Dixon takes time to contemplate

The guest of honor moved through the restaurant in a black suit and pumps, surrounded by colleagues, well-wishers and staff members angling for a moment with the boss.

Those moments come to an end at noon today, when Mayor Sheila Dixon becomes simply Sheila Dixon.

Forced to resign as part of a plea deal to settle a criminal case, Dixon began her last full day as mayor Wednesday at a meeting of the city's spending board and wound it down at a happy-hour party at Milan, a new restaurant in Little Italy.

In between, there was an office to pack up after 22 years at City Hall that was now "just kinda blank," a subdued and contemplative Dixon said.

It was a day of letting go as well for those who have worked with her.

"It's hitting me now that she's not going to be there tomorrow," said Hugo S. Lam, the city's former park preservation director. Working for Dixon "was like feeding off a master energy that kept pushing you to do more and better," he said.

The long day began with a meeting of the city's Board of Estimates, Dixon's final public appearance in her capacity as mayor. As the meeting drew to a close, Dixon read from a prepared statement, saying she left office with "full optimism" for the city's future and that she was "blessed to serve a city that I called home my entire life."

Dixon ticked through her administration's accomplishments, and said Gov. Martin O'Malley had recently told her in a private conversation that she had "done more with less" than he had as mayor.

Her successor, City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who will be sworn in at a small ceremony at 12:05 today, sat next to Dixon but did not address any remarks to the departing mayor.

Dixon is scheduled to appear before Judge Dennis M. Sweeney for a sentencing hearing this morning. Last month, she pleaded guilty to perjury after a jury had convicted her of embezzlement, and she agreed to resign.

But Wednesday, the talk was not of her legal troubles but of happier associations, such as her trademark bike rides through the city.

In an interview, Dixon said she was planning to "take a little breather, reflect" and "just really come to peace with myself."

But not for too long.

"I'm not a person that can sit down for a long period of time," she said, adding that she has been approached with several job offers in the private sector. She is also busy planning for the 500 hours of community service required as part of her plea deal, as well as arranging speaking engagements, she said.

When asked about accusations that she had not shown remorse, Dixon said: "I feel that many things will come out in the future. My story will be told."

She said she would miss the chance to travel the city meeting residents, and also miss being in City Hall, where she has had an office since being elected to City Council in 1987.

Rawlings-Blake's staff, which currently has its headquarters on the fourth floor of City Hall, will begin moving down to the mayor's suite this afternoon, spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said.

Employees carted cardboard boxes through the hallways yesterday. A maintenance worker bustled into the mayor's suite carrying a large golden key emblazoned with the words "Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake."

The Rawlings-Blake team has announced that Sophie Dagenais, an attorney and developer, will become the incoming mayor's chief of staff. Two deputy mayors, Andrew B. Frank and Christopher Thomaskutty, will remain in their current positions. The fate of the third deputy mayor, Salima Marriott, has not been announced.

At Milan, Dixon wove through the crowd chatting and laughing.

In one form or another, Dixon will stay involved in city life and government, predicted David Scott, the public works director. "She's going to be calling us up about every pothole, every road repair," he said. "She still has all of our numbers."

Carl Stokes, who served on the City Council with Dixon for several years, said she has gotten "a little more mellow" during her years in office. "She was a tough lady when she came into the council."

He recalled the time she brandished a shoe during a racially charged council meeting about redistricting, and said, "The shoe is on the other foot now."

The comment was intended as a jibe not at white council members but at the politically manipulative "old guard," he said.

As he spoke, chefs in the back of the restaurant were preparing to bring out a three-tiered pink and green cake. The words "Cleaner, Greener Baltimore" were written in frosting on the side. On top sat a pink marzipan shoe, adorned with a bow and rhinestone.