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Rawlings-Blake gives final 'State of the City' address

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake gave her final State of the City address today.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake delivered her seventh — and final — State of the City address Monday, acknowledging the struggles the city has endured under her tenure but also emphasizing her successes.

The mayor did not make any major policy announcements for what remains of her final year in office.

“As I think back over the events of the past year, I am most proud of the resilience we have shown the world — our commitment to come back, stronger than ever, as one community, one city. Because in our hearts, we know that we are all one Baltimore,” she said.

The first mayor to preside over job growth in Baltimore in decades, Rawlings-Blake pointed to positive stories in the city that are often ignored by national news outlets, which covered April's rioting extensively.

An improved bond rating, cuts to financially troubled pension systems, and more than $1 billion in school construction funding are among the achievements Rawlings-Blake highlighted.

Her administration also cut property taxes and helped drive down the rate of teenage pregnancies.

The mayor also announced the city would begin delivering large trash cans to every Baltimore household today, a $9 million program intended to help with rodent abatement and litter.

“I took on pension reform, health care reform and leave reform — all of those tough issues that so many elected officials prefer to kick down the road to the next generation,” Rawlings-Blake said. “But that's not who I am. I am not persuaded by what is politically popular, but what is best for the citizens of Baltimore.”

She opened the speech by thanking the police officers and firefighters who worked long hours during April's unrest. She recalled a conversation with a 9-year-old girl, who asked her: “Why do people want to hurt our neighborhood?”

Rawlings-Blake also addressed the city's 344 homicides last year, a per-capita record, saying she was “frustrated and angry that far too many of the homicides in our city share a common detail: young African-American men killing young African-American men.”

In the two decades before Rawlings-Blake was elected, the city lost thousands of jobs — 37,000 under former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, more than 1,000 jobs under former Mayor Sheila Dixon and more than 12,000 jobs under former Mayor Martin O'Malley, whose tenure coincided with the Great Recession. Under Rawlings-Blake's tenure, Baltimore has added more than 22,000 jobs.

She announced in September that she was not seeking re-election.

The speech was attended by many top city officials, as well as Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is running for U.S. Senate.

Van Hollen said he attended to support the city — an important battleground jurisdiction in the Democratic primary — which he views as key to the state's success.

“We want to help Baltimore reach its full potential,” Van Hollen said.

Two of the leading candidates for mayor — Councilmen Nick J. Mosby and Carl Stokes — left the council chambers with different views on the speech.

Mosby said he gives Rawlings-Blake credit for her “fiscal responsibility,” improving the long-term health of the city's pensions.

But he warned that other aspects of city government have gotten worse under her tenure. The number of vacant properties has increased, for instance, Mosby said.

“Those are issues for the next mayor to deal with,” he said.

Stokes said the Baltimore that Rawlings-Blake described isn't what he sees day-to-day.

“I didn't hear a sense of urgency,” he said. “We are in a state of emergency. What has been done since the uprising? Nothing.”

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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