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State of the City: From Black Crime to Small Business to Garage Sale

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake delivered a State of the City address Monday that touched on a variety of issues.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake delivered a State of the City address Monday that touched on a variety of issues.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake delivered a State of the City address Monday that touched on a variety of issues.
Credit P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake delivered a State of the City address Monday that touched on a variety of issues.

During a wide ranging State of the City address Monday, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for an end to violence among African-Americans. She also laid out a plan to attract more businesses to the city and called on the city council to move on her proposal to sell four city-owned parking garages.

The mayor said crime is down in the city in every major category, including homicides.  The city ended 2014 with 211 murders; the second lowest homicide rate in a decade.  But 189 of the victims were African-American men.

After the speech, Rawlings-Blake said too many people in the black community have become complacent about black on black crime.

"While many of us are willing to march and to protest and to become active in the face of police misconduct, I think too many of us turn a blind eye when it's us killing us," she said.

Rawlings-Blake has scheduled a forum with community leaders for the end of the month.  The Rev. Jamal Bryant is expected to moderate the event the mayor is referring to as a “Call to Action to End African American Homicides.”

She said she wants to recruit black men to serve as mentors, coaches and volunteers to make a difference in the lives of children.

City Council President Jack Young said he was happy that the mayor is making it a priority to address black homicides and hopes to work with her on it.

"If elected leaders in Baltimore are saying to these young men 'put down the guns and stop the killing;' I think that's a powerful message." Young said,

The mayor also is proposing to expand Operation CeaseFire to East Baltimore.

The program, which involves community members and offers social programs with the goal of reforming violent repeat offenders, began in West Baltimore last year.  It is being credited with a 45-percent drop in homicides.

Business Starts Here

Rawlings-Blake also touted her strategic plan to attract small businesses and entrepreneurs to the city.

"I have repeatedly said that my goal is to establish Baltimore as a destination for entrepreneurship, a place where small, local and minority-owned businesses can start and grow," she said.

Among the highlights of the plan, a new $1 million Innovation Fund to help small businesses stay up to date with the latest technology available.  For example, it could help a company that may need to buy a 3-D printer to stay competitive.

The mayor also wants to highlight new development through a website called EconView.

"[The website] provides a new way for citizens, business owners and potential new residents and investors to gain a better picture of what is being planned, built and developed in their neighborhoods," she said.

The mayor also said she would continue to fight to move the Red Line forward during this current General Assembly session..

"Our Senator Barb [Mikulski] says it best, 'The Red Line is a jobs line,' and we cannot let the opportunity slip by," she said.

In the short term, the mayor is also working to improve the business climate by improving MTA service; something she said she has been working on since former Mayor Martin O’Malley was governor.

"I'm very hopeful that with the [Gov. Larry Hogan] administration and their professed interest in being more effective and efficient that we'll have an opportunity to take a further look at the new routes," she said.

The lack of a fiber optic network, especially for broadband, is also seen as an impediment to bringing businesses to Baltimore.  The city has been snubbed by Google and Verizon in bringing fiber optic service.  The Baltimore Business Journal reported in 2013 that the city hired a consultant to determine how to expand broadband options in the city.

Deputy Mayor Colin Tarbert said a report on the issue is due in the spring.

Garage Sale

The mayor also used the speech to press the city council to move on the bill she introduced last August to authorize the sale of four city-owned downtown parking garages.

Selling the garages at 11 S. Eutaw St., 22 S. Gay St., 101 S. Paca St., and 210 St. Paul Pl. - would add $40 million to $60 million to the city's coffers, according to a report from the Finance Department.  Rawlings-Blake hopes to use the proceeds to upgrade and build new recreation centers.

The council has yet to schedule a hearing on the bill.

City Council President Jack Young said the bill won’t move forward until the mayor resolves "things" they discussed.

Young has been calling for "super rec" centers - one in East Baltimore and one in West Baltimore - similar to a giant recreation center in Hampton, Va., known as the Boo Williams Sportsplex.

"It would save a lot of money and it’s self-sustaining because there's a small fee for different types of services," he said.  Young added city residents are already paying fees for recreation services in Baltimore County.

This is the second time in recent months the mayor has raised the issue of the parking garages. When council members began work on bills to limit her power in January, she said they should concentrate on more important issues, like her parking garage sale.

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