What a blessing that we get to share in this moment together and I am honored to be here with all of you.
Thank you, to all our amazing performers; please join me in acknowledging them and the talents they are sharing with us all today.
Thank you to President Kent Devereaux and to Goucher College for hosting today’s ceremonies. I am very proud to return to my alma mater for today’s swearing in. It is especially meaningful to be standing on this stage.
One of the first occasions I had to provide remarks from this very spot was nearly 20 years ago as an undergraduate. Not too long after, I received an email from another student sharing that they enjoyed the remarks—coupled with a reminder to stand up straight. That other student is here on this stage with me today and I am so much better because of it. Marisa, nearly 20 years later, you continue to push me to be my best. Thank you for being a copilot on this journey and for all of the ways that you inspire me as a husband, as a father and a best friend. I am better at all of those jobs, and this one, because I always have you standing—up straight—alongside me.
To our adventurous, creative and kind daughter Daria: we love you so very much. You remain my source of inspiration every single moment of every single day. Thank you for being a constant reminder of why we need to keep fighting every day to build a better future for children just like you.
I would also like to thank all members of my immediate and extended family, including those here with us, for your unconditional love and support.
I also want to recognize all the members of our Baltimore County team here today. You all have become extended family, too. Thank you to our Administrative Officer, our department heads, Executive Office staff and to every single Baltimore County employee. These last four years have brought challenges none of us could ever have predicted, but through it all, you all never wavered in your dedication and devotion to your work and to our residents. Every community across our great County is better off today thanks to your service.
I must also thank and acknowledge my colleagues in elected office: our Councilmembers, Judges and members of the Courthouse Team, Board of Education members and everyone else here with me today. I look forward to serving together in the years ahead. We may represent different branches of government, hold different beliefs, or even belong to different parties, but we are all bound by a common call to serve and by a shared commitment to delivering a better future.
But most of all, I want to thank the people of this great County for the remarkable opportunity to continue serving as your County Executive.
Four years ago, you put your trust in me to lead based on a series of promises. Together, we embarked on a journey to build a better Baltimore County and to usher in a new era of leadership. One that has embraced data-driven governance to deliver high quality, 21st century services to every neighborhood, not just a few. A journey that is removing the stain of corruption first enabled by Spiro Agnew half a century ago, and which is transforming Baltimore County into a model of open, accountable and accessible government. A journey that is re-envisioning how we operate by embedding the values of mutual trust, respect and honesty into the bedrock of our government—because we know they are fundamental pillars for our shared and sustained success.
It has already been quite the journey and one that has required all hands on deck. Whether you were among those instrumental in helping us first get here, or one of the growing number of those who have joined us along the way, Baltimore County is better, because of what we have all created together.
Our successes have been powered by our inclusive philosophy and in the many ways you have embraced it; not just cheering what we have done well, but also driving us to be even better where we may have fallen short.
Because of you, we have invested more in public education than ever before. We have created the most transparent, accessible and engaged government in our history. We have holistically invested in public safety and, as a result, made our neighborhoods safer. We have instilled the principles of equity and sustainability into the culture of Baltimore County. We have built the most diverse administration in our County’s history, and we have fundamentally changed the relationship between our government and the people it serves.
But we’re not done yet.
I am humbled to have the opportunity to continue serving as your County Executive. It is a validation of the work we have done and the progress we have made together. It is a challenge for each of us to be and do even better in the years ahead. Four years ago, I stood before you to declare that we could overcome any challenge, both the expected and the unforeseen, as long as we did it together. That is exactly what we did—although the circumstances we faced were far more challenging than what any of us could have ever imagined.
We always knew what we aimed to accomplish was going to be daunting. That was before we discovered an $81 million deficit literally buried in budget documents as a footnote; the kind of fiscal shortsightedness and the very culture of mistrust we sought to eliminate. And it was before COVID-19 swept through our communities, leaving devastation in its wake.
In the face of these crises, we did not shy away from what was hard. Instead, we worked in partnership with our residents to make the difficult choices necessary to not only carry us forward, but to make us stronger on the other side. Together, we did what many said was impossible, tackling a structural deficit that was holding us back, so that we could make record investments in education, recreation and so many other areas important to our communities. Together, we delivered what was widely recognized as one of the best responses in the state to one of the worst crises of our lifetimes.
Despite all we faced, COVID-19 in some ways showed that we were capable of achieving even more than we first aimed to accomplish. Now, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do more than recover to where we were. We have an opportunity to be where we always should have been.
We always knew that the type of generational change we envisioned and have been fighting for would take more than four years. Because as good as we are now, with all that we have accomplished, we still have more work to do to in order to live up to our fullest potential as a place where every family can find an attainable place to call home in a neighborhood they feel safe. A place where every child, regardless of their ZIP code, can attend a world-class public school and go on to build the career of their dreams. A place that respects our rich agricultural legacy while keeping our eye towards the future; promoting ongoing economic revitalization and environmental sustainability.
It is with remarkable pride in all we have already achieved and an unrelenting optimism in that vision for the future, that we now continue our work to reimagine what is possible.
I will always believe that we have not just a legal obligation, but also a moral imperative to expand economic opportunity, improve equity and make sure that every family can find a safe place to call home in Baltimore County.
There have been a lot of “first-evers” in our administration, but I will forever be proud that, in the midst of a global pandemic that reminded us all just how fragile housing can be, we established the County’s first dedicated Department of Housing and Community Development. This new department is now uniquely situated to both address historical inequities and foster more inclusive communities.
