In the middle of his oyster and beer lunch inside Lexington Market, Melvin Burgess got word that Mayor Sheila Dixon had been found guilty of a single charge of embezzlement, then proceeded to debate the closest person with a dissenting opinion.
Burgess had never met Beverly Turner, but the topic made for good fodder, with Burgess calling the conviction no big deal and Turner showing no sympathy for the beleaguered Baltimore Democrat.
It was a conversation that took place throughout corners of the market and the city, between residents captivated by the more than two-week trial. Some declared that the mayor has embarrassed Baltimore and should resign from office. Others argued that Dixon was targeted because of her race and gender. Dixon is Baltimore's first black female mayor.
Burgess was one of the few people interviewed who wholeheartedly defended Dixon.
"You've got people in office doing worse than that," said Burgess, a 54-year-old Baltimore native. "She was targeted. They think we've got too many blacks in City Hall."
Turner countered by saying the jury took seven days to weigh evidence, and that it was obvious that Dixon "knew the gift cards weren't hers," adding that the mayor makes a decent living. "Why would she need gift cards? If my boyfriend gave me a $25 gift card, I wouldn't even accept it, because I'm worth more than $25. That woman was crooked, I don't care what nobody says."
The jury convicted Dixon on one count of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary after hearing evidence that she used or kept gift cards to stores such as Best Buy and Target.
In Federal Hill, Diana Lee was working on her laptop at Spoons Coffee Cafe when she heard about Dixon's conviction. Lee, 27, said she has followed the trial and called the decision fair.
"It's a sad statement for Baltimore that the leader of the city was found guilty of something like that," said Lee, who added that the mayor should step down. "The gift cards were meant for a certain group, and they were given to someone else, and I don't think any of this was taken too far."
Mark Showalter Sr., 56, said he wanted to wait until he heard the jury's verdict before forming his own opinion about what the mayor should do.
"With her high position, my thing is that I can't see why she had to steal those things," said Showalter, adding the mayor should probably move on. "I think she's a good person, but I don't know what she was thinking about."
Back at Lexington Market, Tracy Allen, 27, sitting on a stool at Faidley's, said the decision was no surprise to her. Allen said she's not defending Dixon's actions but questioned why the case was ever investigated at all.
"Was it wrong? Sure," said Allen, who said she did not vote for Dixon in the past election. "But I don't think it's any different than what they normally do in politics. I wanted to see how they were going to handle her being black and female, and I wasn't surprised. But she's doing good things for the city."
Told that seven black people made up the 12-person jury, Allen said, "Well, I think had it been anyone else, I don't think it would have made it to court. I don't think the jury was racially motivated, but it wouldn't have gone to trial had it not been a black woman."
Edward Payton, 46, engaged in a discussion with three others at the market and presented his side through a spiritual prism. The verdict, Payton said, echoed what his gut told him about the case.
Payton wasn't buying Dixon's defense that she believed the gift cards were gifts from a boyfriend, developer Ronald Lipscomb, and his listeners nodded.
He wants Dixon to resign.
"If her faith is strong, go ahead and let God punish you and move on," Payton said. "This is a woman who professes she has belief? C'mon now. We already have enough terrible things going on with us as black people. Sheila Dixon knew better, regardless of what she's professing."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun