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Text as Prepared for Delivery of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2014 State of the District Address

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Text as Prepared for Delivery of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2014 State of the District Address

 REMARKS AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

State of the District Address

March 11, 2014

Introduction

Good evening. Thank you to the Navy JROTC Color Guard from the Columbia Heights Educational Campus for helping lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance tonight. And to Bishop Hudson, thank you not only for your powerful Invocation but also for all you do for the civic life of our city and for your service on the board of the United Medical Center.

And thank you to the leaders from across our great city, especially Chairman Mendelson. It’s an honor to have you here with us this evening in Ward 7.

Before I go any further, and before I thank my host and talk about this wonderful school, I want to address what happened yesterday.

Federal authorities, who have conducted a wide-ranging investigation into years of campaign and election fraud, brought a man to justice yesterday. That man sought to illegally subvert the election of President Barack Obama. And illegally pumped money into 28 District and federal campaigns and elections over the past decade.

Federal investigators are now using this man’s words to suggest that I broke the law.

Consider this: I began my career working on behalf of people with developmental disabilities. I then worked in the Department of Human Services. And, I then founded a non-profit to rescue homeless children. In 2004, I was elected to the DC Council. The job was a 40 percent pay cut for me, but the opportunity to pursue a new path in public service was more important than any paycheck. In fact, Covenant House offered me the opportunity to work part-time. I said no because, despite a pay cut, I wanted to devote my full-time attention to the people of Ward 7.

In 2006, I was elected DC Council Chairman. In that job, I eliminated earmarks, reformed the way the Council did business, shepherded education-reform legislation through the Council, and guaranteed that our government continued to take care of our neighbors with the greatest needs.

So I ask you, who do you believe? A greedy man attempting to save himself, or me, a public servant who has dedicated his entire career to giving back to our communities?

I have spent my entire life in public service, all of it with a clean and unblemished record. Why would I, at the tail end of that, suddenly turn on that life, a life lived openly and honestly?

To some in our city, I’m just another corrupt politician from the other side of town. I ask them to look beyond their preconceived notions, and instead to look at my record, both as Mayor and especially as a human being. I have given all I have to this city and its people, especially those who are less fortunate. I’m not some caricature drawn up by an eager press corps; I’m a person. A person with a history and a track record. A person who has diligently worked to make this city a better place for all its residents, white and black, Asian and Latino, gay and straight, rich and poor, and the haves and have-nots.

I say this to all of you now, clearly and unequivocally: I didn’t break the law.

Tonight, I’m going to talk about the many good things that are happening in our great city and how we can make it an even greater one.

Gray Administration Sucesses

To Principal Abdullah Zaki and the faculty, staff and students of Kelly Miller Middle School: Thank you for hosting us here this evening. We chose Kelly Miller as the location for this year’s State of the District Address for a very important reason. We have been working hard to make sure that our public schools in the District of Columbia provide a high-quality education to every student in every ward and every neighborhood of our city.

Now, it hasn’t always been an easy path.

But, ladies and gentlemen, we are definitely making progress on that path – significant progress. And we are here at Kelly Miller Middle School because this school is a shining example of that progress – progress not just in the places we are used to seeing it, but progress all over our city, including right here in the heart of Ward 7.

At Kelly Miller, student test scores in math and reading have improved dramatically – jumping by double digits last year. And over the last two years, student enrollment has jumped 56 percent, with even more growth expected next year.

And this school is just one example of the tremendous gains in public education that we are seeing all across the District. Contrary to popular belief, we are even seeing real improvements at our middle schools. Just a few months ago, we learned that District students improved faster than students in any other state in the country on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, commonly known as NAEP.

And our students also showed the most improvement in the country on the Trial Urban District Assessment, or TUDA. The TUDA is a test that compares urban school districts across the nation, so it is a true apples-to-apples comparison. And, over the past few years, we have shown major progress -- catapulting us over many other big cities in national rankings. Whereas just a few years ago we were below cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia, we’ve now leapt ahead of them and are poised to keep rising.

Just a few weeks ago at a meeting of mayors from across the country, President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said of these results – and I quote – “Mayor Gray and DC knocked the ball out of the park.” That’s good news for the District’s children indeed. They knocked it out of the park! And I could not be more proud of them.

