Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon cried at a live, televised public meeting last night.
Yes, that is news.
Dixon, who becomes mayor next month, has a reputation as a tough leader. But at her final council meeting as president, Dixon's steely exterior melted as her colleagues gave her a surprise sentimental sendoff in the form of a resolution thanking her for 20 years of service.
Even the two-term president - who will be Baltimore's first female mayor and the only one with a black belt in karate - was taken aback by her emotions.
"I was great until Mary Pat Clarke mentioned my mother," Dixon said.
Dixon, who represented West Baltimore as a councilwoman for three terms starting in 1987, added that people think she is "hard" but that she is really a "soft, emotional person."
Dixon will serve as mayor until next December, the end of Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley's current term. To secure an elected four-year term, she will have to prevail in the 2007 Democratic primary election over some of the very people who sang her praises last night.
All of the 13 council members present last night read a prepared part of a playful and touching resolution.
Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. thanked Dixon for letting him turn her office into a day care center for his son, Jack. Later, he added that Dixon scared him when he first was elected in 1995.
"I'll never forget my first experience with the president's temper," Mitchell said.
He said she came into his office in a sweat suit and told him she was a black belt who would kick his butt. "I joined the Downtown Athletic Club because I was scared," he said. But the downtown fitness center was no safe harbor: That is where Dixon is well-known for her workouts.
Then he, like many other council members, praised Dixon for using her office to end years of typical acrimony on the council.
Even Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., whom Dixon stripped of his budget committee chairmanship, praised the president. "She goes to bat for you," D'Adamo said. Then he put his name in for a job with her administration if he loses what many expect will be a run for city comptroller in 2007.
Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch cast Dixon's move to the mayor's office in historical context. She put Dixon's name in the same league as Victorine Q. Adams, the first elected councilwoman in 1967, and with Clarke, the first elected female president in 1987. "I am proud to be part of this history in the making," Branch said.
Clarke's part in the resolution struck Dixon the hardest when the North Baltimore councilwoman said, "Baltimore's grandmothers are helping raise our next generation in numbers without precedence."
"In honor of them on this historic occasion, let us lift up the name of Winona Dixon," Clarke added, referring to Dixon's mother, who was a well-known civic activist in Baltimore. "God bless the care she provided in helping her daughter do right by city and family alike."
Tears sprang to Dixon's eyes as she thanked her colleagues.
"This really touched my heart and my soul," she said. "It is going to be a very challenging year for all of us. We will all be victorious in whatever our goals are."