Dixon endorsements pile up

The Baltimore Sun

Mayor Sheila Dixon will receive endorsements from two of Maryland's political heavyweights, Gov. Martin O'Malley and U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, her main rival in next month's Democratic primary said yesterday.

Meanwhile, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume said yesterday that he would "absolutely and unequivocally" endorse Dixon tomorrow.

The news of the planned O'Malley and Cummings endorsements came from City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who said he met with O'Malley a week ago and that the former mayor told him he would back Dixon. Mitchell said Cummings delivered a similar message last week.

Dixon's campaign has scheduled what it called a major announcement for tomorrow but declined yesterday to discuss the nature of the event. Late last night, however, the Associated Press reported that Dixon campaign manager Martha McKenna had confirmed that O'Malley would endorse Dixon tomorrow.

The mayor, asked after a daylong series of rallies whether O'Malley and Cummings are endorsing her, said only: "I believe so."

A spokeswoman for Cummings, who represents the 3rd District, declined to comment yesterday. A spokesman for O'Malley said the governor met with Dixon and Mitchell recently but would not discuss the substance of the talks.

But Mfume left no doubt of his intention to support Dixon.

"I know her commitment to public service," said the former leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "She represents a bright hope for the city. She's earned her endorsement. She's earned the right to serve as mayor."

Mfume said that Dixon factored into his decision not to run for mayor, even though many of his supporters were pushing him to enter the race.

"I just believed that she earned the right to serve out the remainder of the time to be judged on her merits and her record," he said. "And I believed all along that she would rise to the task."

Dixon faces seven challengers in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary for mayor, including Mitchell, Del. Jill P. Carter, schools administrator Andrey Bundley and Frank M. Conaway, clerk of Baltimore's Circuit Court.

Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College in Westminster, said the endorsements are "a major plus" for the mayor, calling O'Malley the "Bigfoot" of Maryland politics. The timing of the endorsements is especially beneficial, Smith said.

"The final month of the campaign [is] really the time when the majority of Democratic voters in the city focus on campaigns and the candidates," said Smith. "So you have people paying attention finally."

Smith said O'Malley's endorsement is no surprise - the two campaigned together four years ago when he was running for mayor and she for City Council president. "He's consistently said good, supportive things about Sheila," said Smith. "Although endorsements don't vote, they create a positive energy."

The anticipated endorsements will follow yesterday's whirlwind Rally Baltimore tour that brought Dixon and City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake to parks across the city, culminating in their endorsement of each other. For the event, timed one month before the primary, a trolley transported Dixon, Rawlings-Blake and supporters to sections of the city, from Federal Hill to Patterson Park, Herring Run Park, a Park Heights recreation center and, finally, Druid Hill Park.

There, a group of female state and city officials joined Rawlings-Blake and Dixon as the two pushed the idea of working in partnership with one another.

"I am so excited that Stephanie and I are working hand in hand," said Dixon.

Rawlings-Blake called it "the women's time to take over."

"It's about having a shared vision about Baltimore's future and getting along," she said.

Mitchell said he wasn't surprised about the endorsements. O'Malley "has every right to endorse who he wants to endorse," Mitchell said. "However, this confirms that the Mitchell campaign is running against the establishment and the status quo."

Mitchell said he is proud of the endorsements he received from the city's three public safety unions. "Public safety is the number one issue in this campaign," he said. "We're not satisfied with the status quo. Our campaign just moves on."

Dixon had a formidable lead over Mitchell in a poll conducted for The Sun last month. Her campaign has also raised twice as much as the Mitchell campaign since Jan. 11 and has nearly four times as much cash on hand, according to preliminary figures released by both campaigns last week.

The finalized campaign finance reports are due to the Maryland State Board of Elections on Tuesday.

But the Mitchell campaign says it has seen a groundswell of support in recent weeks and likens itself to O'Malley's 1999 run for mayor, when he was the underdog candidate and ended up winning.

O'Malley, Cummings and Mfume have endorsed Rawlings-Blake in her quest to remain City Council president. Rawlings-Blake faces three other challengers, including Michael Sarbanes, a longtime activist and son of retired U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, and City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr.

Mfume, who ran a strong race for U.S. Senate last year before bowing to Benjamin L. Cardin in the Democratic primary, will be featured in a radio ad for Rawlings-Blake beginning this week.

Sarbanes said yesterday that he had no plans to join Mitchell or any other candidate to run as a ticket.

"To do the council president's job right, you have to be able to work with whomever is the mayor, but you have to be independent," he said.

When O'Malley became governor in January, Dixon, who was City Council president, was elevated to mayor. Rawlings-Blake, City Council vice president, was then elected by the council to serve the remainder of Dixon's term.


An article yesterday about Baltimore's mayoral race misstated the congressional district of U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. He represents Maryland's 7th District.THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR.
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