By J. K. Schmid
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh delivered her first State of the City address at City Hall on Thursday, saying that while Baltimore faces many challenges in the year ahead, she also sees opportunities.
Speaking on her 100th day in office, Pugh said there are five factors that impact the quality of life of Baltimore citizens: education and youth development; public safety; economic and workforce development and expansion; smart cities and effective government; and healthy communities.
The speech continually circled back to how she believed each of these matters played into Baltimore crime and into crime prevention.
“Crime is symptomatic of the many problems facing our city today: unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, hopelessness and homelessness,” the mayor said.
Pugh called on the faith-based community, business leaders and philanthropic organizations to help put Baltimore’s youth to work.
She said developing the youth as a workforce fights crime, adding that if the private sector does not put people to work, “the drug dealers will.”
Pugh said the city’s current “unacceptable crime rate” can only be lowered if Baltimore takes a more holistic approach to the problems hurting the city.
“Even if we were to add 1,000 new police officers to our streets to patrol daily that would not solve our crime problem,” Pugh said.
Citing a 98 percent reduction in lead paint poisonings in the city’s children, Pugh said that 1,000 Baltimore children are still poisoned every year.
On the Baltimore’s homeless, a population confronted with many issues of safety and health, the mayor said architects are currently laying out plans for a homeless facility.
Pugh pointed to the still embryonic phase of her administration as a strength.
“I’m new, nothing is routine,” Pugh said.
Pugh said one of her goals was to make sure that the city expands opportunities for more contracts to go to more private companies owned by women and minorities.
Council member Ryan Dorsey, D-District 3, expressed some skepticism at Pugh’s call for local businesses to hire more youth.
Dorsey said giving businesses an incentive to hire younger workers is appealing to some businesses because it allows these businesses to pay lower wages for less experienced younger workers. As these younger workers mature and gain experience, however, they may be let go to be replaced with a new influx of lower-waged inexperienced workers, Dorsey said.
Dorsey said he believes businesses would have a greater incentive to hire young people if the city made its neighborhoods more walkable and livable.
“We know that kind of stuff works,” Dorsey said. “Businesses want to be where you have walkable sidewalks. Businesses want to be where you have safe cycling facilities so that not just people who own cars can access your business.”