Dixon prefers to see her­self as city’s fu­ture, not its past

Ques­tion­ing pri­mary re­sults, write-in cam­paign launched

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Luke Broad­wa­ter

Un­like most for­mer Bal­ti­more may­ors, a por­trait of Sheila Dixon does not hang in City Hall.

That’s be­cause Dixon — who would need to com­mis­sion such a work — isn’t ready to think of her­self as be­long­ing to the past. She be­lieves she’s very much a part of Bal­ti­more’s fu­ture. As she trav­els the city, her sup­port­ers loudly agree.

“We know you got robbed!” a man shouts to Dixon, the first fe­male mayor of Bal­ti­more, at an elec­tion rally at Mon­dawmin Mall. “We know you won!” an­other yells.

Since April’s er­ror-filled Demo­cratic “None of the other can­di­dates have the ex­pe­ri­ence and are able to hit the ground and run,” said for­mer mayor Sheila Dixon, who lost in April’s Demo­cratic pri­mary. pri­mary in Bal­ti­more, many Dixon sup­port­ers have ques­tioned whether she or ri­val state Sen. Cather­ine E. Pugh won that closely con­tested elec­tion. No one has more ques­tions than Dixon her­self, who asks openly, “Did I re­ally lose?”

Cit­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties at some polling places, the Mary­land State Board of Elec­tions took the un­usual step of or­der­ing the city’s elec­tions re­sults de­cer­ti­fied. A state re­view found 1,650 bal­lots were im­prop­erly

han­dled. Eight data files went miss­ing for about a day, and some felons — el­i­gi­ble to vote un­der a new law — re­ceived a let­ter er­ro­neously telling them they might not be able to vote.

Though the elec­tion re­sults were even­tu­ally re­cer­ti­fied, Dixon be­lieves there’s enough doubt about who won to war­rant an­other try.

“Peo­ple are leery about even vot­ing in this up­com­ing gen­eral elec­tion,” she said.

Dixon, 62, en­er­gized what had been a rather low-key may­oral race — be­tween Pugh, Repub­li­can Alan Walden and Green Party can­di­date Joshua Har­ris — when she an­nounced her write-in cam­paign last week. A Demo­crat has been voted Bal­ti­more’s mayor in ev­ery elec­tion since 1963.

But even though Dixon gar­nered more than 46,000 votes dur­ing the pri­mary, sev­eral po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts see the write-in ef­fort as quixotic.

“Un­for­tu­nately for her, the chances are just not good, de­spite her in­cred­i­ble name recog­ni­tion,” said Roger E. Hart­ley, dean of the Univer­sity of Bal­ti­more’s Col­lege of Pub­lic Af­fairs. “We’re in a sit­u­a­tion where we are only three weeks away from the elec­tion, and this write-in cam­paign was launched quite late in the game.”

The pres­i­den­tial elec­tion will not do Dixon any fa­vors, Hart­ley said. Pugh, the Demo­cratic Party nom­i­nee, will likely ben­e­fit from pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton’s coat­tails, he said.

“Dixon is a very pop­u­lar pub­lic ser­vant, but it takes a lot to get some­one to write in a name in a down-bal­lot race,” Hart­ley says. “I think we’ll see a big vic­tory for Pugh.”

Dur­ing April’s pri­mary, Pugh’s 2,400vote vic­tory came via early vot­ing; Dixon nar­rowly won a ma­jor­ity of votes on Elec­tion Day. Some Dixon sup­port­ers ac­cuse the Pugh cam­paign of try­ing to steal the elec­tion dur­ing early vot­ing by promis­ing poor Bal­ti­more­ans jobs and food in ex­change for votes. Pugh de­nies the al­le­ga­tion.

“There’s a feel­ing that things went wrong, things went crazy, and the elec­tion re­sults were tainted,” said com­mu­nity ac­tivist Ralph Moore, who plans to vote for

Sheila Dixon

Age: 62 Job: Mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor, Mary­land Mi­nor­ity Con­trac­tors As­so­ci­a­tion Ex­pe­ri­ence: City Coun­cil mem­ber, 1987-1999; City Coun­cil pres­i­dent, 1999-2007; mayor of Bal­ti­more, 2007-2010 Ed­u­ca­tion: North­west­ern High; bach­e­lor’s de­gree, Tow­son Univer­sity; master’s de­gree, Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity Home: Hunt­ing Ridge Fam­ily: Di­vorced, mother of two Dixon. “Peo­ple hear that Sheila won on Elec­tion Day, and the sto­ries of shenani­gans linger — sto­ries of chicken boxes and prom­ises of jobs for votes.”

Vet­eran ed­u­ca­tor Linda Eber­hart, a Dixon sup­porter, watched of­fi­cials ev­ery day as they worked to re­cer­tify the pri­mary elec­tion. When the process was closed to the pub­lic, the Dixon team went to court to force it open.

Eber­hart said she “could not find the proof” that showed prob­lems dur­ing the pri­mary cost Dixon the win.

When Dixon an­nounced her write-in ef­fort, she drew dozens of re­porters and bois­ter­ous sup­port­ers to the Bal­ti­more City Board of Elec­tions head­quar­ters. Although some of Dixon’s pri­mary cam­paign team is sit­ting out the write-in ef­fort, her re­main­ing back­ers do not lack for pas­sion.

