At her news conference the day she announced her plan to resign, Mayor Sheila Dixon deflected questions about the charges of embezzlement and perjury that had ended her political career, saying she would still be constrained in what she said until after her plea deal was finalized on Feb. 4. After that, she promised, she would have a lot to say. That suggests two possibilities. The mayor could admit what she had done wrong, apologize and ask for the city's forgiveness before returning quietly to private life. Or she could maintain the defiance that has characterized her response to the charges so far, blaming everyone but herself for her downfall. The former might allow the city to put a dark chapter behind it, to remember the real good Ms. Dixon has done for Baltimore, and begin to overcome the anger fanned by the plea deal in which she walks away with an $83,000 a year pension for life. But don't bet on it.
In a memo released Tuesday, State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh called Ms. Dixon unrepentant, defiant and arrogant, even after a jury of her peers found her guilty. But we don't have to take his word for it. Two days after agreeing to the plea deal, which also requires her to donate $45,000 to charity and perform 500 hours of community service, Ms. Dixon spoke to a reporter from the Associated Press who, she later said, "caught me in a moment." She refused to admit any wrongdoing and sought to blame her situation on Ronald H. Lipscomb, the prominent city developer with whom she had a brief affair during which he spent thousands on gifts and travel with her. She said prosecutors had pressured Mr. Lipscomb into lying. She called him "a player" with "multiple girlfriends" whose gifts didn't amount to much.
That outburst might be attributed to a moment of high emotions, but it dovetails with an impromptu interview Ms. Dixon gave to The Sun's Annie Linskey just before she agreed to the plea deal. Then, the mayor still appeared to lay the blame on Mr. Lipscomb. "The bad choice I made was getting into a relationship with Ron Lipscomb," she said. That reflects both a massive misreading of what actually led to her conviction -- her use of gift cards donated by another developer, Patrick Turner, on gifts for her family rather than the city's poor children -- but also a curious denial of her own exercise of free will. Mr. Lipscomb did not force her to take the gifts, or to fail to report them on her ethics forms. And she, not Mr. Lipscomb, was the one who asked for the gift cards and spent them.
The notion that a woman who has clawed her way to the pinnacle of power in Baltimore through sheer personal determination was the pawn of a caddish boyfriend is laughable. If that's what she means by telling all, let's skip it.
If, instead, Ms. Dixon takes the occasion to admit her guilt and repent, tomorrow's exchange of power could be an occasion to recall the substantial good she did in her brief but effective tenure as mayor. Six months into her term, Ms. Dixon faced a massive spike in crime. She replaced her police commissioner, and ever since, the city has been recording historic lows in homicides, shootings and other crimes of violence. She focused her energies on creating a greener Baltimore and instituted a strikingly successful move to single-stream, once a week recycling and once a week trash collection. Not only has recycling soared, but the city is actually saving money. Ms. Dixon worked to improve public health, both by helping City Councilman Robert W. Curran to push through an indoor smoking ban that led to a state-wide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants and through her personal cheerleading for residents to get fitter. Perhaps most memorable has been Ms. Dixon's focus on ending homelessness in Baltimore. It's an issue with virtually no political benefit and substantial risks from neighborhoods angered at the presence of shelters in their midst. That showed real compassion and character.
No list of accomplishments would have been enough to excuse corruption by the city's most powerful elected official. But Ms. Dixon's achievements could be enough for Baltimore to see her downfall as a tragedy rather than a disgrace -- but only if she asks for forgiveness.