Sheila Dixon elected Mayor of Baltimore


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.