On the eve of a court hearing that might represent her best chance of remaining in office, a reflective Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon said the prospect of stepping down is "not the best feeling" and that she regrets an affair with a developer that she believes led to her legal troubles.
Dixon gave a lengthy, if impromptu, interview Monday evening to The Baltimore Sun, making her first extended public remarks about her trial since a jury convicted her last month of embezzling gift cards intended for the needy. She was alternately rueful and pensive as she spoke about her tenure as a public servant but declined to answer specific questions about the conviction or a coming second trial on perjury charges.
"The bad choice I made was getting in a relationship with Ron Lipscomb," said Dixon, who dated Lipscomb while she was president of the City Council and voted on a spending panel to award tax breaks to his projects.
"If he had testified," she said, "I would have testified."
At a hearing today, Dixon's attorneys will argue that the mayor deserves a new trial because of juror misconduct, coercive instructions from the trial judge and confusion they believe resulted from jurors' being instructed to ignore large chunks of testimony about Lipscomb.
If those arguments fail, Dixon is expected to be sentenced Jan. 21; the state constitution calls for convicted officials to be removed from office after sentencing, though some additional legal maneuvers might remain. Some city leaders have said privately that they will press the mayor to begin a formal transition of power to her successor, City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, if the new trial is not granted. The judge could rule as early as today.
As the prospect of being forced from office draws closer, Dixon said she thinks "about it more now than before.
"It is not the best feeling," she said. "It is a little disappointing." The mayor stands to lose her roughly $83,000-a-year city pension.
Dixon called a Sun reporter Monday evening, concerned about a planned article about recent events on her public schedule the she's skipped. She ended up speaking for about an hour, in general terms about the trial but more extensively about her legacy and how it might be misconstrued because of her legal problems. For the first time, Dixon publicly addressed the issues that initially prompted state prosecutors to investigate her.
At a February 2006 City Council hearing, she had pressed Comcast to hire more minority-owned firms, naming among others Utech, a company for which her sister was working at the time. Dixon said she had no idea that her sister was working at Utech, because she knew the company by another name, Union Technologies. "It was an oversight that I didn't register this company as the one she worked for," Dixon said.
In March 2006, The Sun reported that Dixon steered $600,000 of City Hall computer work to her former campaign chairman, Dale G. Clark, much of it without a contract. She disputed the reports, saying she inherited the problem of how to pay for computer network improvements, something that had not been handled by the council president's office.
Ultimately, she said, she regrets being involved. "We should have said we are not taking over the computer contract until it was straightened out," she said.
Dixon expressed irritation at what she views as a media-driven and inaccurate narrative of her tenure in office.
"That I'm a corrupt human being, because I'm not," she said. "That I use my office for my personal gain, and I don't. That I'm a person that used these positions for myself, and I don't."
Dixon said she hasn't focused as much on the political aspects of her job.
"Everybody - most people, except me - have advisers," Dixon said. "That is the problem I have. I look at it as being a public servant rather than a political office. I don't have those. I didn't have them."
She acknowledged that her legal troubles might have contributed to problems attracting qualified people to serve in key roles; there are openings for the top jobs at the Health Department, Recreation and Parks, and the Aging Commission. "We have challenges with trying to replace some folks," she said.