Dixon's pull in session critical
Mayor's indictment could weaken her clout with Annapolis lawmakers
Delegates have criticized Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon (center), saying she has not communicated well with them. Dixon said she thinks she has done a good job. "They also need to take the initiative and reach out," she said. (Baltimore Sun photo by Glenn Fawcett / February 6, 2009)
Dels. Nathaniel T. Oaks and Ann Marie Doory said they couldn't believe the mayor hadn't shared a traffic study with them. Del. Frank M. Conaway Jr. said he was "irritated with the political rhetoric we're hearing."
Dixon raised her voice to match the legislators', trying to continue her presentation at a recent city delegation meeting in Annapolis. But a few moments later, the lawmakers bristled again as Dixon told them about plans to meet with a casino developer. Several delegates wondered aloud if they would be invited. An exasperated Oaks blurted out: "Is there anyone you're talking to?"
At a time when the city is vying for state dollars in a tough economy, Dixon, a Democrat in her third year as mayor, can ill afford strained relationships with policymakers in Annapolis. This year, there's a new potential complication: Dixon was charged last month with 12 counts of felony theft, fraud, perjury and misconduct in office. She has said she is innocent and vowed not to let the case interrupt the city's business.
This time of year, much of the city's business takes place in the state capital. Decisions by lawmakers will determine how much money Baltimore gets for schools, roads and social services for inmates and drug offenders. The city's mayor needs to be a part of the discussion.
On the surface, Dixon's indictment has had little impact on her Annapolis routine.
Though she skipped the ceremonial first day of the General Assembly less than a week after charges were filed, she has met with lawmakers most Monday evenings since then, continuing a tradition.
On several recent trips to the state capital, Dixon was greeted warmly by legislators, who smiled and nodded at "Madame Mayor."
"I think the world of her," said Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton, a Charles County Democrat and Senate Finance Committee chairman, who greeted Dixon with a kiss before a private meeting one Monday evening. "She is a very decent and delightful woman. My attitude toward her will remain unchanged, unless something emerges to convince me otherwise."
But others, including several who watched the mayor's speech to the city delegation earlier this month, say they want Dixon to be more vocal and cooperative - especially when Baltimore could stand to lose $23 million in education money and other funding as the state snips away at its projected $2 billion deficit.
Del. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat who ran against Dixon in the last mayoral primary election, said Dixon, a former city schoolteacher, was "noticeably absent when the issue came up about education cuts." Comparing Dixon to her predecessor, Gov. Martin O'Malley, Carter said, "His style was much more aggressive with his interaction with us. He was not just present at meetings and hearings, but he stuck around afterward to talk to us."
Dixon said she was "very surprised" that some lawmakers thought she could be a better communicator. "I think we do a good job," she said. "They also need to take the initiative and reach out."
Most lawmakers say they will reserve judgment until Dixon has had her day in court, but there is an undercurrent of worry about how the mayor's legal predicament will play out during the session. Several city delegates said lawmakers from Republican-leaning rural areas who view Baltimore as a money pit for state resources might seize upon the issue.
Oaks, who said he supports Dixon, predicted it would lead to "greater scrutiny of all things Baltimore."
"Baltimore is a whipping post," he said, "and people here will use anything as a whip."
Del. Curtis S. Anderson, chairman of the city delegation and a Democrat, said that even minor legal requests, such as her proposal to change state law to allow the police commissioner to be fired without cause, could be contentious.
"Some might think it's not the best time to try to give her more power," he said. "The mayor is a notable figure right now, and I'm sure there are some who will try to take advantage of that."
Legislative leaders say they expect her indictment to have no impact on the state's aid to the city.
"I would hope that everyone would respond to her just as they would any other year," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat. "The city needs and deserves the best representation it can get."