The Honorable Catherine E. Pugh, Mayor of Baltimore City, was elected in November 2016 and was sworn into office on December 6, 2016. Mayor Pugh has an extensive and stellar career in Public Service, Community Activism, Academia, Advertising/Marketing, Banking, Finance, Entrepreneurship and Author, which has prepared her for the challenges this new role can bring. Challenges often lead to opportunities that eventually can bring about change. Embracing change is good because without change you can lose your competitive edge.
In my one on-one at City Hall with Mayor Pugh, we sat down in the comfort of her office for a candid conversation discussing the following hot topics:
Question: What are your top priorities?
Mayor Pugh: Transforming Baltimore by addressing the systemic problems, as well as the prevailing perception is a top priority. The fact is, Baltimore is on the rise and people are watching the actions we are taking to reduce violence and create a new era of investment in neighborhoods that have experienced years of neglect and underinvestment. Leaders such as Michael Bloomberg, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and Warren Buffett, have all come to Baltimore because they see a city with potential, and a Mayor fully committed to bringing about the positive change our city and residents need. Those visits coupled with heightened visibility, has positioned Baltimore to be the recipient of the prestigious Bloomberg Cities honor and grant from Michael Bloomberg, 3-term Mayor of New York City. Baltimore is one of 32 Bloomberg Cities in the world that holds this distinction. This welcomed recognition places Baltimore in a unique position as Mayor Pugh and her team strategically leverage to move Baltimore forward.
Question: Public Safety – Since you’ve been in office, what are you doing to address this issue and has it yielded any results?
Mayor Pugh: It’s no secret that crime was a problem before I became Mayor. I walked into the Mayor’s Office in December 2016 having to respond to the 2015 arrest and death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, 5 Baltimore officers facing internal disciplinary charges with violating department rules and a 163- page Department of Justice (DOJ) Report that mandated the City enter a consent decree. The City negotiated the consent decree with DOJ 60-days after I assumed office. A Baltimore Judge appointed the attorney to monitor the mandates. Reforms relating to community engagement, oversight, unlawful stops, searches and arrests, impartial policing, use of force, crisis intervention and the broader crime fight are included in the plan.
Freddie Gray’s death and the lack of trust in the police department, ignited community activism that has sparked grassroots efforts, as well as influencing public policy. Prior to my taking office, police positions were frozen from 2015 to 2017, which meant Baltimore was losing officers at a rate of 25%. With less than 2,000 active police officers, this is far too few for a city our size and the challenges we face. At the same time, community engagement and bringing about a new era of community policing are key to restoring citizen trust that has been so compromised over the past few years.
Other initiatives will focus on community-based violence reduction, new police centers, the implementation of new technology and the utilization of predictive policing, which relies on analytics and real-time analysis to deal with crime and violence in real-time. We will also be expanding the mediation program “Safe Streets” from 4 to 10 locations. Adding 6,000 new LED street lights by next year to illuminate the city and make it safer is another goal. A Community Oversight Task Force has been created and reforming the Civilian Review Board to include 2 community members is critical to building trust within the police department and the community-at-large. To add impact to our crime fighting efforts, I asked Governor Larry Hogan for help with securing funds for technology and training for our officers. The Governor responded with a $2M grant. As Mayor, I’ve unfrozen police positions, created incentives for police officers to live in the City of Baltimore, and we’re pursuing a broad program to bring about a new era of Constitutional Community Policing. The entire Baltimore Police command staff is fully committed to the reforms that must be implemented to ensure the trust and confidence of all citizens.
In order to make sure that City government functions more responsively to the needs of citizens, I’ve established monthly listening tours to hear from our citizens and I, along with my Executive Team, attend these sessions because it provides us with valuable information that can be used to deliver a rapid response. Transparency, accountability and integrity is what all citizens and stakeholders have a right to demand and expect.
Question: What plans are in place for strengthening Baltimore City’s economic growth, sustainability and innovation? How does that translate into jobs for the residents? What plans are in place to revitalize under-served neighborhoods?
Mayor Pugh: I truly believe that Baltimore is on the rise and economic development is one catalyst spurring this growth, along with a robust tourism experience that generates consistent revenue streams and provides local job opportunities. We rightly boast of the finest medical systems in the world; ours is a college town with truly great institutions of higher learning – where students from nearly every nation on earth come to learn and mature, and where groundbreaking research is conducted and prized. Areas of our City that might have elicited a smirk just a few years ago, are now thriving with new businesses, new restaurants and new residents. Average unemployment continues to hover at 5.8 percent – substantially less than cities to our north and south. We enjoy real estate market value that is the envy of Washingtonians 40 miles from our Inner Harbor, who pay so much more for so much less. Our major league teams, internationally-renowned symphony orchestra, celebrated museums and acclaimed performance theaters draw tens of thousands of tourists and residents from neighboring counties, filling our restaurants and hotels and contributing to economic growth. This is our Baltimore – the City we know and love – a City with problems for sure – but also a City with immense promise and unmitigated determination and spirit.
