Marshawn Wolley

Marshawn Wolley

Mayor Hogsett gave his fourth State of the City Address recently and there was the good, the bad and the omitted — but overall, he made a decent case for a hopeful, healing, progressing city where peace is ascendant.

In his speech, while noting an overall 3.6% unemployment rate and attracting nearly 7,000 jobs at an hourly rate of more than $31 in 2018, Hogsett astutely recognized not everyone was benefiting from these strong economic numbers.

The most recent data from the Department of Workforce Development estimated that in 2017, when white unemployment was at 4.5%, Black unemployment was at 10.9% in Indianapolis. Nationally, Black unemployment is generally more than double white unemployment.

The mayor was able to point to the success of specific programs like Project Indy, his youth summer jobs program; and nonprofit partners like Employ Indy, which focuses on talent pipelines, and Indy Achieves, which partners with local colleges to help students matriculate through postsecondary education, as part of the effort to address inequities in the workforce.

The mayor also discussed affordable housing, but the big announcement for community development in the speech was that Indianapolis would receive $55 million worth of New Market Tax Credits, a tool used to raise money for community development projects in low income areas — like, for example, grocery stores in food deserts.

Strong economic performance numbers coupled with a realization that there needs to be inclusive growth was undermined only by the omission of any mention of minority business development — especially given the recent reported success of two major public works projects and the first disparity study in about 20 years.

The mayor addressed public safety, and in this area, I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves — but he also missed the mark relative to our community.

The mayor should get credit for his administration’s work on criminal justice reform more broadly but also for specifically addressing mental health as it pertains to the criminal justice system.

And despite what you may hear this campaign season — the facts are overall crime has gone down every year.

In 2016, overall crime was down 1%. By 2017, it was down 8%, and in 2018, overall crime was down 4%.

Our community just so happens to live a different reality.

The Hogsett administration can point to a host of initiatives and partnerships implemented to address violent crime; but the speech noted homicides were down 22% based on the first three months of 2019 — a statistic that missed an important reality.

The homicide rate for a Black male in Indianapolis is about 500% that of a white male. The city has an astronomical disparity in a specific population.

The mayor didn’t create the problem, but he can’t ignore the reality either.

Nonprofits are doing what they can, but there needs to be a deeper and focused city government engagement on Black males — quite candidly the ongoing epidemic of Black male homicides threatens the perception of the city as a safe place.

We are not going to be an inclusive city until we can talk openly about these and other racial realities.

City government should revisit and refine the Indianapolis Commission on African American Males — a director level position supported by city government in the Peterson administration.   

The mayor also discussed infrastructure.

The Hogsett administration developed a $400 million plan to address bridges, streets and sidewalks which passed the city-county council unanimously (that also means bipartisan).

One of the mayor’s signature achievements was addressing the structural deficit within the city-county budget. (While I do wonder how much help the administration got from this robust economy, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good — Hogsett gets credit nonetheless.)

In any case, sound fiscal management has led to the ability to make forward looking investments in not only physical but social infrastructure.  

The most interesting idea from Hogsett’s speech, overlooked by most media, was the announcement of a 25-year plan for annual funding to address food insecurity and neighborhood investment. More details were promised — but if the Hogsett administration can get some movement on food insecurity than I’m all for it.

The speech also failed to discuss education — specifically charter schools, accountability, the potential threat of racial achievement gaps across the county, and what role he sees charters playing in education in the city.

While there’s some frustration in the community about why the mayor hasn’t weighed in on the IPS superintendent search — I don’t share the view that he should. But this mayor can and should do more in education.

As one of only two men in the last 50 years able to give a state of the city speech in an election year closing out a first term as a Democratic mayor — all in all — not a bad speech.

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