In politics, candidates take campaign money wherever they find it, which is what brought Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon to a large mansion in Clarksville last week for a small soiree with a group of businesspeople.
Dixon said she needs about $2 million to spend on Baltimore's Sept. 11 Democratic primary election. So C. Vernon Gray, a former Howard County councilman and current human rights administrator, arranged the event at the home of A. Nayab Siddiqui and Dr. Janet Siddiqui.
Among the candidates Dixon will face in the primary are City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and Del. Jill P. Carter. In Baltimore, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a huge margin, the winner of the Democratic primary is the presumptive winner of the November general election.
A former City Council member and council president, Dixon hopes to win a full term as mayor. She took over the top post after Mayor Martin O'Malley won Maryland's governorship from Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. last year.
But the built-in political advantage that comes with incumbency has been tempered by bad news during Dixon's five months in office.
The city's homicide rate is rising, a recent house fire killed eight people, and a fire recruit died in a training accident. Then there are the chronic problems of city schools, gangs and drug addiction.
Dixon insisted that things are improving in Baltimore, in the middle schools in particular, and that publicity about city shootings and homicides exaggerates the negatives.
"I don't like waking up and reading on the front page of the Sunpapers that we're second in homicide in the country. I don't believe that's really factual," she told the group, describing her efforts to go after chronic criminals who she blames for the homicide rate.
She said she is focused on addressing crime's underlying causes instead of turning the town into a "martial state." She said the city has 145 vacancies on the police force, and for every new recruit added, four more experienced officers retire or resign.
"We have a plan to help us reduce crime in the city," she said. "A police officer on every corner is not going to make a difference. We have to go after the people who don't respect human life and funnel our resources to target those communities."
Dixon said she is working on community master plans and trying to connect needy families with programs that could help them.
"We want it to be a nicer place," she said. "Crime is a small percentage of what is happening in the city."
After the speech, she backed away from her statement questioning the homicide statistics.
"I know they are FBI numbers," she said.
Her complaint is really that "we're so focused on that" it obscures other, better things the city is doing.
Gangs, she said, spread from the counties to the city, not the reverse.
"How do we combat this?" the mayor said. "How do we change the mindset of young people not to sell drugs but go on to school? There are a lot of 18-year-olds whose only choices are to go on the corner or prostitute themselves. We have to help make families whole.
"I want to [be mayor] not for me, or for the perks or anything else, but for the people. They are the jewels of the city."
Organizer Gray said the event raised a bit more than $10,000. It also afforded Dixon contact with a group of supportive Muslim business owners who do business in or with Baltimore City.
Nayab Siddiqui owns a computer software firm in Howard County, and his wife, Janet Siddiqui, is a county school board member.
The event took place behind their expansive home on a large stone patio in an area that included a swimming pool and a hotel-style outdoor bar.
Gray said he has known Dixon about 10 years and several years ago worked on a committee that she appointed to study the reorganization of the City Council. More recently, Gray, a former political science professor at Morgan University, spoke to newly elected City Council members about executive-legislative relations.
"She's very outspoken, and she supports families and neighborhoods," he said. "She's been able to handle crises. She's had one crisis after another."
Several at the gathering offered to help her campaign.
Chandler Tschand, general manager of Mi Casa, a restaurant in Ellicott City, is an unabashed Dixon fan.
"Baltimore has become a wonderful place since you became mayor," he said.
Ricardo Langford Jr. of Columbia had a more personal word of thanks to deliver.
"My son was a victim," Langford said. "Thank you for the support you have given us."
Ricardo Langford III was found shot Dec. 28 in a home in the 2700 block of Kinsey Ave. in Southwest Baltimore. He died shortly afterward at St. Agnes Hospital. His father said he is grateful to Dixon for taking the time to personally call and console him after his son's death.