every local blog to hear me loud and clear when I say this:

Baltimore’s . . . young people . . . will. win.

We just have to invest in them, nurture them, love them, and yes—we must hold them accountable.

As we head toward the summer months, my team will roll out a comprehensive summer youth engagement strategy that will include extended hours at recreation centers, midnight basketball, summer pool parties and summer camps.

We’re bringing back our B’More Lit teen series, putting 7,000 young people to work through Youthworks; and yes, we will be enforcing curfew.

However, our approach to curfew enforcement will limit youth interactions with police and divert youth from unnecessary system engagement. What we are building through our youth engagement centers will be a model for how to connect young people in need of services and support during the summer months with positive, welcoming environments.

But, we can’t do it alone.

It takes a village to build the strong children that Frederick Douglass talked about. So, I am calling on the village to help us. I am calling on grassroots . . . nonprofits . . . and faith leaders across Baltimore to help us at our youth connection centers.

Similar to the approach we took with the Squeegee Collaborative—where we successfully reduced squeegeeing related calls for service by 73% by balancing opportunity with fair consequences—Dr. Letitia Dzirasa soon will join my Executive Team as Interim Deputy Mayor for Equity, Health, and Human Services where she will spearhead a collaborative group focused on stemming the tide of youth violence.

Dr. Dzirasa guided us through the pandemic. We gained national recognition for our approach to protecting the lives of our residents during the defining public health crises of our time. She will lead us as we fight the scourge of youth violence, assembling a best in class team of public, private, nonprofit and community leaders to assist her in this mission.

Everydaywhen I go across this city, people stop and tell me, “Mr. Mayor, we need more stuff for young people to do. We need to fix our schools and open up more rec centers. ”

Well, I am proud to report that over the past two and a half years we’ve opened 7 new school buildings. And in the years ahead Douglas . . . City . . . and Poly / Western will receive a combined $400 million in renovations.

We’ve also doubled our investment in the education of our young people. My Fiscal Year 2024 budget calls for an investment of $393 million into our schools system—the largest investment in the history of our city.

In fact . . . we’ve increased school’s funding by 49% over the past two years.

And last year, we announced our $120 million vision for world-class recreation facilities across Baltimore.

Together, with Director Moore at the helm of BCRP, we’ve completed:

The new Druid Hill Park Pool, this beautiful state-of-the-art Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center, MY childhood rec center at Towanda, Cahill Rec in West Baltimore, and the FIRST phase of Bocek in East Baltimore.

And we have only just begun.

We currently have two centers under renovation at J.D. Gross (in Park Heights) and Mary E. Rodman (in Edmondson Village).

Councilman Stokes . . . in the next few months we will begin renovations at the Historic Chick Webb,

Councilwoman McCray . . . a brand new Furley Rec Center is being built with the new Furley Elementary,

And Councilman Torrence . . . we will be building a new Parkview Rec in West Baltimore.

But, we won’t stop there, with Gardenview, Curtis Bay, and the Bocek Rec Expansion going out to bid at the beginning of 2024.

We’re also replacing 26 playgrounds . . . 11 basketball courts . . . and renovations are coming up at Patterson Park and Ambrose Kennedy pools.

But, we’re not just building recreation centers and schools, we’re also investing in our library system. We are building a new Community Library in Park Heights – in honor of the late advocate and champion for Northwest Baltimore . . . George Mitchell—to replace the one that was there - and closed - when I was a kid. When ground is broken in the fall, it will be the first new library built in Baltimore in fifteen years.

THIS is how we set our young people up to win. We invest in their success, not their failures.

Like our rec centers, schools, and libraries, historical approaches to economic development have left Black neighborhoods in East, West, and South Baltimore neglected and in disrepair.

To move forward, retainlegacy residents, and drive new growth and new investment, we have to look at growth from a lens of equity—not just as a buzzword, but as a framework for real, sustainable development.

In the birthplace of redlining, redevelopment has —to be —a win—for everyone!

This has to start with Baltimore’s most pressing housing issue. Vacant properties have been a massive burden on Black and Brown communities in Baltimore for far too long. But no administration has put together the levels of equitable investment and strategic coordination that we’ve managed to do over the past two and a half years.

When I took office, there were 15,821 vacant properties throughout Baltimore. Today, thanks to our strategic investments and the hard work of Acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson and our Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy—the number of vacants is down over 10% to 14,192—the lowest it's been in more than a decade.

We did this by bringing resources to the table; making targeted block-level investments, improving the processes involved with acquiring and redeveloping privately-owned vacants.

Just last year, we made the largest-ever investment into equitable development with $100 million towards addressing blight and moving projects in neighborhoods like Uplands, Park Heights, and Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello.

