Wichita stands behind its people, Mayor Carl Brewer said Tuesday night as he renewed his call to action for long-term progress.
In his annual State of the City address, Brewer called on residents to work together to grow the city and help the most vulnerable Wichitans. He touted a year of collaborating to make Wichita a better place to live, including job retention and employment for the homeless.
And he honored former Tuskegee Airman Aldee Miller with the Congressional Gold Medal.
“Tonight, I am asking you to get into the game to move our city forward,” Brewer said. “We need you to be a player – not a spectator – to win a better and brighter tomorrow.”
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It was a look forward that was well received by a capacity crowd at City Hall.
“I heard a lot of very positive things tonight,” said Michael Monteferrante of Wichita. “I’m really excited about the progressive movement in this city, about the progress downtown and it’s a credit to the work done by the mayor and City Council.”
Bob Rogers praised Brewer for the social aspects of the speech, particularly the call to help veterans and the homeless.
“I do like what they’re doing with growing the economy, building things up,” Rogers, also of Wichita, said.
There were few policy surprises in Brewer’s speech. He renewed the council’s commitment to creating public-private partnerships for new jobs and to fending off cities and states that want Wichita jobs.
Wichitans must look out for each other, he said.
“I also want to remind you that the competition for our local businesses is fierce – on a regional and global level,” Brewer said. “So it’s critical we continue to work with our county, state and business leaders.
“We will continue to use public dollars to create private jobs, preserve our local economy and support our workers and their families.”
Brewer pledged the same intensity of support to the city’s jobless and homeless.
“I’m proud to be the mayor of a generous city where so many people perform charitable deeds,” he said.
The Wichita Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team, or HOT, is one example – responding to 911 homeless calls, offering shelter, homes and jobs.
“The results are encouraging,” the mayor reported. “The HOT team has helped place 23 people into full-time jobs, reunited 36 people with family and friends and provided other support to 400 homeless people.”
Brewer also pointed to the city’s affordable housing program, which has provided 18 families with down payment and closing costs to buy their first home, helped 44 families become self-sufficient and moved more than 180 veterans into Section 8 housing.
Veterans were another focus of Brewer’s address.
“We can do more to help veterans,” he said. “I’m asking employers to hire veterans.”
“Give them a closer look. Give them another chance,” he implored. “And please give to local charities and nonprofits that support them.
“These brave men and women have made sacrifices for us, and now it’s our turn to help them.”
Miller, the former Tuskegee Airman, was unable to travel to Washington last year to be honored by President Obama as one of the first black pilots in the U.S. military.
The 94-year-old Wichita man said he was “flabbergasted” by the presentation of the medal.
Being honored in his hometown made up for missing the Washington trip, Miller said.
“This way is better,” he said. “I still can’t get over it.”
Brewer also addressed the future of mass transit in Wichita, framing it as another way Wichitans can help their struggling neighbors.
“We need to know what you think,” he said. “Should we have more stops to drop off and pick up riders? Should we run later hours during the week and on the weekends, so we can help people getting to jobs?”
Brewer also touted his collaboration with City Manager Robert Layton on ACT-ICT, an extensive community engagement project that drew about 1,300 people to 98 public meetings; continued growth downtown, including the Kansas Leadership Center, the first new downtown building in almost four decades; and a redoubled city commitment to road and water and sewer system maintenance and replacement.
“We’ve said for some time now that we have growing needs and declining revenue,” Brewer concluded.
“It’s time to answer some big questions: What do you want for our city and the next generation? Do you want to be a place that attracts new jobs and keeps current employers? Do you want to be a community where people choose to live, work and raise a family?
“Our rich history shows us we can do great things together.”