For in­stance, Christina Flow­ers, an ad­vo­cate for the home­less, has been lead­ing a “street team” round­ing up sup­port even late at night.

As Dixon cam­paign­ers passed out writein lit­er­a­ture to shop­pers at Mon­dawmin Mall this week, they made enough of a scene that se­cu­rity guards in­formed them such pol­i­tick­ing was against mall pol­icy.

As a guard es­corted them to the door, he qui­etly told Dixon he planned to write her in.

Sup­port­ers re­call Dixon’s term in of­fice fondly. They ar­gue city agen­cies back then re­sponded to res­i­dents’ complaints more quickly. And, if they didn’t, a res­i­dent could con­tact Dixon di­rectly to get the is­sue ad­dressed.

“Do you know what peo­ple say when you men­tion Sheila Dixon? ‘Oh well I called her about the rat prob­lem and it was fixed,’ ” said sup­porter Jas­mine L. Gib­son. “That’s pow­er­ful stuff there. It sends a chill down your spine when the power dis­tance be­tween you and the mayor is short, where you can reach and hold her ac­count­able for a ba­sic need like elim­i­nat­ing a rat prob­lem.

“I think that’s most im­por­tantly why Dixon needs to run, not just should run.”

Dixon’s pitch is sim­ple: She was an ef­fec­tive mayor who was forced from of­fice too soon by a state pros­e­cu­tion.

She points to how homi­cides and crime dropped un­der her watch while shift­ing from for­mer Mayor Martin O’Malley’s “zero tol­er­ance” polic­ing strat­egy. And she notes her cre­ation of an easy-to-use re­cy­cling pro­gram and the Charm City Cir­cu­la­tor bus sys­tem.

Dur­ing the pri­mary elec­tion, Dixon cam­paigned on tar­get­ing gun of­fend­ers to re­duce crime, in­sti­tut­ing a $15-an-hour min­i­mum wage in the city and speed­ing up de­mo­li­tion of va­cant prop­er­ties.

“None of the other can­di­dates have the ex­pe­ri­ence and are able to hit the ground and run,” Dixon said.

“I know what it takes — with man­age­ment and lead­er­ship — to move the city for­ward,” she said.

Dixon, who was mayor from 2007 to 2010, re­signed af­ter en­ter­ing an Al­ford plea to a per­jury charge. The plea al­lowed her to main­tain in­no­cence while ac­knowl­edg­ing pros­e­cu­tors had enough ev­i­dence to con­vict her of fail­ing to dis­close gifts from her then-boyfriend, Ron­ald H. Lip­scomb, a de­vel­oper who ben­e­fited from city tax breaks and con­tracts.

In a re­lated case, a Bal­ti­more jury found Dixon guilty of em­bez­zling $500 worth of re­tail gift cards in­tended for the needy.

Dixon has apol­o­gized but ar­gues her vi­o­la­tions were more about pa­per­work is­sues than a moral fail­ing.

Af­ter the crim­i­nal case, she re­mains pop­u­lar in Bal­ti­more. Dixon, a Hunt­ing Ridge res­i­dent, won 170 of 200 pre­domi- nantly African-Amer­i­can precincts in the pri­mary. She strug­gled in pre­dom­i­nantly white areas.

She ac­knowl­edges she faces a tough chal­lenge and not ev­ery­one be­lieves she can be suc­cess­ful. She said she’s heard from for­mer sup­port­ers and donors who are “scared” to pub­licly back her for fear Pugh will pun­ish them if she wins. Pugh has de­clined to dis­cuss Dixon’s en­trance into the race.

“I know this is an up­hill bat­tle, but I’m ready to take this chal­lenge,” Dixon said. “I’m get­ting a mixed re­cep­tion. ... Peo­ple sup­port me. They want to see me as mayor. There are some peo­ple who feel that this is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult.”

Moore said he will con­tinue to back her be­cause she has “the peo­ple’s touch.” He said many be­lieve Dixon rep­re­sents a big­ger change from cur­rent Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake than Pugh does.

“Peo­ple think Cathy is go­ing to be just like Stephanie,” Moore said. “For bet­ter or for worse, peo­ple think we need some­thing more and bet­ter.”

Even so, Moore said, he will not be “as ac­tive” for Dixon as he was dur­ing the pri­mary. “I’ve seen many a cam­paign where peo­ple tried to do a write-in. They sput­ter and they don’t get very far,” he said.

Af­ter Mon­dawmin Mall, Dixon headed to West Bal­ti­more’s Bethel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church, her home con­gre­ga­tion, for an event pro­mot­ing vot­ing.

Dixon sat in a pew near the mid­dle of the church. Be­hind her was a row of sup­port­ers dressed in red Dixon cam­paign T-shirts. Much of the church, how­ever, was empty.

The Rev. Pa­trick D. Clay­born lamented that there weren’t more peo­ple in at­ten­dance. How many peo­ple died so AfricanAmer­i­cans could have the right to vote? he asked. “There are peo­ple who want to take that right from us,” he said.

Dixon looked up and nod­ded. As the event went on, a cou­ple of peo­ple got up and left.

If her write-in cam­paign is not suc­cess­ful, Dixon said, maybe she will fi­nally com­mis­sion that por­trait for City Hall.

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