At the same time, we all know that we aren’t yet where we need to be. I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses; we still have a long way to go. But these gains are real, they cut across lines of race, geography, and class, and they are worth celebrating. They prove that we are on the right track – a track we need to stay on, to double down on, to accelerate on, until every child in the District gets the world-class education they deserve.

Now, this nationally-recognized progress we are making in education is just one of many examples that demonstrate how well our city is doing right now.

Just look at the evidence. As measured by virtually any metric, the District is leading the pack:

  • And the decline has been even more dramatic in the parts of our city hit hardest by the Great Recession. The latest figures show that unemployment in Ward 5 has dropped from a high of 15 percent to just under 11 percent. Here in Ward 7, it’s declined from a peak of 18.3 percent to just under 14 percent. And in Ward 8, where unemployment once peaked at a shocking 26.9 percent, it has fallen an incredible almost 11 percentage points – to 16.2 percent.
  •     Shortly after I took office, the District’s unemployment rate peaked above 11 percent. Late last month, the US Department of Labor reported the District’s latest unemployment rate is 7.6 percent – an astounding three-and-a-half-point drop and the lowest unemployment rate we’ve seen in more than five years.
  • Since I took office, nearly 34,000 private-sector jobs have been created here in the District.
  • From Day 1, we’ve moved aggressively to create jobs and address unemployment. And we have had extraordinary success.
  • Clearly it is much too soon to declare “mission accomplished.” But we are making progress, and none of it is by accident.
  • Through our innovative, award-winning One City ● One Hire program that was honored by Harvard University, we’ve connected more than 9,100 previously unemployed District residents with jobs at more than 1,100 partner employers.
  • And we are booming by other measures. After the previous administration spent three-quarters of a billion dollars of our crucial reserve fund – they spent it down by half – I insisted on structurally balanced budgets, where we spent only what we brought in, even when it meant making tough political choices. As a result, we’ve posted three straight years of budget surpluses and have rebuilt the District’s Fund Balance to the highest level in its history – $1.75 billion.
  • Along the way, we returned $22 million in furlough money that we asked District government employees to contribute when we desperately needed it to balance the budget.
  • When our finances improved and it turned out the money wasn’t needed, we rewarded our workforce by returning those lost earnings to them.
  • When Congress couldn’t get their act together, we were able to pick up their slack. And we couldn’t have done that without the fiscal responsibility that my administration has practiced.
  • In fact, we were even able to help out the federal government by collecting the trash from national parks!
  • And our finances are now in such good shape that even during the federal government shutdown, when we were officially barred from spending our own Fiscal Year 2014 funds, we had enough money in a special contingency fund that we didn’t have to shut down the District government! Over our objections, we were required to submit a shutdown plan to the federal government. So I sent them a shutdown plan that said: “Every service we provide our residents and every one of our employees is essential, so thank you very much.”
  • And Wall Street has rewarded us with higher bond ratings – meaning we can borrow money more cheaply in order to modernize more schools, recreation centers, playgrounds, libraries, as well as roads and bridges. Those higher bond ratings have continued to boost our reputation as a financially responsible jurisdiction.
  • That kind of fiscal responsibility has also helped us reach the point where once again we can make important investments in priorities such as affordable housing – investments that help us ensure the District remains a welcoming home to residents of all means.
  • Last year, I announced a historic and unprecedented investment of $187 million in the District’s supply of affordable housing, and I committed to preserving or building 10,000 affordable units by 2020. And we’re making such good progress on the goal, we’re already ahead of schedule by two years. Under my administration, more than 5,000 affordable units have already been completed or are currently under construction, with thousands more in the pipeline.

Now, that is success by any measure.

Recently, some have suggested that when I took office I simply inherited a steaming engine that was already chugging along. That the District would be booming now regardless of whether or not I was in office. That I have just coasted along.

But we know better. And while I am pleased to acknowledge the contributions of my predecessors, let us not forget recent history.

When I came into office in 2011, unemployment was rising fast, revenue was dropping, our reserve fund had been spent down by half, and Wall Street had put our credit rating on a negative outlook. There were a number of major development projects in neighborhoods across the District that were either stalled – or simply neglected.

