Sheila Dixon

Inaugural Address - Dec. 4, 2007

Sheila Dixon
December 04, 2007— Baltimore, Maryland
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Thank you.

I start today where all things start: With God. Without Him, nothing of any real importance is possible. With Him, anything and everything are possible. Our biggest dreams come within reach when we couple faith in Him with hard work, focus, and determination.

I am so blessed and humbled to be standing here before you today. I owe this historic day to so many people. My gratitude is boundless. To my parents, Phillip and Winona, and my brother Phillip, I know that you are here with us today as you are with me every day. I also thank my brother Tony for his love and support.

To my sister, Janice, you continue to be an irreplaceable partner and a fearless friend. I love and thank you. To my children, Jasmine and Joshua: you teach and inspire me every day, and fill me with such pride and joy. I thank God every day for the gift that both of you are to me.

To my faith-based family, my pastor, and the stewardesses who helped nurture my spirit, I love and thank you. To Governor O’Malley, ours has been a productive partnership, and I have no doubt that our best work is still ahead of us.

To all of those who have encouraged me and supported me in public service — Kweisi Mfume, Kurt Schmoke, Thomas D’Alesandro, Elijah Cummings, William Donald Schaefer, Clarence Du Burns, Salima Siler Marriott, and so many others — thank you. I’ve learned so much from you.

To the late Howard Pete Rawlings, it is said that a person who leaves the world a better place never leaves. And so, you are still with us today.

To the present and future members of the Baltimore City Council, I am eager to begin working with you to find solutions to our most difficult challenges.

Finally, I want to thank my staff, my cabinet, and my colleagues in city government, all of whom believe as I do: that tomorrow can be better than today.

One man, in particular, exemplified this commitment to Baltimore’s brighter future. George Winfield’s was a dedicated, selfless public servant known for his gentle leadership and steady hand. His untimely passing leaves us all diminished. We pray that his family finds comfort in the legacy that he has left for future generations.

Sojourner Truth, a former slave who was once sold along with a herd of sheep for $100, felt compelled to respond to criticism that women were too weak and helpless to be given the right to vote. Sojourner Truth declared: “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again.”

While Baltimore City isn’t upside down, all is not as right as it should be. But just as Sojourner Truth said then, there is considerable reason for optimism today, for these women together: Stephanie Rawlings Blake, Comptroller Joan Pratt, State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy, and I, the first woman to be elected Mayor in our city’s more than 200-year history, are ready, willing, and able to right what’s wrong, to uplift the fallen, and to build on our many strengths.

It took a long time for a woman to prevail and earn the right to represent this City and its people. Too long. But it won’t take me long to make the hard decisions and do the hard work necessary to make our city better, to ensure that all of our people, our most precious jewels, have the opportunity to shine as bright as their radiant potential. In fact, our work is well underway. Those of you familiar with me know that I’ve never been accused of excessive patience. We simply cannot afford to be too patient or tolerant of mediocrity.

I may not be particularly patient, but what I am is tireless…wise enough to know that I don’t know enough to know how to enlist the right people to tackle our biggest challenges…and bold enough to take aggressive, innovative action.

And so, I have very big plans for our future.

Together, we are going to make Baltimore a cleaner, greener, healthier, and safer city. There is much work to be done, but we are already making progress on every front. This morning, I want to highlight six initiatives that will help us to achieve these ambitious and important goals. First, as mayor, I have no higher duty than to protect you from harm. To deliver that protection, we are implementing an aggressive, innovative public safety plan focused on: Building partnerships with federal and state law enforcement experts; increasing enforcement in targeted areas; and, getting illegal guns off of our streets. Those involved with illegal guns need to hear this loud and clear: Baltimore is about to become the worst place in America for you to conduct your deadly business.

In the short time that I have been mayor, we have taken major steps to put the gun business out of business. We’ve created a Gun Task Force made up of city, state and federal law enforcement experts to target gun dealers, trace guns used in violent crimes, and stem the flow of illegal weapons. We’ve launched GunStat, bringing city, state, and federal law enforcement experts together to better track felony gun offenders. And we’ve created a Gun Offender Registry because we know that gun offenders too often go on to become repeat offenders. So if you’ve been convicted of a gun offense in our city, we’re going to track your every move.

These initiatives are producing positive results. While I am pleased that we are making progress, there is still considerable work to be done. We need to raise our expectations and lower our tolerance for what is an acceptable level of violence. It’s time to hold ourselves to a much higher standard. I have every confidence that Police Commissioner Bealefeld and our dedicated police force, working collaboratively and creatively with state and federal experts, will get the job done.

