Sheila Dixon elected Mayor of Baltimore

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Hat Tip: Associated Press, WBAL

BALTIMORE — Sheila Dixon won an extended stay as mayor of Baltimore, assuring herself of becoming the first black woman elected to the office with a resounding victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Dixon, 53, took over as mayor in January for Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. Baltimore, which is 65 percent black, has elected one black mayor, Kurt L. Schmoke, who served from 1987 to 1999. Dixon is the first woman to hold the office.”I stand humbled in front of every Baltimorean tonight, regardless of what button you pushed, uptown or downtown, have lots of money or none,” Dixon said in a speech at her victory party. “I am your humble servant who will work tirelessly on your behalf.”

With 60 percent of the city’s precincts reporting, Dixon had 26,307 votes, or 61 percent, compared with 11,022 votes, or 26 percent, for City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr.

Dixon will face little-known Republican Elbert R. Henderson in the Nov. 6 general election, but that contest is considered a formality since 79 percent of the city’s registered voters are Democrats.

Primary turnout was light, with 28 percent of eligible voters casting ballots, according to city elections officials.

While Dixon’s term as City Council president was marred by questions about her ethics, she has won praise during her seven months as mayor for her decisive leadership amid trying circumstances, including an increase in homicides and the death of a city fire recruit during a training exercise.

Matthew Crenson, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said Dixon, who once waved her shoe in the air during a racially charged City Council debate over redistricting, has mellowed considerably – and broadened her appeal.

“She demonstrated that while she may not have had any imaginative initiatives, she was able to handle problems that were served up to her, and without waving her shoe,” Crenson said.

Mitchell, 39, hammered the mayor over her crime-fighting strategies and perceived ethical lapses, but the longtime councilman and scion of one of the city’s most famous political families never gained traction with voters.

“He just never lit a fire,” said Donald F. Norris, professor and chair of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Some voters said Tuesday they were concerned about Dixon’s ethics. Her term as City Council president was marred by questions about whether she improperly steered taxpayer money toward her sister, Janice, and a close friend, Dale G. Clark. Janice Dixon was also on the mayor’s campaign payroll.

“I just don’t trust her,” said Mikal McCruden, 34, who voted for Mitchell.

But Dixon’s supporters praised her experience and tenacity.

“She’s down in the trenches,” Northeast Baltimore business owner Jerry Greeff said. “I don’t think she’s an ivory tower mayor. I think she’s a tough woman.”

Dixon, a native of the city who lives in West Baltimore, is a former kindergarten teacher and international trade specialist. She was elected to the City Council in 1987 and won two citywide races for City Council president.

Her two marriages ended in divorce, and she has two children — an 18-year-old daughter, Jasmine, and a 12-year-old son, Joshua. She is a member of Bethel AME Church, and she’s known for her devotion to physical fitness, holding a black belt in karate.

She may be best known outside the city as the aunt of professional basketball player Juan Dixon, whom she helped raise after his parents died.

She has run on a pledge to continue the progress the city enjoyed under O’Malley – including a decline in violent crime and a downtown development boom.

But at the same time, she was not afraid to distance herself from the former mayor – particularly on crime. She ended his zero-tolerance policing strategy, in part out of concern that too many questionable arrests had badly damaged the relationship between police officers and the communities they serve.

When she felt Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm wasn’t on board with her changes, she asked for and received his resignation, replacing him with his top deputy on an interim basis.

O’Malley pledged to reduce homicides to 175 a year, but never came close. Dixon, meanwhile, has set no statistical goals and does not expect her strategies to pay immediate dividends.

“We are seeing, slowly but surely, some progress,” Dixon told a small gathering of voters the night before the primary.

Sheila Dixon removes Baltimore Police Chief

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Bowing to the political and empirical reality that the time had come to install new leadership at the helm of the beleaguered Baltimore Police Department, Mayor Sheila Dixon asked for the resignation of Baltimore Police Chief Leonard Hamm and pledged a national search for his replacement.   The latest citywide poll expressed no confidence in the past leadership of the Baltimore Police Department and Mayoral opponents Jill Carter and Keiffer Mitchell, have both called for substantial changes in the direction and leadership of the Department. 

Delegate Carter has been explicit, “In the past five years our city has moved from officers on the streets to watching crime take place through a closed-circuit television system. Drive through some of the city’s worst neighborhoods and the only police presence you will see is a flashing blue light attached [to] a police camera mounted on a light pole. The net result has been a sky rocketing murder rate and crime statistics that lead the state.”

