Mayor Brandon Scott delivered an election-year last State of the City on Monday night, spending more time touting victories within the past three years and pitching residents on political stability in City Hall than announcing new policies.

Before a crowd of officials and supporters at Baltimore Center Stage in Mount Vernon, Scott used his last State of the City address of this current term to tell residents to stay the course with his administration, which has overseen a reduction in homicides and nonfatal gun violence, “while maintaining integrity.”

“Baltimore is at an inflection point in our history, and each of us has the power to choose the direction we take,” the first-term Democrat said.

Timing is everything

The annual address is always important for an incumbent mayor. It’s their opportunity to spin the accomplishments of the last year and set a new policy agenda for the future.

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With the Democratic primary less than two months away, 2024′s address is especially important. Scott and former Mayor Sheila Dixon are at the top of a Democratic field that includes attorney Thiru Vignarajah and businessman Bob Wallace.

In previous addresses, Scott has always referred to past policies that don’t align with his progressive agenda and political corruption. But on Monday night, they were a throughline of his speech — and most were tacit references to Dixon’s tenure. She served as mayor from 2007 to 2010 and left office a corruption scandal. A jury found her guilty on a misdemeanor embezzlement count; she also entered an Alford plea to one count of perjury.

Scott shaded the closures of recreation centers and fire stations, which happened during Dixon’s tenure. “We’ve stabilized a city government that for nearly 15 years had only known instability and scandal,” he said.

He also alluded to a pro-Dixon super PAC that’s been largely funded by wealthy members of the Baltimore region, including real estate magnate John “Jack” Luetkemeyer, Jr., and David Smith, the new owner of The Baltimore Sun and the executive chairman of the nationwide network of Sinclair television stations. Together, the two men have donated $500,000 to the group, which is running attack ads against Scott.

“We are building a government that works for all Baltimoreans, not just the wealthy and well-connected that want to buy their seat at the table,” Scott said.

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Last week, a pro-Scott super PAC was registered with the Maryland State Board of Elections. It has not recorded any financial activity.

Scott was joined by City Council President Nick Mosby and Vice President Sharon Green Middleton, both of whom delivered remarks, and the bulk of the City Council. City Comptroller Bill Henry and state Dels. Dalya Attar, Caylin Young, Jackie Addison, Mark Edelson and Malcolm Ruff were in attendance, as was Clerk of the Court Xavier Conaway and Register of Wills Belinda Conaway.

Asked whether the speech was an election year address, Mosby replied: It’s an election year. Of course it was.

“As mayor, he’s going to have to really show folks that what he promised to do during the campaign, he’s living up to,” Mosby said. He added a longstanding critique of the Scott administration — that Baltimore’s $641 million worth of American Rescue Plan Act stimulus funds were divvied up piecemeal, rather than distributed to one or two large projects.

Since the funds were “scattered in allotments, it’s really hard to see the the impact, and it’s also hard for us to hold ourselves accountable for delivering an impact,” Mosby said.

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Henry said that given the attacks that fly toward city incumbents during primary season, it made sense that Scott spent time defending his record. “He had positives to point to, and I thought that was well done,” the Democrat said.

Representatives from the offices of city State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, Gov. Wes Moore, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Sen. Ben Cardin, Rep. Kweisi Mfume and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger were also present.

A protester, who reporters were unable to hear, briefly interrupted the mayor’s remarks, questioning some form of his administration’s spending. They were drowned out by cries of “Four more years!” and promptly escorted out of the building by security.

The rest of the speech continued without interruption. After pledging to fight for the future of Baltimore, Scott was joined onstage by his fiancée Hana Pugh and their newborn son, Charm, as more chants of “four more years!” closed out the night.

Sneak peek at budget proposal

Among the newsiest bits of the address is Scott’s brief preview of his fiscal year 2025 budget.

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Since last year, Baltimore finance officials have been ringing the alarm about a forecasted deficit of around $100 million. City Hall knew that the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a 2021 state law that rewrote the formula used by municipalities to fund public schools, would lead to increased costs. But the formula hit Baltimore last year with a surprise, $79 million bill, a figure that city officials hadn’t anticipated until 2029. The current budget totals $4.4 billion; a $100 million deficit represents a 2.3% hole.

Scott announced he would introduce the 2025 budget next week, pledging that his draft would cover the deficit “without furloughing employees, without closing rec centers or fire stations, and without cutting city services or turning our back on the priorities moving Baltimore forward.”

Mayor Brandon Scott delivers his 2024 State of the City address at Baltimore Center Stage on March 25, 2024.uk
Mayor Brandon Scott delivers his 2024 State of the City address at Baltimore Center Stage on March 25, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz)

Less a new policy agenda than a list of accomplishments

Scott spent the bulk of the address touting a laundry list of accomplishments, and highlighting community members who benefited from them and specific council members he worked with to achieve them. Among his listed accomplishments were:

Scott also announced several new initiatives. He said he will call for a charter amendment to significantly increase the maximum civil penalty for illegal dumpers, which is currently a maximum of $500. He did not specify the new proposed amount.

The mayor also announced the creation of the Mayor’s Overdose Prevention Cabinet; he did not specify its membership. The Scott administration will also recommit funding for a mobile response van to address the opioid epidemic.

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Read the mayor’s prepared remarks

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news.

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