Second, a strong and stable family life is fundamental to the development of our young people. Healthy families teach children right from wrong, the importance of hard work, discipline, respect, responsibility, and love. But too many of our families are hurting, too many are struggling and even breaking, and the price our children pay for this is beyond calculation.

These suffering families are caught up in a destructive cycle. And it’s a cycle we must break to start the healing. With our Family Strengthening Platform, we will help parents and guardians develop the tools necessary to raise healthy, happy and productive children. We all have a stake in this important effort. Whether out of compassion or self-interest, we must recognize that what happens to that hurting family down the street affects us all. Strong families are the building blocks to stronger neighborhoods and a stronger Baltimore.

Third, we are finalizing plans to dramatically expand our successful YouthWorks program. I have a simple goal: to ensure that every young person who wants a summer job gets a summer job. Through YouthWorks, our young people are given opportunities to explore career choices, develop new skills and stay productive during the summer months. For some, it provides the only healthy alternative to guns, gangs and drugs. To reach this goal, I will be asking Baltimore’s business community to play an even bigger role than they have in the past. In this city, we are very fortunate to have a business community that cares, and demonstrates that care through generous support, time and time again. And another time is upon us.

Fourth, I have been so encouraged during this past year by how many residents and businesses have joined the effort to make our city cleaner and greener. We’re making progress. One of the most important next steps we can take is to strengthen our resolve to build the Red Line, a 12-mile east-west transit corridor connecting Woodlawn to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Campus.

During the next year, my Administration will devote considerable time and energy to working with all of the neighborhoods along the proposed route to resolve their issues. By doing this, we’ll send a clear signal to Annapolis and Washington that Baltimore is ready for the Red Line.

Fifth, I am confident that we will find common ground next year and finalize the creation of a Land Bank that’s responsible for, and capable of, efficiently acquiring, managing and selling abandoned properties, returning them to productive use.

Too many Baltimore neighborhoods are plagued by problems associated with vacant, boarded-up properties. Abandoned properties drain value from the homes of innocent neighbors. They undermine the quality of life in our neighborhoods. And they cost the City money.

The City currently owns nearly 10,000 of the city’s roughly 30,000 vacant properties. By streamlining the process for selling City property, adopting policies from various stakeholders, and consolidating development parcels, our neighborhoods will attract new investment. And, finally, later this month, we will release the City’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. This important and timely plan was drafted by a dedicated coalition of government, the private sector, the civic and foundation community, and the activist community.

The report’s more than 50 recommendations are organized around a relatively simple idea — that vulnerable, at-risk homeless individuals and families are more responsive to support services after they are living in stable, long-term housing. This approach, called “Housing First,” is founded on the premise that people stand the best chance of regaining self-confidence and control over their lives when they are living under their own roof. To ensure that all city agencies are enlisted in the effort to end homelessness, I will move the Office of Homeless Services into the Mayor’s Office early next year. These are but a few of my goals and ambitions.

In the weeks and months ahead, you will hear much more: more about our plan to reduce the property tax burden; more about our innovative partnership with Dr. Andres Alonso and the Baltimore City Public School Board to build and renovate community schools, raise academic standards, and restore public trust in ALL of our schools; and, more about expanding opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses.

To get where we want to go, we must all come together. We must all do our part. Just as we belong to God, we belong to each other. It is absolutely essential that we stop making excuses, and start making a difference. By fulfilling the responsibility we have to each other, the big dreams of our children, ALL of our children, can come true. I had big dreams as a child. I dreamed of becoming a school teacher and traveling the world. By working hard, believing in a higher power, and drawing on the support of family and friends, I didn’t just achieve my dreams … I exceeded them. And so, as I made my way through life, I’ve had the opportunity to dream bigger and bolder dreams. As a result, I’ve realized a life of public service that I couldn’t have imagined as a child. I helped break down a barrier for women in a way that I couldn’t have imagined.

Now we don’t have to imagine. I’m not done dreaming. But now, most of my dreams are for the children of our city. Together, we can realize these dreams, too. The writer Marianne Williamson said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”

Williamson goes on to remind us that we are all meant to shine as children do. We’ve have everything we need in this city to shine. Ours is a city full of beautiful, brilliant and talented people, young and old. Ours is a city full of precious jewels. If we care for these jewels as we should, they will shine brighter every day, bringing joyous light to us all.

Thank you, and may God continue to bless the City of Baltimore.

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