Amid difficult times, a 'resilient' Baltimore

The Baltimore Sun

Mayor Sheila Dixon wants to expand the city's gun offender database to include juveniles and to survey Baltimore residents on their opinions, two new ideas presented in a State of the City address tempered by declining city revenues.

Rather than outlining a raft of policy proposals, Dixon used her third annual address yesterday to highlight progress on public safety and education and to reiterate earlier commitments. Underscoring the difficult financial situation that Baltimore faces, Dixon said after the speech that she might be forced to close libraries and recreation centers.

Nonetheless, she called the city "strong and resilient."

"I want the citizens of Baltimore to know that we are doing our best to strengthen our communities and see each other through these unprecedented times," Dixon said.

Among the ideas the mayor highlighted during her 37-minute speech were her plan to break ground this year for a 275-bed homeless shelter along the Fallsway and to build community support for a proposed light rail line that would connect East and West Baltimore. She also pitched her proposal to establish mandatory minimum sentences for gun offenders - an idea that failed last year in the General Assembly but which is the subject of a hearing in Annapolis today.

Taking questions after the speech, Dixon said that the tightening budget could mean that she will have to shut some libraries and recreation centers. Libraries that remain open might have to reduce hours of operation. She suggested that the recreation centers are not run as effectively as they could be, noting that they serve only about 10 percent of the city's youth.

"We have a number of programs that are out there that are still not meeting, with the existing budget, the potential of [serving] more young people and families," Dixon said.

Dixon was escorted into the City Council chamber shortly before 3 p.m. by three lawmakers, among them Councilwoman Helen L. Holton, who, like Dixon, is under indictment after an investigation by the state prosecutor. Dixon, who was indicted last month on charges of theft, perjury and misuse of office, made no mention of her legal problems. She and Holton, who is charged with accepting a bribe and related offenses, have denied any wrongdoing.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, a Dixon appointee who oversaw a steep drop in homicides last year, received a standing ovation. Departing from her prepared remarks, Dixon asked Bealefeld and State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy to stand while those in attendance clapped. The police commissioner and top prosecutor have forged a stronger public alliance under Dixon than under previous mayors.

Touching on one of the poignant moments of the past year, Dixon spoke about the killing of former City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. Homicide detectives worked round the clock to solve the case, arresting three people, including a 16-year-old boy. Passing tougher city gun-control legislation, the mayor said, would honor Harris' memory.

Dixon spoke in favor of a proposal to decrease city trash collection to once a week, which would save about $5 million a year. The plan calls for an increase in recycling collection, and it would also free garbage workers to clean the city's alleys.

As in her past two addresses, the mayor pushed for the creation of a land bank to gather and sell vast tracts of blighted properties. The city owns about 10,000 rundown houses and lots - most in East and West Baltimore and Park Heights. Similar agencies have proved successful in finding suitable buyers to rehabilitate properties in other cities.

Throughout the speech, Dixon stressed personal responsibility. She singled out as role models Clayton Guyton and Ray Cook, directors at the Rose Street Community Center.

"Today, I implore you to be just like them," Dixon said. "If these men find the time to look out for the rest of us, what is your excuse not to do the same?"


In her State of the City address yesterday, Mayor Sheila Dixon proposed:

* Expanding the city's gun offender registry to include juveniles

* Surveying residents on their opinions about Baltimore

* Building a 275-bed homeless shelter along the Fallsway

* Establishing mandatory minimum sentences for gun offenders

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