“State of … “ speeches are supposed to leave listeners feeling energized, animated and ready to go out to do whatever it takes to achieve a better future for their city, state or nation.
Mayor Catherine Pugh’s State of the City Address Monday left me feeling flat, lifeless and wondering what she plans to do about such concrete problems as the city’s seeming inability to actually bill citizens accurately for the water they use.
She did talk about not privatizing the water system in a larger sense, and that matters. But she did not directly address the frustrations and even anger citizens feel in living in a city that cannot seem to ever get such basic services right.
I have been a citizen of Baltimore for 29 years, and never once during her address did I feel like she was speaking to me or my frustrations as a resident.
Part of the problem is connected to Pugh’s limitations in delivering inspirational media messages.
I watched her speech on Charm TV, the city channel that brings us only good news about the mayor. But nothing I saw made me feel better about the current state of Baltimore City government.
TV loves energy and passion, and Pugh brought neither to her address Monday. She gave what felt like a flat reading to her speech, as she stood in a rigid, even defensive posture, with her head moving methodically back and forth. That surprised me since she was in a room full of people who either work for her or are dependent on her good will in some way. She was not surrounded by enemies.
Nor was there much vocal inflection to suggest strong emotion or a real attempt to conjure a vision of better days. It would be unfair to call her delivery monotone, but her vocal performance was not much more than that.
As a speaker, she does not seem to have any higher gears — at least that was the case Monday. Really, I would have fallen on my knees in front of the TV if she had shown one-tenth the passion that Rep. Elijah Cummings did at the close of Michael Cohen’s testimony last week.
In fairness, the lack or energy and inspiration that I saw was not all the mayor’s fault. That room full of city officials, civic leaders, department heads and community group leaders looked as flat as the Baltimore Orioles during the final month last season.
And the Charm TV production didn’t help. At one point the camera showed a man reading something as the mayor spoke.
“OK,” I thought, “the director came to the guy for a reason, I expect, but the guy happened to be reading something instead of giving the mayor his attention. It happens. No big deal.”
Except the camera came back to the guy again a few minutes later — and he was still reading!
Maybe the best way to measure the speech was by how little she had for an ending.
“We are committed to keeping the Preakness in Baltimore,” she said to what was a bit livelier applause.
“As we are changing the narrative of our city, it is our Super Bowl,” she continued. “I say to the state and the owners of the track: ‘Work with us, and we will work with you.’ Partnerships matter, and the Preakness matters to Baltimore.”
And then, she closed with a boilerplate call for teamwork toward common goals.
“Baltimore, Baltimoreans, friends, neighbors, residents, business owners and stakeholders, together we can grow Baltimore, We can be prosperous, and we will be safe as we improve the quality of life for us all.”
That’s pretty much all she had.
Along the way, she did talk about a lower property tax by fiscal year 2021. But I’ll believe it when I see it.
And there was nothing in her performance Monday to make me a believer.