Three years later, because of my administration’s leadership, these projects are either complete or moving forward rapidly:

  • In Shaw in Ward 2, the historic O Street Market site has been restored and redeveloped into a long-awaited retail-and-housing complex that includes the largest supermarket in the city as well as affordable housing for seniors – even though previous attempts to hold a groundbreaking there several years ago resulted in nothing but a photo-op. That’s not coasting; it’s leadership.
  • At the core of our downtown, the CityCenter project is nearing completion – a decade after it was first envisioned as a redevelopment of the old Convention Center site. Without the $702 million in funding that my administration helped to secure from Qatar, this wouldn’t have happened. That’s not coasting; it’s leadership.
  • In Ward 5, the Shops at Dakota Crossing now feature the District’s first Costco – 28 years after that shopping center was first envisioned. It’s created hundreds of jobs for District residents and millions of tax dollars that our residents used to spend in surrounding jurisdictions. That’s not coasting; it’s leadership.
  • When I took office, redeveloping Walter Reed in Ward 4 was just a dream. Now we’ve chosen a master developer and are well on our way to making Walter Reed into a vibrant center for housing and commerce in a part of the city that needs both. That’s not coasting; its leadership.
  • A few blocks away, the Howard Theatre is once again a thriving entertainment center – three decades after it shut its doors. That’s not coasting; it’s leadership.
  • And right here in Ward 7, after more than 30 years of waiting, tomorrow morning we will break ground on the Skyland Town Center. That’s not coasting; it’s leadership.
  • My administration has committed to the revitalization and repurposing of this property in order to better serve the needs of Ward 7 residents. The District’s investment in the Strand Theater will not only create new retail opportunities, but it will also improve the streetscape and stimulate additional development nearby.
  • Think about that, folks – this community asset has been closed so long that a tree was literally growing through the roof of the building.
  • And we’re not stopping there. We’re laying the groundwork for future development all over the city, and especially right here in Ward 7. Just last month, the District began restoration of the historic Strand Theater – which has been closed since 1959.
  • The Strand Theater, like Skyland and the ongoing development of the St. Elizabeths East Campus in Ward 8, is yet another example of how my administration’s work results in successful, transformative projects that bring development, economic opportunity and jobs to all areas of the District of Columbia.

That’s not coasting, ladies and gentlemen; it’s leadership.

Our incredible progress has not gone unnoticed. The Economist magazine recently ranked the District one of the world’s most competitive cities when it comes to attracting new businesses and residents – just behind New York and ahead of other US cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago and even ahead of booming international cities like Seoul, Dubai, Brussels and Frankfurt. Gallup ranked us second in the nation last year in job creation – behind only the oil-boom state of North Dakota.

And the District is not just succeeding economically.

While some states have struggled to implement the new health-care law and others have simply chosen to ignore the health-care needs of their residents, we are leading the nation in our implementation of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Our health-insurance exchange, DC Health Link, is thriving and now boasts President Obama among its more than 30,000 members.

We have worked aggressively to reduce the number of District residents without health insurance, including moving quickly to expand Medicaid to cover more adults. These actions have contributed to the District having the second-highest rate of insured adults in the nation, more than 93 percent. And the highest rate for children, at over 96 percent.

Speaking of our children, public school enrollment in the District grew by more than three percent this year - to 83,000 students. After decades of decline, we are seeing steady enrollment growth in our public schools. To put this in context, we haven’t had this many public school students in the District in over 25 years. That is a vote of confidence.

And our overall population continues to grow too -- by more than 1,000 net new residents each month. The Census Bureau now estimates our population at 647,000 people. The District hasn’t had this many residents since 1979.

I could go on and on, regaling you with a litany of other numbers about the progress the District has made recently -- like the increased number of police officers, or the faster pace at which we are getting treatment to those diagnosed as HIV positive and the falling number of new AIDS cases, or our 40 new Play DC playgrounds, or the incredible progress we’re making to ensure the District is the most sustainable city in America.

In short, the state of the District is strong. Certainly much stronger than it was just three short years ago when I took office, and perhaps the strongest it has ever been.

Challenges Still Facing the District

Now, I can’t help but feel proud of all the progress we are making as a city on so many fronts. We can’t be afraid to celebrate our success. But neither can we turn a blind eye to those who are not yet sharing in this progress. We still have major hills to climb and challenges to tackle.

We are a city transitioning to a new and more prosperous future. However, as our city undergoes transformational revitalization, whether you have lived in the District all your life, or you are a recent arrival or somewhere in between, we must remain true to the District’s proud history and tradition. It is a legacy that compels us to be unsatisfied with the comfort of our present and to remain hungry for a District of Columbia that is more equal, more just, and more rich with opportunity for all.

