Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and her predecessor Sheila Dixon have shared a lifetime of politics together. Dixon became the first African-American woman elected City Council president and then mayor. Rawlings-Blake followed in her footsteps.
For them, the political has always been personal.
And on Monday it got really personal.
The former friends and political allies took turns expressing disappointment in each other during separate interviews. The comments shed new light on the relationship between two of Baltimore's most prominent political figures — and could provide a preview to a possible grudge match between the two women in a 2015 mayoral election.
First up was incumbent Rawlings-Blake, who ascended to the mayor's office 18 months ago after Dixon stepped down under a plea to settle corruption and perjury charges involving stolen gift cards.
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun's editorial board, Rawlings-Blake took exception to Dixon's suggestion that she doesn't care about people, saying, "you know, I have feelings, too."
"I cared about her," Rawlings-Blake said. "And she disappointed me."
Dixon fired back at Rawlings-Blake after being read a transcript of the mayor's comments. "She's an egotistic somebody who's very self-centered and very selfish," Dixon said. "She doesn't care about the people of Baltimore. She cares about herself."
The two women were once close allies. Four years ago, they traded endorsements and campaigned together, Dixon for mayor and Rawlings-Blake for City Council president. Dixon shared campaign cash and workers with Rawlings-Blake.
That was then. Rawlings-Blake says she can't remember the last time they spoke. Lately, Dixon has been advising several Democrats vying against Rawlings-Blake in the Sept. 13 primary election.
Meanwhile, Dixon is considering another run for mayor in four years. (She is barred from running for office this year — but not future years — as part of the plea deal.) According to The Sun Poll conducted last week, she might have a difficult time rebuilding a base. The poll found that 54 percent of likely Democratic voters would not consider supporting her in 2015.
But Dixon said Monday that she isn't deterred by those results. "It wasn't like it was 70 percent said no and 20 percent said yes," she said, adding: "Believe me, I run into people every day who stop me and say, if I ran, they would support me."
Rawlings-Blake described Dixon's legacy as "complicated" at Monday's editorial board meeting — part of a series of discussions with mayoral candidates. She said she's known Dixon since she was a child and recalled that her father, the late state Del. Howard P. Rawlings, who represented the city in the General Assembly, spurred Dixon's interest in seeking elective office.
The mayor pointed out that, apart from ethics reform, she hasn't charted a "vast divergence" from Dixon's City Hall policies. "She did a lot of things that I think worked," Rawlings-Blake said.
Then, without prodding, the mayor brought up her chilly relations with Dixon: "Where our relationship stands today is disappointing, I would say."
She made a reference to Dixon's swipe, in an interview with The Sun in July, that she "doesn't come off as caring."
"To have someone whose work and whose compassion I've respected for so long freely say that she feels that I don't care about people — you know, I'm a human being," Rawlings-Blake said. "Sometimes people think that people in my position are machines. Or maybe it's my personality that gives people the impression that I'm more mechanical than others. But you know, I have feelings, too."
"I cared about her," she added. "And she disappointed me. I feel disappointed for my father's legacy and the people of Baltimore."
Dixon was having none of it. "Stephanie is a great actress," she said, before rattling off a series of critical comments. "She was not very supportive of my administration in many areas," Dixon said.
Dixon also raised two perceived slights since she left office. One came when Rawlings-Blake failed to acknowledge her at last October's groundbreaking for the redevelopment of the Uplands in Southwest Baltimore. Dixon attended as a private citizen. More recently, Dixon wasn't invited to the opening of the city's new housing and resource center for homeless on the Fallsway.
"Those things might be small," Dixon said, "but those things were significant because those were part of our legacy."
Also, she said, Rawlings-Blake's father wasn't the only person who inspired her to run for office. So did Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman who once led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"I guess we're both disappointed in each other," Dixon said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun