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Mayor taps civic, political leader for OneBaltimore effort

Mayor taps former state Democratic Party chairman to lead #OneBaltimore effort to focus on city's recovery.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has tapped longtime Baltimore civic leader Michael Cryor to lead her OneBaltimore initiative to help the city recover from recent unrest.

Cryor said Wednesday his immediate task is to find employers willing to provide summer jobs to roughly 3,000 youths on a city waiting list and to identify recreational opportunities — "more safe places to play" — for other youngsters.

Officials have said the broad goal of the initiative is to address systemic problems, such as lack of employment and educational opportunities, in poor neighborhoods.

"There is a moment now in Baltimore where people in all of our communities are joining together and are insisting on a dramatic and nontrivial change in the direction of our city," said Cryor, 68, who runs a communications consulting firm.

Cryor, a lifelong Baltimore resident, is a graduate of City College and Morgan State University. He is chairman of the University of Maryland School of Medicine Board of Visitors, a member of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. board, and a former chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party.

"He is the right choice to ensure the OneBaltimore initiative moves us forward with a common and sustainable agenda," Rawlings-Blake said. "We have to get this right. We need a coordinated and overarching effort to leverage all of this energy, financial support and good will."

She said Cryor will set up a steering committee for the initiative and help designate subgroups to focus on certain short- and long-term issues for the "multi-year effort." The position is unpaid.

City and state officials are still developing a final tally of the damage from rioting last month following the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal cord injury in police custody.

Costs from the violence include destruction from 144 vehicle and 61 building fires, as well as overtime pay for emergency responders and workers' compensation claims for injured firefighters and police officers. One estimate released Wednesday by the Small Business Administration put the damage to about 285 businesses and two houses at $9 million.

The city's economic development arm, the Baltimore Development Corp., has released a higher estimate of damaged businesses: 350. The BDC said Wednesday it is looking to raise $15 million for a loan program, through which affected businesses could apply for zero-interest loans of up to $35,000. The loans may be converted into grants if certain benchmarks are met.

Cryor said the OneBaltimore will focus on issues including housing and health disparities. To start, he said, the group will work to increase the number of spots available for young people in the city's summer jobs program. Nearly 8,000 young people, between the ages of 14 and 21, have registered for summer jobs under the city's Youth Works program. But the program only has money and positions for 5,000.

Brice Freeman, a spokesman for the Mayor's Office of Employment Development, said the office is actively looking for companies that will take on the additional youths and for donations to pay their salaries. The program is set to begin June 29. The youths work about 25 hours a week over five weeks, and are paid at least $8.25 an hour.

Freeman said the program receives about $4 million from the city and state, and the rest of the money for salaries comes from private sources. Under one part of the program, called Hire One Youth, companies pay the salaries of young people they bring on board.

Rawlings-Blake said she's examining the possibility of adding "pop-up" recreational opportunities for young people in some neighborhoods while she moves forward with a plan to build "state of the art" recreation centers. The mayor also pointed to legislation she wants the council to approve for the sale of some downtown parking garages to generate an estimated $60 million for improved centers.

Cryor, who helped design then-Mayor Martin O'Malley's "Believe" campaign, said the addition of summer jobs and extra recreational opportunities is a "down payment." He said real change is possible in the short term.

"We believe there are tangible reforms that can be made to address the plight of our disconnected youth and young adults," Cryor said. "In the long term, we believe truly changing the trajectory of a community will require a comprehensive plan with multiple but complementary priorities."

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