And so my friends, I lay down this challenge: we must harness our increasing prosperity to build a stronger, more inclusive city for everyone.

But to realize this lofty vision of our future, we must confront head-on the realities of our present:

  • While our schools are growing and student test scores are improving, there are still unacceptable achievement gaps between different racial and socio-economic groups, and between different parts of our city. For us to realize the promise of our city, these gaps cannot stand.
  • We also must find ways to signal that we are a welcoming city for young parents in which to settle and raise their families.
  • And we must never become the victims of our own success, with booming demand pushing housing prices out of reach of the people who contribute to our city’s vibrant diversity. And we can’t forget the seniors who stuck with the District when our prospects weren’t so bright.
  • We must ensure that our residents are ready to compete for the new jobs that are coming our way.
  • We must continue to focus on expanding development further in to our neighborhoods, bringing amenities, jobs and vitality to every part of our city.
  • And, faced with a shrinking federal government, we must do all we can to continue diversifying our economy and removing unnecessary barriers to starting, opening and expanding local businesses and creating jobs.

Many of these challenges are not new to the District, nor are they challenges that are new to me. I’ve spent my entire career working on issues of education, homelessness, housing affordability, and equality. Tonight, I’m here to tell you how we will face these challenges and build, over the next five years, on the amazing progress we’ve made over the last three. Working together, nothing can stop us.

Education

Earlier I shared the impressive gains we are making in the education we provide our public-school students. But – especially for our children who are not achieving at the levels they need to be – we need to do more, and we need to do it now.

And that’s why tonight I am announcing that, in my Fiscal Year 2015 budget that I will transmit to the Council next month, I will propose an additional investment of $116 million in public education. These additional funds represent the next phase of school reform in the District: we must take another giant step forward to tackle the unacceptable achievement gap that I alluded to earlier.

And this historic new investment will include, for the first time ever, dedicated funds for our neediest students in the form of an “at risk” weight. Meaning school leaders – both DCPS and charters alike – will have the resources necessary to implement proven strategies that boost outcomes for children growing up in poverty or facing other challenges that are holding them back.

For example, DCPS will use the additional funds to implement longer school days in the 40 lowest-performing DCPS schools. And this will not simply be more time in school. With this funding, we will implement and expand programs to give students the comprehensive academic and enrichment programming that will allow them to meet 21st -century learning standards. Regardless of enrollment numbers, every DCPS middle-schooler will be able to take algebra, a foreign language, art, music, and physical education.

This extra investment in public education also will enable us to fund expanded access to technology and blended learning, continue our laser-like focus on making sure there is a high-quality teacher in front of every classroom, and ensure that all DCPS middle schools have access to the level of rigorous programming that exists in our most sought-after public schools.

We also will narrow the resource gap for students who have historically been under-funded, including middle and high school students, English-language learners, adult learners, and students in our alternative schools.

And our public-education investments will not be limited to the K-12 system. We will add resources to strengthen our early-childhood-education programs, which already lead the nation.

Anyone who knows me knows how passionate I am about early-childhood education, including pre-K – because research proves its clear benefits to children’s development and success down the road. Babies are born learning. The infant and toddler years represent a period of rapid brain development that sets the foundation for future growth and development. The evidence of this is indisputable. Thanks to legislation I authored when I chaired the Council, over the past several years the District has done an excellent job of getting our three-and four-year-olds into pre-K programs. Ninety-two percent of District four-year-olds and 70 percent of our three-year-olds are in school. We have been cited as a model for the rest of the nation by child advocates like Marian Wright Edelman and even President Obama.

But we can and will do more. Our initial focus has been on getting more kids into early childhood education programs. Now we are turning our attention – and our investment – to improving quality. We must grow the supply of high-quality early learning opportunities for children from birth to age 3 so that more children – especially those from low-income families – can develop and learn and be prepared for the transition to pre-K.

With additional investment, we will raise the bar on quality for our infant and toddler programs. To ensure the health, learning, and development of these very young children, we will be the first state in the nation to require all subsidized child-care providers to meet the rigorous Early Head Start standards. And we will provide resources to help them succeed.

The bottom line is that, with these new investments in public education, we will make sure that our schools have the resources they need to help every child succeed.

