Dixon helps felon looking for property


Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon has been helping a felon and strip club owner as he negotiates with city officials seeking to condemn his property for a development project.

Kenneth "Kenny Bird" Jackson, who donated $2,500 to Dixon's campaign last year, owns the El Dorado club building at 322 W. Baltimore St. The city wants to turn it into loft apartments as part of a $350 million effort to rebuild the west side of downtown.

Dixon, a three-term West Baltimore city councilwoman elected president in November, said she has met three or four times with Jackson and city development officials as he negotiates for a new home for the club - perhaps in a city-owned building at 503 E. Baltimore St. near police headquarters.

Dixon said she has met with other threatened area merchants at least as often as Jackson, who has been convicted of manslaughter, gun charges and resisting arrest.

Dixon added that Jackson's campaign contribution had nothing to do with her efforts.

"I know it's a pretty sensitive issue," said Dixon. "But I've seen the other side of Kenny Jackson. His son [age 12] went to school with my daughter, and were invited to each other's birthday parties and such.

"I've seen how he [Jackson] really turned around his son. ... With his father's help, he's improved tremendously," said Dixon. "If he [Jackson] has been convicted or involved in bad things in the past, I don't know anything about that."

City officials and west-side merchants said that Dixon is acting properly by helping Jackson, arguing that all property owners - regardless of their histories - deserve an open door from city government as the city moves to condemn their buildings.

"I don't think she's doing anything special for" Jackson, said Lou Boulmetis, owner of Hippodrome Hatters at 15 N. Eutaw St. and a leader of merchants fighting for fair compensation.

"She's offered to help me a couple of times, and I know that offer is still on the table," said Boulmetis, who did not contribute to Dixon's campaign.

Sharon Grinnell, chief operating officer of Baltimore Development Corp., said Dixon has been involved in all aspects of the redevelopent project - not just helping Jackson.

But a few business owners who feel ignored by the city complained that they haven't received offers of help from Dixon.

Some said it looks wrong that she is helping a business owner from whom she has received contributions.

"She hasn't even sent me a postcard," said Michael Macas, whose family has owned Ecuador Hat Co. at 301 W. Fayette St. for 68 years. "Sure, she helped him [Jackson]. He contributed to her. I don't contribute to nobody, and the city has treated me lousy."

Maxine Sisserman, co-owner of the 27-year-old Baltimore Studio of Hair Design at 18 N. Howard St., said she's frightened about the future of her school.

"I have never heard from her," said Sisserman. "If she is offering help, all she has to do is call my phone number."

Dixon has been helping Jackson by sitting in on meetings between him and Baltimore Development Corp. as officials discuss compensation for Jackson and moving his strip club from the development area.

Jackson asked that Dixon listen in on the meetings because he didn't feel he was getting a "fair shake" from BDC, said Debbie Crockett, Dixon's director of community outreach.

Jackson faces perhaps more hurdles than any other business threatened by displacement because city zoning laws allow strip clubs in few areas, said Crockett.

Jackson wants the city to pay more than $300,000 for his company's building at 322 W. Baltimore St., compensate him for his loss of business, and consider paying for some of the perhaps $1 million cost of moving him into and renovating the city-owned 503 E. Baltimore St. building, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

"One of the arguments Kenny and other merchants make is that the city appraises the value of their properties, but not their businesses," said Dixon. "They really lose out. I think we have to change that, but that might require changing the law at the federal level."

Jackson could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Liquor board files on the 26-year-old El Dorado - which is run by Jackson's family - show that police in November ordered the club to stop allowing strippers to perform "lap dances" for customers.

In 1997, the liquor board suspended the club's license for five days for selling alcohol to a minor.

In 1995, a patron complained that a bouncer at the club punched him in the eye and knocked him to the ground.

MicheleWhelley, acting president of the Downtown Partnership business group, said it would be unconstitutional if Dixon and other city officials refused to help a business threatened by city condemnation because it is unpopular.

"Whether or not we like the business, if the business is being run legally and there is no reason for the city to shut it down, then we have to treat them fairly," said Whelley.

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