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City Hall awaits verdict on Dixon

Ask employees how life has been in City Hall for the past two weeks and most will say: "It's business as usual."

Officials have reviewed plans for a proposed slots complex, discussed how to keep the poor warm this winter and voted on new rules for crisis pregnancy centers. Gavels have tapped, staplers clicked and printers hummed.

Yet in one very significant way, the city's business has been far from routine. Mayor Sheila Dixon has spent the better part of the past two weeks in Baltimore City Circuit Court, defending herself from charges that she stole gift cards from the poor. Although the mayor has crammed her free time with public appearances, attended meetings during court recesses and sent a flurry of e-mails, her City Hall seat has been empty or filled by another at many events.

While some say the mayor's absence is no different from a vacation, it's impossible to ignore the ramifications of the jury's decision. If the mayor is convicted, state law requires her to step down.

"The business of the people is continuing, but I'm not going to pretend it's an atmosphere that's normal," said Councilman Robert W. Curran, who spent four hours in court Thursday in support of the mayor. "Everyone's doing their duties, but everyone's waiting to hear what the verdict is going to be."

After she leaves court, the mayor heads to City Hall to meet with staffers each afternoon.

Those meetings have had an "informal" feel that has put staffers at ease, said Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank. "She was very comfortable; she was joking. In doing all that, I think she made us feel more comfortable too."

Senior staff members say that they have been writing updates on key issues, as they do every week. Although rules prohibit Dixon from using her BlackBerry in the courtroom, she peppers her staff with e-mails in the morning and evening.

"I've been getting e-mails out the wazoo from her, maybe even more than usual," said Deputy Mayor Christopher Thomaskutty.

Dixon has maintained a rigorous schedule of public appearances since the trial began. Last Friday, after a long day of testimony, she traded her trademark stilettos for a pair of sneakers to play volleyball with kids at a recreation center.

On Tuesday night, the mayor spent two hours listening to Federal Hill residents talk about concerns about a bill to make it easier for restaurants to host live music. The council approved the measure last month, but the mayor has delayed signing the measure, saying that she wanted to hear more from community groups.

Earlier in the evening, Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake toured establishments owned by supporters of the live entertainment plan. Rawlings-Blake, who would become mayor if Dixon is forced to resign, declined through an aide to be interviewed about life in City Hall during the trial. She "remained focused" on her work, the aide said in a statement.

After court on Wednesday, the mayor met with police commanders, discussed budgets reports and introduced three spiritual leaders, including her pastor, the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, who spoke to a small crowd about faith.

"The media keeps asking me, 'How are you doing?' " Dixon said as she introduced Reid, who testified on her behalf earlier in the day. "It's the spirit of God within me that keeps me going."

Later that evening, the mayor unveiled a new pink flamingo at Hampden's Cafe Hon. She shimmied to "the flamingo dance" and spoke about the importance of small businesses.

"You don't stop being in a position because of some of the trials and tribulations you face," Dixon told a reporter. "Every night that I go out and meet the communities or engage in being the mayor of this city, I'm always excited."

Baltimore Sun reporter Frank D. Roylance contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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