Sheila Dixon is expected to announce write-in campaign for Baltimore mayor

Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, who narrowly lost the Democratic primary to reclaim her old job, is expected to launch a write-in campaign for mayor Tuesday — a move expected to shake up what's been a relatively quiet general election race.

For months, supporters have urged Dixon to submit the paperwork for a write-in candidacy. Dixon has scheduled a news conference for 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Baltimore Board of Elections headquarters.


"People have been encouraging me," Dixon said. "People are not happy about what happened in the primary election. They are disheartened about voting in the general election. We need people to come out to vote in November. This is a crucial election."

Dixon and supporters campaigned at a rainy festival in Pigtown on Saturday, encouraging voters to write in Dixon's name on Election Day. Several supporters said she plans to file paperwork to run Tuesday.


They cite irregularities during the primary election. State elections officials found that 1,650 ballots were handled improperly and eight data files went missing for about a day after the election.

State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh won the Democratic primary for mayor. Dixon supporters also accuse Pugh of promising people jobs and food in exchange for votes.

"I think she was robbed," said Doni Glover, a supporter who is promoting Dixon's write-in campaign on social media. "Sheila won Election Day. Election Day was the purer vote."

In a 13-candidate field, Dixon received votes from 46,301 Baltimoreans during April's primary election. She won 170 of 200 predominantly African-American precincts in Baltimore. Pugh received 48,709 votes, and finished either first or second in every precinct in the city, whether predominantly white or black.

Pugh has been running against Republican Alan Walden and Green Party candidate Joshua Harris.

During the primary campaign, dozens of candidates forums were held throughout Baltimore. Since the primary, there has been only one mayoral forum.

Write-in campaigns are difficult to win, but several candidates have come close in Baltimore.

In 2011, Democratic challenger Shannon Sneed came within 300 votes of unseating incumbent Councilman Warren Branch through a write-in campaign in East Baltimore. She garnered 1,489 votes to Branch's 1,741.


The 1970s saw at least two high-profile write-in campaigns.

The first black state's attorney in Baltimore, Milton B. Allen, lost the 1974 Democratic primary to challenger William A. Swisher in an upset that surprised many in the black community.

Allen launched a write-in campaign that garnered more than 50,000 votes, but lost by about 20,000 votes to Swisher.

The next year, Norman V.A. Reeves, a high school principal, received more than 6,000 write-in votes in a losing effort for a City Council seat.

Reeves lost in the primary after his opponents registered an unemployed truck driver whose last name was also Reeves to confuse voters. Norman Reeves won a council seat in the next election cycle.

"Write-in campaigns have been successful elsewhere," said Hassan Giordano, a Dixon supporter. "If anybody can do it here, it's Sheila."


Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said Dixon would be in a stronger position than a typical write-in candidate. She knows how to run a campaign, Kromer said, and has widespread name recognition in Baltimore.

But Kromer said Pugh will benefit from the increased turnout because of the presidential race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, and the advantage of having her name on the ballot. She said many Democrats in deep-blue Baltimore will likely vote for the entire slate of Democrats on the ballot.

Beyond that, she said, the voters already have spoken.

"What has fundamentally changed between April and now that makes us think the outcome would be any different?" Kromer asked. "In the absence of any scandal, I'm left with the question: What makes this feasible?"

After spending more than $1.2 million in the primary campaign, Dixon has less than $5,000 left in her campaign account less than a month before the Nov. 8 general election.

Pugh spent more than $2.4 million during the primary election. She has about $300,000 in her campaign account.


Pugh in recent months has formed a "unity ticket" with other Democrats and is using her campaign headquarters as an office for Democrats running for City Council. Pugh declined to comment about Dixon's write-in campaign.

Walden has more than $6,000 in campaign cash. Harris reported less than $1,000.

Walden said he saw Dixon and her supporters at the festival in Pigtown.

"They were out in force," the Republican said. "This didn't surprise me in the slightest. She has been chafing over the result of the primary ever since it occurred. She is convinced she won."

Walden said he believes Dixon's entry into the race will help him, because he thinks she will pull votes from Pugh.

"If Sheila joins the race and splits the Democratic vote, all bets are off," Walden said.


Harris said he hopes city voters look to new options with new ideas.

"If we're serious about transitioning Baltimore for the 21st century, we have to invest in new leadership and pass the torch," Harris said. "It's commendable that she wants to run a write-in campaign. It's an uphill battle. But I don't know if it's the most effective thing for the city right now."

In Baltimore, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans about 10-to-1. Democrats outnumber Greens about 300-to-1.

Dixon was mayor from 2007 to 2010. She resigned after entering an Alford plea to a charge of perjury. She thereby maintained her innocence while acknowledging prosecutors had enough evidence to convict her of failing to disclose gifts from her then-boyfriend, Ronald H. Lipscomb, a developer who benefited from city tax breaks and contracts.

In a related case, a city jury found Dixon guilty of embezzling $500 worth of retail gift cards intended for the needy. She was acquitted of other charges.

Dixon has apologized but has argued that her violations were more about paperwork issues than a moral failing.


During the primary election, Dixon argued that her successes in office should outshine her criminal case.

She pointed to her move to end former Mayor Martin O'Malley's practice of "zero tolerance" policing and shift to a targeted enforcement strategy. She hired a new police commissioner, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, and saw homicides drop to a 20-year low. She introduced an easy-to-use recycling program and created the Charm City Circulator bus system.

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With Dixon as mayor, the city sued banking giant Wells Fargo for allegedly singling out black residents for high-interest subprime mortgages, leading to foreclosures and vacant properties.

During the primary election, Dixon campaigned on targeting gun offenders to reduce crime, instituting a $15-an-hour minimum wage in the city and speeding up demolition of vacant properties.

Pugh has emphasized plans to assume mayoral control of the city's public schools, break up the city's housing operations into two agencies, and put civilians on the trial boards that decide disciplinary actions against police officers accused of misconduct.

Walden says Baltimore needs a mayor who emphasizes the positive things going on in the city. He proposes building a light rail line on North Avenue and expanding rail lines elsewhere.


Harris has proposed creating a public bank in Baltimore, attracting "clean energy" manufacturing jobs and refusing to grant corporate subsidies for businesses that don't benefit poor residents. He says he wants to "transform a blue-collar town to a green-collar town."