Dixon voices regret for city's 'ordeal'

Mayor Sheila Dixon said on Thursday that she felt deep regret for the "ordeal" her just-concluded criminal trial inflicted on Baltimore, but did not apologize for embezzling gift cards intended for the needy.

Reading a 64-second prepared statement, Dixon spoke publicly about the case for the first time since leaving Baltimore Circuit Court, where she was convicted this week of a misdemeanor related to spending gift cards she solicited from a developer. She took no questions, and did not indicate whether she intends to appeal her conviction or is considering stepping down, saying her lawyers advised her to "limit my comments.

"I am reflecting on the trial's outcome, talking with advisers, talking with God and reviewing my options," the mayor said, adding that the trial "engendered a range of strong feelings" among Baltimore residents. "I deeply regret that the citizens of Baltimore have had to go through this ordeal with me," she said.

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Some prominent leaders and crisis consultants have called on Dixon to issue a full apology for her transgression, but the mayor has not done so. Anthony McCarthy, the mayor's former spokesman, said Dixon's statement was too short and sterile and "goes nowhere near far enough."

McCarthy, a radio talk-show host, said he believes Dixon still enjoys widespread support, "but every day that she refuses to engage the public in a sincere and substantive way about this guilty verdict is another day that she loses the faith and confidence of the citizens who elected her."

Former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a one-time city councilman, said he was "baffled" by the remarks, adding, "I don't know if she helped herself."

Baltimoreans "want her to speak from the heart," said Mfume, often mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate. "In politics, silence is toxic. You've got to talk to the people you represent."

Dixon has begun to step up her public events since the verdict, but has repeatedly declined to answer questions about the conviction and its effect on Baltimore.

The trial, which began Nov. 9, consumed most of Dixon's business hours for nearly three weeks as she sat with her defense team inside a downtown courtroom. The jury found Dixon guilty of one misdemeanor embezzlement count and acquitted her of three other counts, including felony theft. Jurors could not reach an agreement on a fifth charge.

Dixon had said she was looking forward to the court proceedings, predicting "a lot of truth will come out" to counter allegations produced by a multi-year investigation into alleged City Hall corruption. But in the end, the mayor did not take the stand in her own defense.

The Democratic mayor, who is in her first term, can remain in office at least until she is sentenced on a date that has yet to be set by presiding Judge Dennis M. Sweeney. Sentencing could be months away, and possible penalties range from probation to five years in prison.

Dixon can also contest her removal from office by arguing that the crime for which she was convicted did not occur when she was mayor, but while she was City Council president in 2005.

Today, State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh must tell the judge whether he plans to seek a new trial on the count that hung up the jury.

Two jurors reported after the verdict that a majority of the panel wanted to convict her on that count, which involved gift cards purchased with city money for a 2007 holiday charity event.

Dixon's lead attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, said the defense team has been reviewing post-trial options. Appeals must be filed within 10 days of the verdict unless the judge grants an extension.

Meanwhile, top city officials and elected leaders have repeatedly said that the city's business is continuing unaffected, and there has been no vocal movement calling for Dixon's resignation.

Dixon insisted Thursday that "my administration and I will continue to do the people's business without interruption" - an echo of her comment outside the courthouse after the verdict that "the city will move forward."

Councilman Robert W. Curran, who represents East Baltimore, stood by the mayor as she read her statement, which was carried live by several television stations. Afterward, Curran explained his support for Dixon, saying, "She's my mayor until the day she's not my mayor."

If Dixon steps down or is forced out, City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake will become mayor. Rawlings-Blake has refused to discuss whether she is preparing for the possibility of assuming the office.

Although some on the City Council have questioned how effective Dixon can be with a guilty finding now clouding City Hall, none has called for her removal.

State Del. Curt S. Anderson, chairman of the 18-member Baltimore city House delegation in Annapolis, said no lawmakers have raised the prospect of Dixon stepping down.

"Certainly she's wounded, but it doesn't make any difference if citizens aren't harmed," he said, adding that city services have not been affected by Dixon's legal quandary.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who preceded Dixon as Baltimore mayor, has said nothing about the conviction, releasing only a short statement on the day of the verdict, calling it a "sad day" and a "difficult time."

Dixon kept an office schedule throughout Thursday, her spokesman, Scott Peterson, said. She was slated to attend an event Thursday morning honoring a fallen drug enforcement officer, but a conflict prevented her from making it, Peterson said, calling the cancellation "routine."

When the mayor appeared at the 38th annual lighting of the Washington Monument Thursday evening, she was met by strident boos from a crowd of thousands as she took the stage and said, "May we be filled with kindness." Others offered support, calling out, "Go, Sheila."

After the ceremony broke up, Belcamp resident Debby Gladden said she agreed with the negative eruption from the crowd.

"Look, this is Christmastime and the mayor was just convicted of taking from the needy. I didn't boo myself, but I can see why she got that reaction."

Later, Dixon appeared before a more receptive audience at a Harbor East gala celebrating 40 years since Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell and four close friends passed the bar. Attorney Billy Murphy introduced the mayor, who did not speak but drew resounding applause.

She is set to begin her day with an appearance on the Larry Young radio show to talk about the city's $130 million budget gap. Young has been an ardent supporter of the mayor.

Baltimore Sun reporters Peter Hermann and Jacques Kelly contributed to this article.