And Mr. President . . . we’re driving Black homeownership by launching our Middle Neighborhoods Strategy. Through DHCD, Live Baltimore, and the Department of Planning, we're investing $9.7 million toward grant programs to finance home repairs for legacy homeowners and create pathways to homeownership for families with school-aged children. This includes providing 270 grants through our Buy Back the Block initiative to help renters move towards homeownership by offering them $10,000 to buy—or $20,000 to buy and renovate—a home where they currently rent.

Baltimore’s renaissance is at hand, but it cannot be a renaissance that displaces those who have been here through thick and thin.

Under the leadership of Dr. Brooks, our Eviction Prevention Program has helped 19,000 Baltimoreans stay in their homes. Today . . . I am proud to announce that we are investing an additional $5 million for rental assistance.

And, for the third year in a row, we’re working with Councilwoman Ramos to cancel tax sales for owner-occupied residences.

And that's not all . . . With funding from the federal Infrastructure Act, we will make long overdue investments in our aging infrastructure. Thanks to support from our federal delegation we received a $2 million Reconnecting Communities grant for the West Baltimore United Project - better known as the Highway to Nowhere.

Like Congressman Mfume said, “It is never too late to undo the wrongs of the past .”

We are strengthening our city not by just investing in physical spaces, but by empowering the residents and businesses who call Baltimore home.

As the son of a small business owner, I understand just how important it is to invest in our residents and small businesses and build the human capital necessary for long-term equitable growth.

In August . . . we launched our Baltimore Young Families Success Fund, a guaranteed income pilot program that provides young parents with an unconditional monthly payment of $1,000 to put towards the things they need the most—from groceries . . . to housing . . . and education.

We also created Train Up and Hire Up, programs that provide residents with in-demand skills and connect jobseekers with meaningful employment that pays at least $15 an hour.

Baltimoreans like Teron Skinner, who through the Hire Up program, found not just employment at the Mayor's Office of Employment Development but he also found a renewed sense of purpose and direction after dealing with gun violence and incarceration.

Tonight . . . I am proud to announce that we are reducing barriers to city government employment by removing outdated college degree requirements from many city government positions and making public service more attractive by implementing a $15 minimum wage across all city jobs.

Nothing says building back the Baltimore way more than the investments we are seeing in the landmarks, businesses, and community organizations that make Baltimore truly special.

Through our Office of Recovery Programs led by Shamiah Kerney, we awarded $43 million dollars to 45 nonprofit organizations doing the work in our communities to drive equity, support our families, and promote inclusive development.

We awarded $1.6 million dollars to Shelonda Stokes and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore to continue to REVITALIZE our historic retail core.

Downtown Partnership leveraged funding to support the BOOST program to provide Black entrepreneurs and small business owners with retail space downtown.

We also distributed upwards of $50 million dollars to support more than 3,000 local businesses—with 90% of them being Black—or Brown-owned—to help them bounce back from the pandemic through the Baltimore Development Corporation’s BASE program.

The newly renovated . . . world famous . . . Lexington Market is another example of how we are uplifting the best of Baltimore’s small business community. More than 50% of the businesses in the market are minority or women-owned.

And… with the brand new CFG Bank Arena, we’re bringing world-class entertainment for everyone right here to Charm City. From the CIAA Tournament and Bruce Springsteen to Janet Jackson and Lizzo. CFG has something for everyone — and the best part of the CFG arena deal is that it came at no cost to taxpayers.

We are moving full steam ahead with plans to restore Harborplace as part of our resurgent downtown core in partnership with West Baltimore’s own David Bramble.

With the reimagined Harborplace, residents and visitors will have a space where they can experience the best that we have to offer – thriving small businesses, world class entertainment, green spaces, and cultural offerings.

But this change isn’t just happening downtown. When I came into office, Councilman Burnett came to me and asked for support to help restore the Edmondson Village Shopping Center to its former glory. I’m excited to say that we’re now working with Lynier Richardson of Chicago Trend to renovate the Edmondson Village Shopping Center and Walbrook Junction and have invested $9 million in those projects to bring business back to West Baltimore.

To drive this success, we are formally bringing together some of the most dynamic and innovative leaders in our city's business community. The newly formed Baltimore Business Roundtable will promote shared prosperity, innovation, and economic growth in our city and serve as my team of business advisors.

Building on the groundwork laid by the Downtown Partnership and the Urban Land Institute, the Business Roundtable will help us chart a path forward for downtown’s comeback!

We are making sure that everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender-identity, or zip code has the opportunity to participate in our growing economy.

No matter the neighborhood, whether over East or over West, Baltimoreans all want the same things—high quality city services that they trust will be delivered on-time, everytime and a city government that they can believe in.

That is what my Administration is building.

When I took office, two and a half years ago, there was no recycling pick up—weekly or otherwise—there was no street sweeping or graffiti removal. The pandemic upended the basic delivery of city services, but it didn’t stop our front-line workers from giving it their all— everyday. Employees like Mr. Tony Clarke—who has proudly served at the Department of Public Works for more than 20 years.

