On her 100th day in office, Mayor Catherine Pugh delivered her first State of the City address to the City Council. After a few brief pleasantries, Pugh was ready to get down to business—addressing education, public safety, workforce development, and revealing that Baltimore is now a Bloomberg Philanthropies City.
At the top of the laundry list that Pugh has inherited is the controversial $130 million funding deficit for the city school system. This deficit, if left unresolved, will be the cause of school closures and teacher layoffs throughout the city.
“In Annapolis last week, we announced with our state delegation a $180 million, three-year commitment to school funding with their assistance that does not include Governor [Larry Hogan]’s help to address our school’s structural deficit,” she said.
She followed by briefly explaining that “other measures” are being put in place to assist with the funding, including a portion of the money for snow removal has been diverted to the city school budget. “I need everyone in Baltimore to pray that fair-to-good weather continues with little or no snow,“ she joked.
Pugh also addressed public safety, saying that on her first day in office, she was presented with a consent decree between the city of Baltimore and the Department of Justice. The mayor boasted that the decree was signed in less than 30 days where it may have taken other cities months.
The mayor and her team are currently reviewing successful policies and practices of police departments around the country to find new solutions to the problems facing the Baltimore Police Department (BPD).
“In light of our latest revelations regarding police department corruption, I look forward to the reforms,” she said. “Two citizens on our trial boards are essential to building trust between the community and the police department.”
She said she cognizant of the growing overtime budget of the BPD—which reached over $40 million last year—with plans in place to remedy the problem.
“I have called for a forensic audit of police overtime and our police budget,” she explained. “Having the right number of police officers for our force is important for public safety; however we must structure our police department in a manner that curbs overtime while protecting our citizens.”
The mayor addressed the growing crime rate in Baltimore, with 65 homicides so far this year. Pugh expressed that even if 1,000 officers were on daily street patrol, she feels that would not be the solution.
“Crime is symptomatic of the many problems facing our city today—unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, hopelessness and homelessness,” she said. “Our citizens need stable employment and healthy economic growth.”
Most concerning to Pugh is the lack of economic opportunities provided by the city of Baltimore for its residents. She cited 76,000 unemployed resident in Baltimore and, included in that number, are 10,000 ex-offenders or returning citizens. She explained the, a year ago, an epiphany that came to at 4:30 a.m. that may help to solve the problem.
“My thought was how do I get our people who are unemployed working?” she said. “In today’s age of technology, can’t we download job and training opportunities and go out on mobile units to [poor] neighborhoods.”
Her goal is to have seven mobile units traveling the city each day with a hiring quota of 10 people a day. Each mobile unit comes with a price tag of $350,000 and the mayor says she already has a commitment for three out of the seven. If things go as planned, she will be able to employ 18,000 people a year.
Enoch Pratt Free Library has developed a similar system—funded by Calvin Butler, CEO of Baltimore Gas and Electric Company—that rolls out its first mobile unit next month and Pugh plans to partner with the library.
Towards the end of her address, Pugh announced that Baltimore is now a Bloomberg Philanthropies City. The program—headed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg—will award Baltimore $500,000 a year for the next three years to bring the latest technology, transparency, and measurement tools to the city government. The goal, Pugh explained, is to make Baltimore a “smart city” by improving government agencies, transportation, and infrastructure.
“Smart cities are right, walkable cities,” she said, “where people feel safe to walk to neighborhood venues to shop or be entertained.”
Pugh also explained the importance of making homelessness a priority, envisioning a facility that is different from a typical shelter—with resources and meals provided under the same roof.
“Homelessness is not just a problem for those that are homeless; it is a problem for all of us,” she said.
Mayor Pugh ended the address on a note of unity.
“I ask all of Baltimore to join our solutions,” she said. “Volunteer to support our schools . . . mentor our children, partner in business with communities of color and women . . . and cheer with me for the success of Baltimore as we work towards moving our city forward.”