On Dec. 6, 2011, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was sworn in as the elected mayor of Baltimore. Her 1,420-word inaugural address was wide-ranging, bold, and vague, touching on the role of government, residents, and institutions in a city with limited resources. The following is what her remarks sounded like to me.
My fellow citizens, is this thing on? OK. Good.
The first thing I want to say is, I won. I won. I won. I won. And boy, does it feel good. No. Correction: It feels great! Some people are trying to kill my buzz by harping on the fact that few people actually voted for me, because so few people voted at all. A hater’s gonna do what a hater’s gonna do, you know what I’m sayin’? But I recognize a mandate when I see one, so I promise to represent the eight of you who put me here as well as all those who made the wrong choice to the very best of my ability.
Now more than ever we must pull together. Why? Because we’re broke, poor, strugglin’, scrapin’ by. We can’t pay for recreation centers. We’re funding fewer summer jobs for kids. We so poor, the sheriff wants to snatch up city vehicles to pay for the lead-paint lawsuits we lost. That’s cold.
But does this bother me? No, not one bit, because I won and I have a plan. Yes, we have a lot of bills, but like a pretty girl who won’t get stuck with the check, we just need to attract people who will pick up the cost. We need more residents, which is why I will help bring 10,000 new families to the city over the next 10 years. Is this ambitious? Heck yeah. We haven’t seen a net population gain since the 1940s, but we’re going to reverse that trend with a little something I like to call Operation Lipstick. Financially, we have some tough choices to make, but by focusing on what property-tax-paying families really want—safe streets, a good time, and good schools—we can begin to grow again.
Let’s start with safe streets. People say there’s a crime problem in Baltimore. Well, that just depends on who you are. In 2011, we’re projected to have 196 murders, fewer than we’ve seen since the disco era, but that’s still 196 too many. What if I could magically push that number, say, closer to zero? For some of you, I can. Work with me here. Everyone knows Baltimore is majority African-American, but whites make up a sizable minority: 30 percent. Question: How many of those projected 196 murder victims will be white? Only five! Voilà! What’d I tell you? Close to zero. One more fun fact: Of the 182 black murder victims, how many were wearing suits when they were killed? We don’t know, but it’s probably a small number and one we will add to our official statistics. White and exceptionally well-dressed newcomers have nothing to fear.
And come they will, because we’re doing bold things in Baltimore, like the Grand Prix. Wasn’t it fun? Again, the haters will say the organizers still owe money and the race missed revenue projections. But we’re not pulling back. We just need to dream bigger, which is why I’m proud to announce that next year, during the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, we will host a re-enactment of the Battle of Baltimore with authentic costumes, a real British fleet, and live ammunition. Oh say can’t you just see it?
As for the schools, ours are improving markedly. Others are doing the hard work there. As long as my administration doesn’t let them collapse from disrepair, we’ll be fine.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Can a strategy that practically ignores current residents actually work? Today, I could have said that in addition to building anew, I would build from strength, then given lip service to the community leaders, artists, small-business owners, and families who have a few ideas about how to make our city better. But that would require talking to a lot of different people and pretending to care about their concerns. That’s called community organizing. We see what good that’s doing the president. I’m more of a Real Estate Agent-in-Chief.
I’ve seen how suburbanites linger after Orioles games, wishing they could walk home instead of catching the light rail, how they brunch in Fells Point and salivate alongside their dogs at the thought of running through Patterson Park.
They want to be part of something alive, something bigger than themselves, something layered with history. That’s what a city is. It’s where we meet each other, lose each other, and meet again. It’s an ongoing effort to reorganize ourselves and nature, one way we tip our hat to God. He made the heavens and the Earth. We made cities.
That sounds good, doesn’t it? I’m gonna have some of that printed on the side of a bus.
See? I can sell this place. It’s easy. Just nod and smile, people. Nod and smile.