By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,
Mayor Brandon M. Scott used his annual State of the City address April 17 to explain how he will stem youth crime and build on initiatives to enhance Baltimore.
“Baltimore, the state of our city is strong,” Scott told a packed house at the new Cherry Hill Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center. “We are much stronger together when we put people over politics.”
He spoke in the shadow of a weekend of crime that has spurred fresh concerns about youth safety and restated his call for a nationwide gun control effort.
“Tonight, I’m calling for real, meaningful gun reform in Congress that bans assault weapons in this country,” said Scott.
He also addressed his promise to reduce homicides and shootings by 15 percent during his time in office. He cited police data that he said indicate a recent 16 percent drop in homicides and a 21 percent decline in non-fatal shootings. Scott also said police are reducing the number of guns on the streets.
“We’ve taken more guns off the street than we have in over a decade,” said Scott.
Scott conducted a moment of silence for young people and families impacted by the recent uptick in youth violence.
“Our young people are the pride and joy of our city,” said Scott. “Baltimore’s young people will win. We just have to invest in them, nurture them, love them, and yes, we will hold them accountable,” said Scott.
Scott announced a comprehensive summer youth engagement strategy, including a renewed curfew, summer pool parties, opportunities through YouthWorks and summer camps.
The mayor also discussed the blight affecting many of the neighborhoods where children are growing up from East to West.
“Vacants have been a massive burden on Black and brown communities in Baltimore for as long as I can remember,” said Scott.
“When I took office, there were 15,821 vacant properties throughout Baltimore. Today, the number of vacants in Baltimore is down 10 percent, reduced to 14,192, the lowest in over a decade,” he said, underscoring that the city last year earmarked $100 million to attack blight and improve Park Heights and other communities.
He also announced $9.7 million in funding for grant programs for financing home repairs for Baltimore’s homeowners.
“I am proud to report that over the past two and a half years, we opened seven new school buildings in partnership with our school system. In the year ahead, Douglass, Poly-Western and City will receive $400 million in renovations,” said Scott. ”My fiscal year 2024 budget calls for an investment of $393 million into our school system, the largest investment in the history of our city.”
“This is how we set our young people up to win, “ Scott continued. “We invest in their success, not their failures.”
Council President Nick Mosby applauded the emerging cooperation between the mayor and city council, voicing optimism about efforts that appear to have muted recent tensions between Scott and the city council.
“At times, because of diversity, we might not always agree and as two co-equal branches of government, that is important,” said Mosby. “It’s also important that we come together in a unified effort and continue to push forward.”
Community members shared their reactions to the State of the City address.
“I thought the mayor seemed very optimistic and was adamant about taking the city in a different direction,” Miriam Summers, president of the Baltimore National Action Network told the AFRO. “His use of equity as a backboard for building community relationships to support our youth and families was powerful. His resilience is strong.”
Other community leaders are more skeptical.
“A lot of the social programming has been somewhat promising but many of those programs don’t hit the streets. These millions of dollars have come out but the community can’t use them, only small groups of people,” said Will Hanna, CEO of The New Park Heights CDC, a non-profit development corporation.“I also didn’t hear anything specific on public safety. People are constantly leaving the city and not returning due to crime. I understand things take time to develop, but this is year three and we see the same thing.”
But other observers are hopeful.
“I was impressed by Mayor Brandon Scott’s determination and hard work. It has made a difference over the past two years,” said Zulieka Baysmore, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully in 2022 for the House of Delegates District 40 seat.
“I want to see more focus on education and mental wellness within our public schools and the growth of more charter schools. We must see more of his comprehensive redevelopment plans, and we, the residents, must be able to participate in a major way.”
Tashi McQueen is a Report For America Corps Member.