Martin O'Malley photo

Remarks at the United States Conference of Mayors 83rd Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California

June 21, 2015

It is so good to be back here among great friends and colleagues at the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

President Kevin Johnson, Mayor Lee, I greatly appreciate your kindness in allowing me to speak with you this afternoon.

My name is Martin O'Malley. I am the 47th Mayor of Baltimore.

I am running for President of the United States in order to rebuild the American Dream for all Americans, and I intend to rebuild that Dream by rebuilding the hearts of America's cities.

Once a mayor, always a mayor.

It has been 86 years since any Mayor served as President of the United States.

In our short time together, I want to speak with you — Mayor to Mayor — about the Dream we share, the grief we bear, and the urgent life-saving work that calls us forward.

We come together in a sad week in the life of our country.

Another senseless gun massacre in America.

Newtown, Aurora, Washington Naval Yard, and now Charleston.

The entire world must think us mad — sending trillions to Afghanistan and Iraq while the casualties pile up here in our own cities and towns.

Not long ago, I had the privilege to visit Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston and South Carolina. I sat with Rev. Senator Pinckney, with church leaders, and community leaders. Total hospitality, total generosity of heart.

We spoke in that same church basement about the hopes and dreams we shared for our country and our children.

None could foresee the tragedy that was to come.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of Emmanuel AME Church who have lost so much, to the people of Charleston, and to their Mayor — and our friend and brother — Joe Riley.

Joy and suffering go together in life we are told.

As Mayors, you are all too often called to the sides of families suffering an unfathomable loss.

To scenes of unspeakable and incomprehensible human cruelty.

And yet, out of the carnage of this despicable racial massacre, we saw the true spirit of our nation rise.

I am talking about the courage — the excess of love — we witnessed when the families of the victims, found the strength, through God's grace, to look the killer of their family members in the eye and to forgive him.


If they can do that, is it really too much to ask that we as a nation do better???

I heard some elected official say this week: "laws can't change this..."

Actually, they can.

So too, can the actions we take as caring human beings.

So too, can the expectations we set for our children and for ourselves.

What a terribly jarring and callous sight then — in the wake of this racist massacre — to see the American flag at half staff, while above it at full staff over the state Capitol of South Carolina flew a Confederate flag...

If the families of Charleston can forgive, can let go of their anger, is it really too much to ask the state government officials of South Carolina to retire the Confederate flag to a museum?

America must do better.

This I believe from my own service as Mayor:

The most poisonous force in American politics is not bad people who do bad things; it is good people who do nothing.

The shrug of the shoulders, the resignation that somehow this is the best we can do.

One of the sad triumphs of white racism is the degree to which it has succeeded in subconsciously convincing so many of us — black and white — that somehow black lives don't matter.

If the thousands of young men killed by gun violence every year across America were young, poor and white rather than young poor and black, it is hard to imagine that our Congress would continue to block common sense measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

A single American life is worth more than all the guns in the United States.

How many senseless acts of violence do we have to endure as a people before we stand up to the Congressional lobbyists of the NRA?

How many more Americans have to die?

In Maryland, we banned assault weapons and the kinds of high capacity weapons that exist only to inflict human casualties. We fixed the permitting process to ensure people didn't hide behind straw-buyers.

We need a national assault weapons ban. We need stricter background checks. And we need a nationwide commitment to keep straw-buyers from obtaining guns for others.

The truth we share is this: Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter!

As soon as I was sworn in as Mayor of Baltimore in 1999, we began a pattern of regular neighborhoods meetings on a rotating basis.

We dubbed these large neighborhood meetings, "Mayor's night out."

Our City had allowed herself by that year to become the most violent, most addicted and the most abandoned City in America.

We had work to do.

We had to start getting things done again.

And we had to do it together.

In a crowded school auditorium in East Baltimore this night, a 12 year-old girl named Amber waited her turn, and stepped up to the microphone.

She said, "Mr. Mayor, there are so many drug dealers and addicted people in my neighborhood that people in the newspaper call my neighborhood, Zombieland. And my question for you is do you know,....and are you doing anything about it???"...

Yes, I knew. And, together, we did something about it.

We brought forward a new and better way of governing called, Citistat.

With 311 for all customer service calls, we started measuring the performance, the outcomes, and the deliverables of government rather than just the annual budgetary inputs.

We improved our schools; we cleaned up our City.

We improved public safety with real-time data. We greatly expanded drug treatment, and over the next ten years we produced the largest drop in major crime of any big city in America.

We didn't make perfect, but we did make progress. Every day. Like mayors do.

Every day we strived to better understand what works; to become smarter at reducing crime; and to become tougher on the causes of crime...

I have now spent the last two years traveling all across our country.

There is much that I have heard and learned that is good.

Thanks to you and your work, people generally feel much better about how their cities are governed than they did say ten, fifteen years ago.

But I have also felt and seen a growing gap of injustice that threatens to tear our country apart.

There is urgent work that calls us forward today.

It is the urgent work of rebuilding the American Dream —

That beautiful truth we share as Americans that wherever you start, through your own hard work, commitment, and love of family, you should be able to get ahead.