Councilman Mitchell has been equally blunt, “In the last six months, 146 people have been murdered in our city and our citizens have lost faith in the interim-Mayor’s ability to address this crisis. As we slip back to the days of 300 murders per year, residents have been waiting to see her offer the leadership needed to stop this wave of violence. Instead, the interim-Mayor has only offered slogans, PR stunts, and failed plans. While the voters will have a chance to hold her accountable in September, we cannot wait that long to address this crisis.”

“So, the time has come for a change of leadership at the police department. Today, I am calling for Police Commissioner Hamm to step down.”

With the resignation of Hamm, the commencement of a national chief search, and a refocusing of police priorities, Mayor Dixon has stepped up to the plate and offered more than “slogans, PR stunts, or failed plans.”   She has offered the leadership Baltimoreans have been asking for and she has acknowledged their legitimate concerns by acting decisively.  Her recent actions confirmed my initial impression that the Mayor has the experience, vision, and integrity to lead, and reinforced my opinion that Baltimore needs to continue giving Sheila Dixon a chance to make the city the best it can be-they won’t be disappointed.    

Election Update

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Latina State Senator Jenny Oropeza and African American Assemblywoman Laura Richardson and Valerie McDonald, daughter of the late Juanita Millender McDonald square off Tuesday in the special election to replace the Congresswoman. If anyone receives 50% of the vote, she wins the seat outright, otherwise, the top vote getter in each parties primary vies for the seat in July. The latest fundraising numbers show a tight money chase between Oropeza and Richardson with Valerie McDonald bringing up the rear. In the endorsement game, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not weighed in as expected but the California Democratic Party has, endorsing Oropeza. Moreover, the bulk of organized labor has endorsed Richardson.

Serious competition in the form of Long Beach Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske was averted when she abruptly pulled out of the race after her constituents implored her to stay on the Council. That leaves the white vote largely up for grabs and it leans heavily toward Oropeza. Latino voters are united in support of Oropeza while African American voters, who vote in larger numbers than Latinos, are split between McDonald and Richardson, with the lion’s share going to Richardson because of her broader political support despite substantial Congressional Black Caucus support for McDonald’s candidacy.

The California Legislative Black Caucus is united behind Richardson and the political leadership of heavily African American enclaves in the district: Compton and Carson are almost all united for Richardson. Other African American candidates in this race are just vanity candidates and unlikely to garner significant support. If the Congressional Black Caucus retains this seat, it will be in spite of their divided efforts, not because it did anything to support the winner.

In other news, Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings has drawn a challenger in the form of Belle Glades, Florida City Commissioner Ray Torres Sanchez. Sanchez, a funeral director, will challenge Hastings in the Democratic primary where he presumably will be crushed.

Two Maryland races are heating up significantly. The race for Maryland’s 4th Congressional district between Corporate Shill Al Wynn and Donna Edwards is moving along swimingly with both sides trading pointed barbs and rhetoric. Al Wynn is now an unabashed war critic after having voted against war funding for the first time this month. His about face is striking given the cozy corporate collusion and whoring he had no problem with before he was almost defeated by Donna last September.

Lastly, the first television ad was run in the race for Baltimore Mayor as Incumbent Mayor Sheila Dixon announced the kick-off of her campaign for Mayor and her push to take Baltimore to the next level. With a campaign account upwards of $ 1 million and the most professional city administration in history, she is the odds on favorite in this contest for a full four year term as Mayor. Accomplished and detail oriented, Mrs. Dixon has made her presence felt in Baltimore and is coming to grips with its intractable budgetary and crime problems.

 

 

Sheila Dixon for Mayor: give a sistah a chance

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I must admit that  I do have a thing for female politicians.  The ones I have personally encountered along my life’s journey have been smart, principled, disciplined, and full of integrity.  Sheila Dixon, the more research I do, is shaping up in my mind to be the same kind of savvy and attractive candidate that I love to support. 

Mayor Dixon has put together an outstanding Administrative team to run the city in the interim period before this year’s Mayoral election.  Her chief of Staff, Deputy Mayor’s and Department heads are all outstanding and well credentialed.  Experience, especially Ms. Dixon’s counts for something and will stand the city in good stead going forward.  Her opponents all have the burden of proving that her stewardship lacks vision, competence, and integrity.  They will all have a hard time proving that because all of those adjectives are synonymous with Sheila Dixon’s twenty-year track record. 