Parental Leave

Another way we will support our youngest children and their parents is to make life a little bit easier for new parents. Giving parents the ability to bond with their babies is part of what sets children up for success.

I began paying very close attention to this subject when a member of my own staff recently had a child. I was shocked and, frankly, somewhat embarrassed to learn that the District government didn’t offer paid maternity leave! In fact, our current policy forces new mothers to go on what is called “short-term disability” to get just a portion of their salary after having a child.

What a terrible way to describe the joy of bringing a child into this world! A child is not a short-term disability; a child is a long-term gift and a precious asset – for parents and for the city.

When I did more research, I was appalled to learn that most cities and states likewise offer woefully inadequate parental-leave programs. Even the federal government doesn’t offer paid parental leave! According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, nationally, fewer than 12 percent of private-sector employers offer parental leave.

This is a wrong that must be made right. So, tonight, I am announcing that the District government is going to set an example. We are going to lead, and I am asking others to follow.

This month, I will propose legislation that will, for the first time ever, establish paid parental leave for District government employees. If approved by the Council, District government employees with new children will receive up to six weeks of paid parental leave for a parent designated as the primary caregiver, and up to two weeks of paid parental leave for a parent designated as the secondary caregiver. Annual and other leave can be used to supplement this new benefit.

Furthermore, I challenge the federal government and the District’s private employers to do what I did – go review your own parental-leave policy and make sure it is at least as generous as what the District government is going to do for our employees. In a city like ours, where employers are competing for the best talent and where we pride ourselves on being progressive, it’s just the right thing to do. And it is another way of being child- and family-friendly – a place where young families want to be and want to remain.

Affordable Housing and Homelessness

Now, it is no secret that many in our city are being squeezed by the increasing demand for housing. Housing prices are going up across the entire city. For many homeowners this is a good thing as they grow their family wealth. But it comes with a downside as well.

Earlier I mentioned the historic $187 million commitment I made last year to preserve and build 10,000 units of affordable housing by 2020. As I mentioned, we’re well ahead of schedule. In fact, we project a total of nearly 12,000 new or preserved affordable units by 2020.

I can say confidently that no other city in America is making this strong of a commitment to affordable housing. And the good news is that it’s working. A recent Urban Institute report on affordable housing in the nation’s 100 largest counties found that the District has the second-highest rate of affordable housing per eligible person in the country.

However, although we are making good progress, with the District’s diverse character hanging in the balance, this is not the time to take our eye off the ball. We must do more. The demand is too great – and there’s no letup in sight to the booming growth the District is experiencing.

That’s why tonight I commit to another $100 million investment in affordable housing.

I will propose that the vast majority of these funds be deposited in the Housing Production Trust Fund. But I will also propose dedicating some of it to provide property-tax relief to low- and middle-income seniors who are 70 years of age and older and who have lived in the District for at least 20 years. Ensuring their housing remains affordable is a tangible way we can show our elders the respect and appreciation they deserve for helping the city through its dark days.

But even as we rightly focus on building more affordable housing in the coming years, we must not forget the most vulnerable among us right now. In January, at this year’s point-in-time count of our residents who are homeless, I was pleased to announce my commitment to end chronic homelessness for our veterans by 2015. It is the least we can do to honor those who have made so many sacrifices in service to our country.

And our work has already begun. Last August, a team of D.C., federal, and community agencies convened to take on a short-term challenge to house homeless veterans in the District. In just the first 100 days, the team was able to house 207 District veterans, 96 of whom were chronically homeless. I am committed to leveraging federal funding and dedicating the local dollars necessary to support this effort. By the end of next year, we will end chronic homelessness for the District’s veterans.

When it comes to combating homelessness, talk is cheap. Actions matter. On my watch, spending on homeless services has increased by 41 percent and local funding for permanent supportive housing has increased by 127 percent. We now spend more than $120 million a year to help people who are homeless.

But we need to do more – and not by throwing more money at the problem. The money is there. I have devoted much of my career to helping people who are homeless. I know more than most how complicated these issues are.

One thing I know for certain is that a shelter is no place to raise a child. And I know the only way for a child to avoid growing up in poverty is for her family to enjoy the dignity of self-sufficiency. Government assistance will never be enough. We must redouble our efforts to move families out of shelters and into apartments faster and with the necessary supports to get them standing on their own two feet.

