January 7, 2010
And there you are, my fellow citizens - resignation by the mayor of Baltimore, and without a formal apology. But you can't always get what you want. Sheila Dixon was not about to say she was sorry for anything. If you were thinking that might happen, you need to see a doctor; your expectations are too high and you probably need to go on a reduced-Pollyanna diet.
Wednesday, the mayor of Baltimore got a very good deal. She entered an Alford plea to a perjury charge stemming from lavish gifts from Ronald Lipscomb, her former boyfriend and a developer whose company got tax breaks from the city. I love the Alford plea. It's a way of saying you're not a criminal, but the state could probably get a jury to convict you. I used to refer to it as the Alford E. Neuman plea: "What, me guilty?"
The deal is a perfect plea for Sheila Dixon in so many ways - a way of admitting guilt without admitting guilt and, most importantly, a way of leaving open the possibility of running for office in a few years. And that, my fellow citizens, might have been as big a consideration as preserving her pension in Dixon's decision to go along with this deal.
There are a lot of people in this city who think the charges against Dixon were petty; they are willing to forgive her and even give her another chance some day. With some savvy political advice, Dixon could win an election here again. It's happened before.
But the first act in the road back would have been an apology, something like, "I want all the citizens of Baltimore to know how sincerely sorry I am for violating my public trust, and for putting the city that I love through this humiliating ordeal. I'm sorry for all the bad judgment I've shown. I have learned my lesson and, in time, I believe again I will earn your trust."
Didn't happen, and don't hold your breath.
Wednesday, in this newspaper, Dixon expressed regret about taking up with Lipscomb a few years ago.
But she didn't say she was sorry for shaking down another Baltimore contractor for gift cards for needy children then using them to buy stuff for herself.
She's never said she was sorry about keeping Toys "R" Us gift cards from the Holly Trolley tour.
She's never said she was sorry about steering a $600,000 City Hall computer contract to her former campaign manager in 2006.
Never said she was sorry about pressing Comcast to dish some work to a company that employed her sister the same year.
Never said she was sorry for taking a pay raise in the midst of a recession.
Google "Dixon, Sheila" and "sorry," and you won't come up with much.
In court Wednesday afternoon, the mayor became the first person in my 33 years of watching Maryland courts to ever blurt out disagreement during a reading of statement of facts.
Most defendants who cop a plea sit silently while the prosecutor drones on with the statement, all the facts having been reviewed and affirmed in advance by both sides. Either the mayor had not read the statement of facts or she didn't have her stylish glasses at the time because, when she heard some of the sleazy stuff about Lipscomb and checks being cashed, she could not contain herself.
"Your honor, those things are not true! They are wrong!" she said.
I used to believe that Sheila Dixon could have raised some sympathy and reasonable doubt among the Facebook jurors during her trial by saying there was a simple misunderstanding about the gift cards. I used to think that, with just a little candor and contrition, the mayor of Baltimore might have convinced her peers that, hey, everyone makes mistakes.
But, after catching that little outburst in court Wednesday, I nod to the numerous defense attorneys who told me that Dixon would have made matters worse by getting on the witness stand.
Given ample time to utter an apology for her lapses in wise judgment and honesty, Sheila Dixon has refrained, and she stayed the course Wednesday evening at City Hall. After the mayor struggled through a prepared statement tendering her resignation, expressing "sadness and regret" at having to step down, a reporter asked her if she owed the citizens of Baltimore an apology. "What I owe," she answered, "is to move on and bring closure to this."
That's as good as it gets, my fellow citizens - no apology, but a resignation and an end to our long local nightmare.
Let us rejoice and be glad.
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