Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh gives the State of the City address at City Hall council chambers. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)
Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh used her second annual state-of-the-city speech on Monday to tout declining crime — the issue that has dominated her time in office — and to recap a year’s work on initiatives designed to steer the city out of a difficult stretch marred by record killings and police corruption.
During an hour-long address in City Council chambers, the Democratic mayor did not announce any new initiatives but focused on highlighting existing efforts that she said are helping to improve Baltimore.
“Baltimore is a city on the rise,” Pugh said. “We will not turn back, we will not falter in our constant effort to move our city forward.”
But she also struck a realistic tone.
“A city with problems, for sure, but also a city with immense promise and unmitigated determination and spirit,” the mayor said. “Yes, ours is also a city with too much tragedy, too much crime, too much devastation, sadness and loss.”
Pugh’s agenda in her first year in office was overwhelmed by crime as 342 people were killed in 2017 — a record level of bloodshed. She came into office promising to address housing, education and employment, but was forced to focus most of her attention on fighting escalating violence.
The mayor said violence and homicides have left “too many wounds that will not heal any time soon.”
With violence down across the board so far this year and Darryl De Sousa in place as her chosen police commissioner, Pugh appeared confident — if restrained — about what she called “clear progress.” The mayor credited a system of coordinating between police and other city agencies at daily morning meetings with helping to cut crime.
“This is not a boast but merely an acknowledgment that this broad-based, innovative approach to addressing the root causes of violence works,” said Pugh, as council members, De Sousa and Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby listened.
She also spoke in her strongest terms yet about the corruption in the police department’s Gun Trace Task Force. Pugh called details of the robberies and fraud by officers revealed during a lengthy federal trial this year “truly awful.”
She said the detectives who were ultimately convicted had “disgraced the police department and disgraced the city.”
In the wake of the verdicts, Pugh said the department must work on rebuilding trust with communities. She said that a U.S. Justice Department civil rights report and resulting court-backed consent decree finalized in her first months in office were providing the framework for restoring that trust.
Mosby, the city’s top elected law enforcement official, said the mayor was right to focus on issues underlying crime, such as poverty and lack of economic opportunity.
“I’m optimistic and I’m grateful we’re taking this holistic approach because for far too long we haven’t,” Mosby said.
The mayor presented a detailed list of changes she had made to her government’s functions in other areas, praising top officials by name. She highlighted the creation of a community cabinet of neighborhood leaders as well as initiatives that make community college free for city students and split the city’s housing department into two agencies.
“I want you to know that as much as our city has suffered through this last year there are some great things happening,” the mayor said, pointing to some favorable business and travel stories in national media.
In the coming months, Pugh said, she planned to launch an anti-violence program known as Roca, secure more state money to demolish vacant houses, and reopen the Shake & Bake skating rink and bowling alley. The mayor also announced that an anonymous donor had come forward to fund a second van that the city can add to another that travels around Baltimore providing employment information.
Pugh also said she was seeking to establish a $1 billion investment fund backed by private businesses to help troubled neighborhoods, but offered few details.
“We can change Baltimore and create neighborhoods that everyone will want to live and work in,” she said.
The speech was warmly received by government officials and politicians in the audience. They applauded at Pugh’s renewed call for the Baltimore police union to allow civilian members to sit on disciplinary panels and at her plans to expand the violence disruption program Safe Streets.
Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said the speech demonstrated that Pugh had fulfilled many of the campaign promises she made in 2016 and had laid out a vision for the city.
“I really was very encouraged by her remarks,” Young said. “I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
The mayor appeared to make one factual error in the speech, saying that the city’s schools have a $2 billion operating budget due to combined contributions from the city and state. It’s not clear how she arrived at the figure — last year the school system reported an operating budget of $1.3 billion.