This is not, as some have suggested, tough love. It is the only approach we know that works. And we’re having success with this approach. Through Rapid Re-Housing and other supports, over the last three years my administration has helped transition more than 1,200 families from shelter or short-term housing to permanent housing.

What’s limiting our capacity to help even more homeless families get back on their feet is our ability to identify additional apartments in which to place them and to provide families with the life skills and supports needed to help them overcome the obstacles in their path. Tonight, I am proud to announce two efforts, working in tandem, that will address both these challenges.

First, my administration will partner with the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness and the Transitional Housing Corporation to launch the “500 Families, 100 Days” campaign.

As the name suggests, between now and June we will identify and lease at least 500 apartments for homeless families using either Rapid Re-Housing or Permanent Supportive Housing vouchers. This is a call to arms, a call for everyone to do their part – government, housing intermediaries, banks, foundations, developers, landlords, realtors, and our faith community. Help us identify appropriate apartments for the campaign; help a homeless family find a home.

Through informal outreach, a number of landlords have already stepped up to the plate to offer blocks of apartments. For example Tembile Roxo with NOVO Development has offered the use of 20 apartments, and Melissa Steele at E&G Group has offered 48! I want to thank them and others for doing your part to help.

If you know of units that you could contribute to the campaign, I ask you to let us know by e-mailing us at housethehomeless@dc.gov.

And equally important as identifying housing, is providing these families with the unwavering hope, love, guidance, and encouragement they need to succeed. Government can only do so much. And that is where the District’s vibrant faith community can really help.

I have asked the Mayor’s Interfaith Council, made up of representatives of our city’s diverse faiths, to join with us to launch a program we are calling “One Congregation, One Family.” I ask each house of worship in the District – every church, synagogue, and mosque – to take on one family and provide emotional, social, and spiritual support to help them succeed in getting on their feet. We will help get them housed and help them qualify for key basic benefits. But we know they need loving and caring support as they tackle the tough challenges of becoming and remaining independent.

This model is based on the belief that it takes a village not only to raise a child, but even more so to support a struggling family. By partnering with the faith-based community, we can engage the tremendous healing power of faith. By bringing to the table all the different resources needed to tackle this thorny problem – government, community-based organizations, the private sector, and the faith community – we can get this done.

Economic and Workforce Development

An integral part of making the District more affordable not only includes ensuring that we have more affordable housing but also that we have more good jobs. And that our residents have the ability to compete for them.

That starts with having a solid workforce-development system – a first for our city. And that must include giving our high-school students the skills they need to succeed. As I have said many times, one of the biggest, if well-intentioned, mistakes made a generation ago, was to eliminate vocational education from our schools. It is time to bring it back – but updated for the demands of the 21st century. Now known as Career and Technical Education (or CTE), this innovative model allows workforce development and education providers to offer opportunities for our young people to develop the skills that will prepare them for 21st-century careers.

Last year, I created the CTE Innovation Fund. This fund provided seed money to high schools to engage in a year of planning. I am pleased to announce that this August the District will open nine Career and Technical Academies run out of both DCPS and charter high schools. These academies will each serve 200-300 students a year, and they will equip students to compete for jobs in our fastest-growing sectors.

Another critical driver of our workforce development system is the University of the District of Columbia’s Community College. With the additional investment I will propose, the Community College will serve an additional 2,000 residents – on top of the nearly 3,000 a year it currently serves – for jobs in one of its five high-growth career pathways: health care, construction, hospitality, transportation, and IT/office administration.

And we must do everything we can to encourage further job growth in every part of the District. For instance, we’re working hard to urge new businesses to set up shop in neighborhoods beyond our booming downtown core.

As I mentioned, tomorrow we will break ground on the new Skyland Town Center here in Ward 7. And next week, we will, at last, break ground on the Southwest Waterfront Project, a $2 billion initiative that will reclaim and reimagine an entire District neighborhood.

This is yet another project that some thought might never come to fruition, but we are getting it done. These mixed-used developments will provide housing, jobs, amenities, and – perhaps most importantly – vitality to neighborhoods that need it.

Last month, we announced the forWARD 8 initiative to encourage the establishment and growth of home-grown businesses and to train Ward 8 residents for new careers. Next Monday we’re launching a parallel initiative tailored to the needs of Ward 7. We’re calling it “Start It in 7,” and it will offer a week of training sessions, seminars, demonstrations and other activities related to business development and career training. “Start It in 7” will also feature other arts and cultural events in locations across the ward, as an opportunity to showcase the rich opportunities available to entrepreneurs here in Ward 7.