I saw Mr. Tony while at Mercy Medical center during the pandemic. He said to me, “Mr. Mayor, we need to get our graffiti team back out cleaning the city.” The following week, Mr. Tony and his three colleagues that make-up our city’s graffiti removal crew were back on the street, doing what they love–keeping Baltimore beautiful.

I want to take a moment to recognize Mr. Tony and to thank the hardworking employees of the Baltimore City government.

These women and men kept our city going during some of our darkest days. While many of us were isolated at home, they put themselves and their families at risk. They picked up trash, provided emergency medical support, fought fires and delivered essential city services.

We owe them our gratitude, not our disrespect.

There has been a lot said about recycling pick-up in Baltimore but . . . let me remind everyone… not only did I bring recycling back after the program had been paused, but I expanded the program from 41,000 households participating in 2009 to now more than 170,000 households have access to recycling.

I want to be clear that every resident, no matter their zip code, deserves access to services that have a positive impact on the environment.

Baltimore. . . you have my word that we will return to weekly recycling by Q1 of 2024. We will use the next few months to ramp up our recruitment efforts for CDL drivers and laborers—leveraging $10,000 dollar bonuses for new and existing CDL Drivers. And. . . we have identified a vendor that will get us 30 new trucks by the end of the year.

Equipped with new staff, and new trucks, we will be able to right-size our routes and pick-up recycling on a weekly basis while maintaining other core services including street sweeping and alley cleaning.

And today, I am announcing a $15 million investment into DPW to optimize bulk trash operations, implement modern routing software, upgrade residential drop off centers, and enhance street and alley cleaning services.

We’re not only focused on improving city services, we’re working to make them more affordable for all. Through our water discount program, Water4All, we have distributed more than $2 million in discounts to over 6,600 city residents.

What’s more important, 9% or more increases per year on water bills are a thing of the past. Now . . . yearly water bills will only increase by about 3% per year—which is below inflation.

And starting today… DPW is offering a one-time 5% water bill discount—capped at $150—for residents to enroll in paperless billings through May 31st. Now, if you are already enrolled, don't worry. You will automatically qualify and should see the one-time discount starting in July.

We are also modernizing our payment process with the launch of our new online portal so that residents can easily find and pay their bills ranging from property taxes to residential and commercial water bills with the ability to schedule automatic payments.

This work is driven by you, our residents.

A few months ago, more than 900 older adults joined my senior budget town hall and told me they wanted to see more services for seniors.

Well, to all the older adults watching, I heard you loud and clear.

In collaboration with Vice-President Middleton, Councilman Cohen, and Councilwoman Porter I am officially launching Baltimore’s new Office of Advocacy and Planning for Older Adults. This office will focus on addressing the unique needs of older adults, including health care . . . housing . . . transportation . . . and access to social services.

Under my Administration we added an additional $9 million dollars to bring us to $16 million total to support the Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors program designed to help keep older adults in their homes and age in place with dignity. Older adults like Kevin from Forest Park, who leveraged HUBs to have a new roof installed on his home, added insulation, and a more energy-efficient heating and air conditioning system.

Baltimore . . . I am proud of the improvements that we have made in our city government, but I know that we have more work to do to get to the professional city government our residents deserve.

Leaders across Baltimore have answered the call to help make improvements in our government, from Brian Piennick, Kevin Plank, Joe Jones and John Brothers, who leaned into the squeegee collaborative and Mike Hankin who invested in our violence prevention efforts.

Now, Beth Blauer is answering the call in a big way.

Beth, the current Associate Vice Provost for Public Sector Innovation at Johns Hopkins is joining my administration on temporary assignment to help us better leverage data and performance to drive innovation and improvements to city service delivery. Beth will work in close partnership with our CAO, Faith Leach.

Baltimore . . . we are all stakeholders in this work. And in the same way that I imagined a better future for our city when I was a young man and have dedicated my entire life in service to realizing that dream—our sons and daughters are dreaming, too.

As your Mayor—and more importantly as a fellow Baltimorean—it is not just my priority—but my obligation—to ensure that we do everything in our power to position our residents for success and eliminate any and all barriers that stand in their way.

What’s clear is that Baltimore needs strong . . . dependable . . . and steady . . . leadership that is committed to moving our city forward. Instability will only undo the progress we have made, together, to build the Baltimore we want to see today and for generations to come.

You have my word that we will continue to move forward in partnership, and build on our wins to achieve our collective vision for Baltimore’s future.

Baltimore deserves NOTHING less.

We are so much stronger together than we are apart.

As long as we stay focused and put people over politics, truth over disinformation and work together—like never before, I believe. and I know. that we. will. win.

I want to thank each and every one of you from Cross Keys . . . to Highlandtown . . . from Oliver … to Ashburton—for betting on Baltimore and for believing that our city can win.

Each of you represents the best of Baltimore.

God bless the greatest city in America. Thank you and goodnight.