Sistah Dixon has been in the trenches for a long time and cut her teeth early on in Kweisi Mfume’s campaigns in Baltimore.  There is no better credential or proof of sterling character or principled advocacy than that.  In this Skeptical Brotha’s eyes, people like Sheila and Kweisi keep me from completely giving up on the political thang.

That being said, the Mayor faces more than one serious opponent in her quest for a term in her own right.  Keiffer Mitchell, Jr. brings a fresh, youthful perspective and Adrian Fenty like air to this campaign and is very much a young man in a hurry.  Moreover, like Sheila Dixon, he is a serious, disciplined, and knowledgeable public servant.  A workhorse, not a showhorse, Mitchell demonstated his skills in sheparding through a $42 million dollar bailout of Baltimore’s public school system.

He’s got some serious firepower lined up to craft his media message and perform his polling.  His effort will be serious and well funded.   His message whatever it is, must make a persuasive case why Sheila Dixon shouldn’t be given a chance to run the city. 

Delegate Jill Carter is also a serious candidate and smart public servant that will also have to raise enough cash to craft a similarly persuasive message.  He past efforts in examining police practices and highlighting serious defiencies in the O’Malley Administration is her the strongest credential.  Mayor Dixon would do well to address these substantive concerns in depth and immediately. 

Last, but not least, is Comptroller Joan Pratt.  Ms. Pratt is a very serious contender having held citywide office longer than Sheila Dixon.  Her opposition to the city’s bailout of Baltimore schools raised some vaild financial concerns that need to be addressed. However, with the defeat of Andrey Bundley and the re-election of O’Malley as Mayor in 2003-2004 and his allies, I think there is a consensus that O’Malley’s stewardship was acceptable.  Ms. Dixon, as an ally of O’Malley, still is in the drivers seat for this race.   Pratt will have to a make the case that she, as an O’Malley critic can lead the city in a more progressive direction. 

Sheila Dixon has shown the ability to win against female opposition before in defeating Councilwoman Pugh and a former council president to be re-elected Council President.  She has already signaled that her Administration will attempt to build on the successess of her predecessor and that has been proven to be a sucessful formula in the past, and probably will be again.   The chances of replicating the defeats of former Council Presidents Clarence Burns, Lawrence Bell, and Mary Pat Clarke is not as high for Sheila Dixon as some have surmised. 

My opinion is as clear as the title of this post, I think Baltimoreans should give a sistah a chance and elect her to a term in her own right.  Her years of service and her careful selection of stellar senior city executives to lead the city indicate that the sistah has earned the job.

Sheila Dixon Inaugurated as Mayor of Baltimore

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After the resignation of Martin O’Malley to assume the office of Governor of Maryland, Sheila Dixon, President of the Baltimore City Council, assumed the office of Mayor according to statute.  She becomes Baltimore’s first female Mayor. In her Inaugural Address, Mayor Dixon alluded to the contracting scandal investigation surrounding her and defined herself to the people of Baltimore,  “… after nearly 20 years of public service, with some successes and some failures, I want you to know that I am much more than a newspaper headline or a sound bite on the evening news.

I am a former teacher. I am former international trade specialist. I am a proud parent. I am a working mother. I am an advocate for families and neighborhoods. I am a dedicated public servant. I will be a mayor who solves problems. A mayor you can believe in. A mayor you can be proud of.”

She begins her tenure as Mayor with 9 months in which to make a definitive mark before she faces the electorate for a term in her own right.  She faces formidible rivals in Comptroller Joan Pratt, Delegate Jill Carter, Baltimore Clerk Frank Conaway, Sr. and Mitchell dynasty scion, Concilman Keiffer Mitchell, Jr.  Kweisi Mfume’s name has been bandied about, but having worked for his Council Campaigns and his campaign for Congress twenty years ago, he will not run against her.  He owes her too much.

I believe that she will ultimately dodge the ethical bullet of the contracting investigation, but will continue to take a hit politically as a result of the unfavorable scrutiny.  The last Council President in her position failed to gain the confidence of the electorate and it ushered in the election of Martin O’Malley.  This time will be different.  She has picked a solid group of Department heads to help her guide the city in the interim.  At this stage of the game, I believe that she can win election in her own right, but time will tell.