The District is already one of the fastest-growing cities in the world for tech companies and venture-capital investment. And we are doubling down on our efforts to nourish the District’s own home-grown tech sector. Last week I launched “Digital DC,” a marketing campaign, grant program, and Technology District in Wards 1 and 4 that will stretch from Mount Vernon Square north to Petworth. This initiative will help us realize our vision of the District as the East Coast’s leading center in the innovation and tech economy while creating thousands of high quality jobs.

Business Regulatory Reform

Now all these efforts are important and will help us continue to diversify our economy and reduce our reliance on the federal government as the major driver of our economy. But if we want to make it as easy as possible for businesses to start up, grow, and create jobs right here in the District, a significant hurdle remains. We have to find a way to meet one of the major goals of our Five-Year Economic Development Strategy: making the District the most business-friendly location in the nation.

As DCRA Director Nick Majett told me, it’s been a running joke for years that our agency which deals with business licenses and permits – D-C-R-A – stood for “Don’t Come; Run Away!”

Folks, I am committed to changing not only that perception, but that reality. That’s why last year I named a Business Regulatory Reform Task Force. This task force was composed of equal numbers of private-sector leaders and government officials, and I challenged them to develop recommendations to streamline the licensing-and-permitting process and to identify outdated or overly burdensome laws and regulations impeding economic growth and job creation.

In just a few days, I will receive the task force’s final report and I look forward to acting quickly on its recommendations. But there’s one recommendation they’ve already shared with me, and I’m not waiting to act on it. Tonight, I’m excited to announce that we are going to create the One City Business Portal. For the first time ever, this portal will unify in one website the licensing-and-permitting functions of eight District government agencies, creating a user-friendly, one-stop-shop experience for business owners.

It’s hard to overstate just how much this single action will alleviate burdens on our businesses and eliminate barriers for entrepreneurs who have a good idea, a strong work ethic, and a passion to build a business right here in the District of Columbia.

My friends, that is real progress. And it’s the kind of real progress we need to keep making to ensure the District’s economy is stronger and more diverse for years to come. And by growing our economy, we are able to afford the new investments I’ve talked about tonight without raising taxes. That is one of the many reasons I have made a priority of building a larger, more resilient economic engine for the District.

Conclusion

I know the steps I’ve talked about tonight make up a long list. But they represent only some of the initiatives my administration is working on that build on the dramatic success the District has experienced since I took office. I could spend hours talking about the many other ways we are working hard and working smart to improve how the District serves its residents – initiatives like:

  • our sustainability plan;
  • becoming an Age-Friendly City;
  • taxicab reform;
  • streetcars and bicycles;
  • making our city safe;
  • strengthening special education capacity in our public schools;
  • reducing our foster-care rolls because we are building and supporting families;
  • getting troubled youth on a course to a better and more successful life;
  • reducing infant mortality;
  • building a primary health care system in some of our most underserved areas;
  • reforming procurement or the way government buys goods and services for our residents;
  • and so much more.

Some people joke that I am enamored with the details of public policy – some would say I get down in the weeds. And, truth be told, they’re probably right; I really do enjoy governing. I enjoy being a hands-on Mayor, because it gives me the great privilege of working tirelessly to make a real difference in the lives of real people.

It means making a real difference in the lives of a young family across the street by improving the school their children go to, or the senior who sits on your pew at church by making sure she has an affordable place to live in safety and dignity, or the smart young entrepreneur around the corner with the great idea for a new business who wants to found and grow his company right here in our amazing city.

I love the District of Columbia with all my heart. It is my home, it has been the focus of my entire career, and it is where I raised my own family. I’m not ready to stop working hard to make this city an even better place for everyone. And I ask you tonight to join hands with me to keep the District moving forward – together.

As everyone knows, I believe passionately in the vision of the District as “One City.” One City is an aspiration to be a place where geography does not define your future – a place where hope and prosperity is a reasonable goal for all.

It is a place within our reach, my friends. Will you work with me to get us there, so that we can become “One City, with Liberty and Justice for All?”

Thank you, may God bless you, and may God continue to bless the District of Columbia!