Mayor vows to empower blacks, strive for equity in upbeat speech

`State of the city' address made in council chambers

January 25, 2000|By Ivan Penn and Gerard Shields | Ivan Penn and Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

In an upbeat speech peppered with quotes from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mayor Martin O'Malley promised yesterday increased economic power for African-Americans and reiterated his pledge to improve education and keep city streets clean and safe.

"The people of our city are optimistic -- as optimistic as we've been in years," O'Malley said in his first "state of the city" address. "We must harness this momentum to initiate change, now."

Yesterday's speech before the City Council, the first time a Baltimore mayor has delivered such an address in the council chamber, was billed as a show of unity among city leaders. The event drew a crowd of federal, state and local politicians as well as other community leaders.

Council President Sheila Dixon invited O'Malley to give the address at yesterday's council meeting, the opening session of the new council. The 30-minute speech, praised for its ambition and inclusiveness, gave the mayor a chance to publicly give the direction of his administration after his first seven weeks on the job.

"I thought it was a good speech," Dixon said. "I was very pleased to hear the whole emphasis and philosophy that there has to be more equity. We must work to really make that happen."

Cable viewers saw the speech but didn't hear it because the sound was not connected, city officials said. The city plans to replay the speech at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. today.

Much of the speech focused on increasing opportunities for African-Americans and celebrating diversity. The mayor said he intends to create a celebration for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day next year.

"There should be a grand ceremony bringing together people from every corner of our city to celebrate not just the words of this great man's life, but the action, the work, the perseverance that left an indelible mark on the very soul of this nation," O'Malley said.

O'Malley said he would work to ensure that economic opportunity was open to all Baltimoreans. He said he is looking for the kinds of success in minority- and women-owned businesses that Atlanta and Chicago have had.

A federal judge ruled in December that the city must cease enforcing a minority set-aside law requiring that 20 percent of the city's public works contracts go to minorities.

O'Malley said the city has appealed that ruling and soon will request a stay of the order.

"I am absolutely committed to helping to build and sustain a strong majority business community because in our city, the minority happens to be the majority," O'Malley said. "If our city is to move forward, we must empower entrepreneurs, generate jobs, build our tax base and create wealth in every neighborhood."

The mayor said he was excited about the city's future despite a daunting list of problems, including a potential $153 million deficit, between 10,000 and 40,000 vacant homes, 60,000 drug addicts and more than 300 homicides in each of the last 10 years.

O'Malley promised, again, to clear 10 drug corners in six months and that he will "reduce the murder rate to record lows."

He urged elected officials and community leaders to step up their efforts to curb the city's ills.

He said: "In his letter from the Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote: `We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.' "

Several city leaders and other Baltimoreans praised the mayor for a speech packed with information and a positive vision for the city.

Others said that while they believe his message was strong, they now want to see him deliver.

"A lot of meat, a lot of substance, a home run," said state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV. "Now, let's make it happen."

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