Baltimore County entered into a Voluntary Compliance Agreement with HUD that requires us to build 1,000 new affordable units across the County by 2028. We are well on our way and we will meet this goal, but fulfilling this obligation should be the baseline from where we start the conversation about attainable housing opportunities—not the end of our journey. Too many among us simply cannot access safe, affordable housing for themselves and their families in thriving communities near where they work and attend school. Therefore, as we move forward together, we need to think more broadly to truly meet the housing needs of all our residents.
The average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in Baltimore County is approximately $1,400 a month—more than what two adults working full time at the current minimum wage can reasonably afford. Meanwhile, median rent rose nearly 18 percent during the pandemic’s peak—and showing few signs of slowing down. Home prices in our region have risen nearly five percent in the last quarter alone, 14 percent the last year and a staggering 35 percent over the last five years, keeping the American dream out of reach for far too many residents. We have to do more and we will.
In the coming weeks, we will introduce a foundational legislative package of housing and revitalization reforms—the first of multiple initiatives—that together will realize a bold and broad vision to address key gaps in our housing continuum, from preventing homelessness, to expanding opportunities for low-income families, to strengthening pathways to homeownership and support investments in our existing communities.
We know that a multitude of challenges remain ahead of us, from supply chain issues, to the costs of acquisition to NIMBY-ism. To continue Baltimore County’s rise above the past—and away from the unfortunate issues caused from historic redlining and housing segregation—we must make it a government-wide imperative to transform Baltimore County into a model of inclusive redevelopment and growth. This will require creativity, flexibility, collaboration and maybe even a few battles along the way. But we know those are the ones worth having.
We also recognize that housing does not exist in a vacuum. It is a foundational building block that empowers our residents to access everything Baltimore County has to offer. No matter how affordable, housing remains unattainable without a reliable, good-paying job.
Growing up in the shadow of a steel mill, I had a front row seat to the shockwaves caused by the demise of Sparrows Point’s mill, but I have also seen firsthand how employment anchors like Tradepoint Atlantic are transforming our local economy. Working together, we have created tens of thousands of jobs across a wide range of entry points. I am thankful for the partnership of all of Baltimore County’s anchor institutions and job centers with whom we will continue to provide opportunities for our families.
Building a strong, resilient workforce is about more than just job creation. It requires us to break down barriers that far too often keep someone from pursuing their dreams. If a person can find a good job but has no way to get there every day, it does not do them any good. If a parent cannot find affordable childcare that enables them to go to work, they will never be able to get ahead. If a new company comes to town with exciting new job opportunities, but a resident cannot afford the training they need to land a job, they will be left behind.
Government has the opportunity and a responsibility to help our residents overcome these obstacles. Every dollar we invest in a job is a dollar invested in the future of our neighborhoods. That is why we have taken common sense steps like freezing tuition at the Community College of Baltimore County and expanding eligibility for the County’s College Promise scholarship program.
In the years ahead, we are going to build on this foundation, creating innovative programs that allow everyone to access career training opportunities. In the coming weeks, we are set to announce an exciting new pilot focused on doing just that. As we move forward, our administration is going to continue making investments in our people and our infrastructure to strengthen pathways into good jobs while also meeting the needs of our employers. Direct investments in our people improves lives and strengthens our communities in ways that benefit us all. So too do investments in our physical infrastructure.
Our County has grown significantly in recent decades and our infrastructure has been showing some signs of its age. With more than 850,000 residents, we must have modern, efficient infrastructure to best meet their diverse needs. The institutions that keep our neighborhoods safe, like police stations and firehouses, require significant investments to ensure they are equipped to address the needs of the communities they serve as well as the people who work inside of them. The school buildings where we educate our children must be modern, safe and equipped to meet the needs of families from every walk of life. The parks where our families play and recreate should have the amenities that will draw people to them, encouraging active lifestyles and healthy communities. I am incredibly proud that we have invested record amounts in our school buildings and recreational assets.
We will not stop until every community has a world-class school building and park facilities that meet their needs. In the coming years, we will continue investing heavily in our capital infrastructure to ensure we are prepared to meet the evolving needs of our growing County.
Through all this work, we will never lose sight of our commitments to equity and sustainability. These two foundational values are the lens through which we view every decision, because they make our decisions better. By focusing on equity, we chip away at longstanding injustices that plague our communities. By keeping sustainability at the forefront, we ensure a more livable future. From Randallstown to Rocky Point, we remain committed to building more equitable, sustainable communities that our children will be proud to call home.
Over the past four years, we have come together and surprised a lot of people. When we first began our improbable journey to seek this office, we were told by a chorus of naysayers that we did not have a chance. After defying those odds, we were told that what we needed to do simply could not be done in a place like Baltimore County. When the most dangerous public health crisis in a century upended our lives, we again showed that our amazing frontline heroes and our residents were capable of truly incredible and lifesaving work.
Maybe it’s my Dundalk roots, but I’ve learned to never stop rooting for the underdog; you never know when we’re going to surprise you. Every time we have faced the supposedly “impossible,” we found a way to overcome it. We did it through our unwavering belief in each other and the understanding that we are always stronger together.
Considering all that we have accomplished under some of the most challenging of circumstances, I truly believe that the best of Baltimore County is yet to come. Our innovations will not be the result of small thinking or closed circles; but the result of open hearts, open minds and a willingness to embrace the possible—no matter how improbable.
As we begin the next step of our journey, we hope you will continue working with us so we can show Baltimore County, and beyond, what is possible.
Let’s go deliver on the promise of that better future together.
Thank you and God bless.