The New York Times boosts Baltimore City as one of the top 52 cities in the world to visit – Baltimore was number 15. Likewise, The Food Network continues to inform and entice viewers featuring Charm City’s local culinary delights on their television show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Tourism and the hospitality industry are important economic drivers for Baltimore. Equally as important is having a welcoming and inclusive environment where all who have an aspiration to start or expand their business, can do so in a climate that is open to diverse firms. Leveling the playing field for all to participate is a priority. The Minority and Women’s Business Opportunity Office, led by Paul Taylor, is a perfect example of diversity, inclusion, resources and opportunities. This program affords Small, Minority and Women-owned businesses equal access to compete for contracts with the City whereby they can hire residents and keep those tax dollars right here in Baltimore.
Having been a State Senator, I worked diligently to ensure that diversity in the state’s pension system included diverse portfolios. I also worked in the Council for Equal Business Opportunity (CEBO) where I put together loan packages for minority businesses that were sent to lending institutions for approval and I understand their requirements and process. Diversity and inclusion opens the doors of opportunities for everyone to compete equally.
In terms of revitalizing underserved neighborhoods, I reached out to Governor Hogan again and solicited his help to tear down and rehab neighborhoods that serve as a haven for criminal activity and plight, and again his response was, yes. Rebuilding our neighborhoods and creating a new era of investment is the cornerstone of my administration. The City needs the business community to help us develop a billion-dollar investment fund over the next 5-years and join us in tearing down 1,000 vacant buildings, and rehabbing neighborhoods, that have endured neglect and under-investment for decades. We recently launched the Neighborhood Impact Investment Fund for this very purpose and will be initiating the fund with approximately $55 million from the leasing of our parking garages. We also presented our vision and plans for investment in and the revitalization of the Park Heights Neighborhood, which is home to Pimlico Race Track and the Preakness. Building strategic alliances with the public/private sector creates economic opportunities and fosters social responsibility because relationships matter. Our overall goal is to create safe, walkable, livable and thriving neighborhoods for everyone.
Question: Education is key to reducing poverty, homelessness and inequality, to creating sustainable economic growth to preventing needless deaths from hunger and foster peace. What improvements have you seen since taking office and what challenges remain?
Mayor Pugh: We have no more important priority than the education and safety of all our children. I have pledged $2M to the schools CIP budget and the construction of 2 new schools this year. These new schools, in addition to those already opened last year and those slated to open by next year, mean that we will create more new schools in Baltimore City than anywhere in the State of Maryland. Because I believe it is our obligation to clear pathways for our young people, I decided to make Baltimore City Community College tuition-free for all high school graduating public school students. Every child does not need to go to college, having a job or obtaining training that can translate into a livable wage is a great alternative. Our Summer Youth Program will provide jobs to some 11,000 eligible students this summer. In May, we hosted the first ever jobs fair for our graduating seniors. Some 1,500 students and over 90 employers came together in the War Memorial Building to identify job opportunities and place these students.
Homelessness affects our children as well, but we are working to provide wrap-around services to ensure that individuals and families who have been displaced or are dealing with mental health issues get the assistance they need, and especially children. In addition, when schools are closed, the City will provide services to these families, who also have children that are homeless and who depend on the meals provided at school. Other areas we are working diligently on include affordable housing, workforce development and creating safe and welcoming recreation venues. There are numerous before-and-after care programs throughout the City and they are designed to engage, educate and care for our youths. The iconic Shake and Bake Roller Rink reopened in March 2018, after being closed for many years and is once again the hub of activities for families to attend, I’m delighted to report.
My one-on-one conversation with Mayor Pugh was enlightening and inspiring. I heard the Mayor speak about why “leaders should not be driven by the budget, to the contrary, they should drive the budget”. She talked about her legislative priorities, arming teachers, which she does not support, and the 2020 Census citizenship question. She is a visionary leader who can see beyond the challenges of today to an empowering picture of tomorrow. She inspires her team to rally around a shared vision and this alignment gives her team a competitive advantage. With effective collaboration, strategic planning, transparency, accountability, consistent communications and community engagement, Mayor Catherine E. Pugh’s vision of what Baltimore will be moving forward can become reality. That’s good news.
To learn more about The Honorable Catherine E. Pugh, Mayor of Baltimore City and the great things that are happening in Charm City, please visit https//mayor.baltimorecity.gov