In his first State of the City address since taking office in December, Mayor Brandon Scott outlined a data-driven approach to rebuilding public trust and creating a safer Baltimore, while pledging to deliver several quality-of-life improvements to city residents.
The speech, recorded in an empty auditorium at the Waxter Center for Senior Services and shown Thursday night on the city’s Charm TV cable channel, focused on Scott’s accomplishments in his first 100 days in office. The new mayor, who instituted an online “tracker” for residents to keep tabs on his progress in his earliest days in office, highlighted new hires, a restart of curbside recycling and early partnerships forged to get illegal guns off the streets.
Scott, 36, emerged from a crowded field of candidates last year to secure the Democratic nomination for the office over some candidates nearly twice his age. He touted the youthful energy his administration represents.
“Our challenges require a new vision and a new generation of leadership that is committed to bringing people together no matter the cost,” he said. “It is not about simply doing what is popular, but doing what is right.”
As he did during his inaugural address in December, Scott largely eschewed lofty rhetoric in favor of outlining more tangible goals, many of which he promised to deliver in the near future.
Baltimore’s recreation centers, shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic, will reopen April 5, Scott announced. The newly refurbished Cahill Fitness and Wellness Center in West Baltimore will follow, also in early April, he said.
Calling it a “bold solution” to “address historical injustices,” Scott also announced a plan to create a pilot program offering a guaranteed income to a select group of city families with low incomes. Starting this fall, they will receive a monthly cash payment. The program does not have a work requirement. Other Democratic mayors across the country created a coalition late last year to offer similar pilot programs in their cities.
“The racial and economic disparities that persist in our city are clear,” Scott said. “Anyone who claims to be a leader in Baltimore, elected or otherwise, who fails to acknowledge these lingering disparities not only perpetuates racism, but invites history to repeat itself.”
Scott also used the occasion to address Baltimore’s upcoming tax sale — a subject of contention between him and members of the City Council. Led by Democratic Councilwoman Odette Ramos, more than half the council has urged the mayor to postpone the sale amid the ongoing pandemic. City administrators have insisted Baltimore is at risk of widening its deficit if the $14 million expected to be raised by the sale is not realized.
The mayor stopped short of postponing the sale, but promised Thursday to protect “vulnerable legacy homeowners” from foreclosure as a result of the sale.
“I am directing the Department of Finance to use every tool available to us to make sure no one loses their home to tax sale in the midst of this pandemic,” he said.
Ramos, a Democrat representing the 14th District, said after the speech she was pleased with the mayor’s message overall but remained confused about how the city will protect homeowners from losing their homes.
“I don’t really know what he meant,” she said. “I’m not sure what scenarios the director of finance is speaking about. The best scenario would be to take homeowners out [of the sale], but that’s not what he said.”
Addressing public safety in the back half of his speech, Scott touched on an emotional note as he evoked his friendship with the slain Dante Barksdale. Barksdale was the face of the city’s Safe Streets anti-violence program until he was fatally shot in January. Scott said violent crime is “personal” to him, particularly after losing Barksdale.
“Too many of us for too long have known someone who was killed,” Scott said. “Too often, this perpetual pain is part of the Black experience growing up in Baltimore. We cannot allow this legacy of pain to continue to be passed down from generation to generation.”
As evidence of his focus on crime thus far, Scott touted his creation of the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement and the city’s recently announced partnership with Everytown for Gun Safety on a tool to track the flow of illegal guns into the city in hopes of identifying their sources.
The mayor also pledged to deliver several reforms to the city’s 911 system, including a bill set to be introduced to the Baltimore City Council to reduce the number of false alarm calls that city law requires police to respond to.
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Scott said he’s also planning a pilot program for 911 call diversion, which would redirect some callers to mental health specialists, rather than police.
“Thousands of calls a year come into our 911 system for people who are in crisis,” Scott said. “As the home to world-class health institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Systems, we must ensure that we are delivering premier clinical care for our residents experiencing behavioral health or substance use crises.”
Scott said Baltimore will partner with Behavioral Health Systems Baltimore to improve crisis care through a $45 million partnership over the next five years.
Scott’s speech was preceded Thursday by a prerecorded introduction from Council President Nick Mosby, who called the mayor his “partner in progress.”
“A collective Baltimore starts with a collective government,” Mosby said. “The petty politics are behind us. Now it’s time to get to work, roll up our sleeves and come together.”
Councilman James Torrence, a Democrat representing the 7th District, said he thought Scott outlined several good ideas, particularly the 911 diversion plan.
“As a policy person, I think about the potential of it,” said Torrence who worked in federal and local government before being elected to council last year. “This is just smart policy marking for me. It’s about meeting people where their needs are and deploying resources.”