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“Baltimore is Back”: Mayor focuses on city growth and young people during State of the City

Mayor Brandon Scott addresses the City Council from Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center.
Emily Hofstaedter
Mayor Brandon Scott addresses the City Council from Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center.

Normally the mayor delivers his annual state of the city from City Hall but this year Mayor Brandon Scott addressed the masses from the $23 million-dollar Middle Branch Wellness and Recreation Center in Cherry Hill. It was the physical embodiment of the mayor’s message for the night.

Baltimore is Back! announced Mayor Scott, painting a glowing picture of Charm City, touting investments and growth–such as plans for four new rec centers and he announced a new library for Park Heights, the first built in Baltimore in 15 years. He cited unemployment rates that have decreased from 12.4% during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020 that now hover around 4.0%. Vacant properties are at a ten-year low and the Baltimore Police Department is getting guns off the street, he says.

The 39 year-old Democratic mayor from Park Heights is up for re-election next year, although he hasn’t officially filed. Since he took office in 2020, he has to contend with the pandemic and short staffing as the city tries to recover services in its wake.

Scott will spend the next year focusing on pouring resources back into the city as a way to tackle its most urgent problems: like gun violence among young people. “Baltimore’s young people will win,” he declared to deafening applause. “We just have to invest in them, nurture them, love them, and yes—we must hold them accountable.”While the latest homicide data from BPD shows that overall homicides are declining, an analysis by The Baltimore Banner shows that one in three people shot this year were under the age of 18. Just 48 hours before the mayor spoke, a 12 year-old Jaylen Richards was shot and killed by another minor in Westport.

Scott took time during his address to elaborate on his controversial summer teen curfew plan to increase youth safety.

“As we head toward the summer months, my team will roll out a comprehensive summer youth engagement strategy that will include extended hours at recreation centers, midnight basketball, summer pool parties and summer camps,” said Scott. “We’re bringing back our B’More Lit teen series, putting 7,000 young people to work through Youthworks; and yes, we will be enforcing curfew.” 

Mayor Scott continued to insist that the curfew is about connecting young people with services, not the police.

Outside the Middle Branch center, 18 year-old Donte Hance, now a student at Morgan State University, played basketball while elected officials streamed in before the event. He feels the effect of some of the mayor’s new investments; he feels safer outside the new center because it’s clean.

Gun violence is always on his mind and as a young person, he wants support from “older people who have gone through it already.” Hance hopes that younger people can learn from those experiences so “they can see the effects and don’t want to go through those things.”

When he ran for office in 2020, Scott promised to reduce homicides and non-fatal shootings by 15% every year. According to city police data, homicides overall are down 16% and non-fatal shootings by 21%-- which Scott credits to investments in policing and prevention programs like the Group Violence Reduction Strategy program in West Baltimore. The mayor announced it will expand throughout the city this year.

“Last year, our Group Violence Reduction Strategy pilot in the Western—our most violent police district—produced a 34 percent decrease in homicides and nonfatal shootings by focusing in on residents most at-risk for being involved in gun violence and giving them the choice to take assistance to step away from the life or face the consequences if they do not.”  

Scott also positioned himself as a mayor that stands up to outside forces that threaten the city, noting the city’s lawsuit against the ghost gun manufacturer Polymar. Earlier on Monday Scott joined 152 other mayors across the country to urge congress to take immediate action on gun violence.

Some of the other investments include housing. Scott announced he would be removing owner-occupied homes from this year’s tax sale, for the third year in a row, and $9.7 million for programs geared to drive Black homeownership. The new Middle Neighborhoods Strategy includes the Buy Back the Block initiative, which provides 270 grants for families with school-age children $10,000 to buy (or $20,000 to buy and renovate) homes they already rent.

All of that news had Councilmember Odette Ramos of the 14th district thrilled.

“I'm excited about the work that we continue to do for housing stability, the tax sale piece is important,” she said, adding. “We'll continue working diligently on addressing vacant properties. We're finally got leadership to address this crisis.”

But there was also cautious optimism from the councilmember, many of the investments in housing and elsewhere that the mayor touted as “historic” come from some $641 million in federal American Rescue Act Plan Funds.

“Those are once in a lifetime,” said Ramos. The challenge will be keeping the proposed programs and investments sustainable, she said.

During a noisy reception, amidst singing and dancing, City Council President Nick Mosby shared similar concerns.

“I was very, vocal very early on about ARPA about the importance of focusing the money on generational change like identifying one or two or three big things as opposed to sprinkling the money and dissipating it on multiple different organizations,” said Mosby. “The mayor clearly took his pathway for it and he doubled down on it today… I’m excited to see what those key performance indicators and return on investments will be in the future.”

Mayor Scott also announced a $15 minimum wage for all city jobs and that they would be lifting some of the college degree requirements to make those jobs more widely accessible.

Last, but certainly not least, Mayor Scott promised weekly recycling would be restored by the first quarter of 2024, although that could be as late as March of next year.

Emily is a general assignment news reporter for WYPR.
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