To rebuild the truth of the American Dream, as a nation we must rebuild America's Cities as places of Justice and Opportunity for All.

This isn't about pilot projects; this isn't about public private partnerships.

This is about U.S. — U period. S period.

The fact of the matter is that 85% of our national gross domestic product is produced in the metropolitan areas of our country.

And cities are at the center of these metropolitan engines of jobs and opportunity.

Cities are also where the greatest numbers of our citizens live who are being failed, left behind, un-needed and unseen by a brutal economy.

Cities are where our people feel most the icy cold indifference of a Federal Government where powerful wealthy special interest rule.

Where gridlock and sequester cuts triumph while our national interest gets kicked to the curb.

Our nation has produced a great many outstanding Mayors over these recent years across our country — but our national economy isn't producing enough jobs in the places where our people need them most.

No Mayor by him or herself, no Governor by him or herself can fix this problem.

Nor can a single President can fix in two terms a twisted economy that was 30 years in the making.

This is something we must do as a nation.

And you and I know solving this national problem will require Presidential leadership.

This is not a matter of following the polls; it is a matter of forging a new consensus for American progress — progress that harnesses the enormous untapped potential in the hearts of America's cities.

For the hard truth of our times is this — for all the good work that President Obama has done to save us from a second Great Depression, to extend healthcare coverage to all, to get our economy to create jobs every month for 64 months in a row... most Americans feel we are all working harder but slipping further behind.

And they are not wrong.

The fact of the matter is that 75% of us are earning the same or less today than we were twelve years ago.

This is the first time that has happened this side of World War II.

Think of what another decade of declining wages would mean for American families, for our American economy...

This is not the American Dream?

This is not how our country is supposed to work.

This is not how our economy is supposed to work.

The great poet laureate of the American Dream, Bruce Springsteen, once asked: "is a Dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse...?"

For far too many of our citizens, the dream is danger of becoming a lie.

For all of the progress we have made in making our cities better governed, safer, healthier, cleaner, and more livable places, the hard truth is this — Unemployment is higher today in Baltimore than it was eight years ago.

Unemployment is higher in Chicago is higher than it was eight years ago. Higher in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and many other cities as well.

We have created an economy that has concentrated wealth and power so very tightly in the hands of the very few that it is sucking opportunity out of the homes and neighborhoods of the many.

When any nation reaches this height of inequality, there are two and only two paths ahead.

One is a sensible rebalancing based on the common good we share, the other, is pitchforks, or stones: more of them in the hands of ever more angry, unemployed, and despairing young men.

How do we solve this problem? How do we rebuild the American Dream so we can give our children and grandchildren a better, healthier, more prosperous quality of life?

First and foremost, by remembering that our economy isn't money, our economy is people — all of our people.

We must not only keep the minimum wage above the poverty line but we must raise the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour wherever we can — and cities are leading the way!

We must also pay for overtime work, adopt policies like paid family leave. We must make it easier rather than harder for workers to join unions, and we should make easier for people to vote and not harder. We must expand Social Security and we must get 11 million of our neighbors out of the shadow economy by passing comprehensive immigration reform.

Wage polices that allow hard-working families to eyed their children and get ahead are key.

Full participation and inclusion is the way.

But there are some investments we can only make as a nation if we are to give our children a future with more opportunity and more security rather than less.

That is why — this week — I proposed an American Jobs Agenda for the Climate Challenge, and that is also why I came here on Father's Day to ask for your help in crafting a New Agenda to Rebuild America's Cities as places of Justice and Opportunity.

Here too, Cities are pointing the way forward, but only the United States of America can make the investments needed to build up our own nation.

The Chinese and the Indians aren't going to do it for us; they have countries of their own to build.

That is why we must create jobs by designing greener, more livable, more energy efficient cities.

This means making cities the market leaders in our nation's move to a clean distributed energy future!

From transforming housing authority properties into a new generation of energy efficient living to accelerating the building of Net Zero Energy Homes, to creating Green Empowerment Zones to creating and a Universal Right to National Service!

This means investing more in CDBG, not less. This means investing more in Homeland Security and Public Safety grants, not less. This means doing more, not less to support the special education needs of City Schools.

This means making long overdue investments in mass transit, city circulators, and other infrastructure that create jobs. This means designing and building a new generation of Net Zero Energy Workforce Housing that the full economic participation of our people demands!

Do we know?

And are we doing something about it?

After the unrest in Baltimore two months ago, there were neighbors who woke up at dawn to clean up the streets and sidewalks from the rocks and bottles and broken glass of the night before.

They set to work cleaning up. Many were wearing t-shirts that a church group had made.

Screen-printed on the shirt was a simple, beautiful instruction:

"Do better," it said.

Do Better...

We can do better.

America must do better.

We still have time to become great Americans.

We can make our country a safer, stronger, more just and compassionate nation.

But it will take work. It will take leadership. And it will take all of us.

Together, we can rebuild the American Dream.

Together, we can rebuild the hearts of America's cities.

Together, we can change the course of our country's future for the better!

Thank you for leading America forward.

Martin O'Malley, Remarks at the United States Conference of Mayors 83rd Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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