The Baltimore Sun

Sheila Dixon, the hard-driving West Baltimore politician who became the city's first female mayor, easily defeated Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a scion of one of the nation's prominent civil rights families, in a low-turnout Democratic mayoral primary yesterday.

In the race for City Council president, Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, the incumbent, beat Michael Sarbanes in a contest that pitted the children of two respected political leaders against each other.

"I have never been more honored in my life than I am right now at this very moment," Dixon, 53, told jubilant supporters at a Canton victory party last night. "I am your humble servant and will work tirelessly on your behalf."

Together, Dixon and Rawlings-Blake will pick up the reins of a city that has made tremendous progress in the past decade but is facing difficult challenges - from a glut of vacant homes to a school system with a staggeringly low graduation rate to a homicide rate that is the second-worst in the nation, behind only Detroit's.

"Too many of our children are not getting the education that they deserve. Too many of our neighborhoods are turning to drugs and crime. Too many people are unable to find the jobs to support their families, but I will guarantee to each and every Baltimore citizen that I will devote all of my energy to all dreams because all dreams are possible," Dixon said last night.

As Dixon declared victory, Mitchell conceded the race and pledged to support her.

"Mayor Dixon has a tough job ahead of her. The time of politics is over," Mitchell said. "We need to work as one."

Rain fell intermittently throughout the day as voters sprinted from their cars to polling places. Volunteers handing out candidate literature outside schools and recreation centers wore makeshift ponchos or juggled umbrellas with handshakes and campaign materials.

Initial returns suggest that turnout was lower than in recent city elections. In 1999, about 118,000 voters cast a ballot in the Democratic mayoral primary; in the 2003 primary, roughly 89,400 voted. City election officials said about 83,000 cast ballots yesterday. Election judges in precincts across the city said they were surprised by the slender turnout.

"This is highly unusual," said Councilwoman Helen L. Holton, who was crisscrossing the 8th City Council District. She blamed the weather for keeping voters away, but added: "It also could be the fact that there's not much of a [mayoral] race."

Crime became the dominant issue during the mayoral campaign as Mitchell, Del. Jill P. Carter and other candidates tried to blame Dixon for a spike in homicides and shootings that reached its peak in mid-July. By September, the pace of homicides had slowed, but the number of killings was still about 14 percent higher than at the same time last year.

Several of the candidates, including Mitchell and Carter, had called for the ouster of the police commissioner, Leonard D. Hamm. On July 19, the Dixon administration announced that Hamm had resigned and that a deputy commissioner, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, would serve as acting commissioner. Hamm's resignation was seen as a shrewd political move because it weakened criticism by Dixon's opponents.

Several who voted for Dixon yesterday said they appreciate the job she has done since January. Dixon took over as the city's first female mayor Jan. 17, serving out the remainder of Martin O'Malley's term after he became governor.

"She remembered where she came from," said Wanda Morgan, 47, who went out in the rain early to cast her ballot at Sarah M. Roach Elementary School. "I liked that she didn't just concentrate on the Inner Harbor."

Mitchell, 39, a third-term city councilman, had proposed a platform that included the hiring of 400 police officers and a mayoral takeover of the city school system. But Mitchell struggled to inspire voters and despite personal sacrifices - he lost his job because of the campaign - seldom came across as someone who sincerely wanted the mayor's job.

It is not clear that Mitchell ever was a leading candidate in the race, but whatever momentum he had built was slowed in early August with the revelation that his father, Dr. Keiffer J. Mitchell, had resigned as campaign treasurer after questions were raised about $56,000 in expenditures that he had authorized.

The expenses included thousands of dollars for a Towson hotel room, which the elder Mitchell later justified as a campaign cost, saying that fundraising took place there. In a series of bizarre twists, Mitchell's father kept the story in the news. On Sept. 4, the elder Mitchell publicly attempted to evict his son's campaign operations from his medical office on Druid Hill Avenue, citing unpaid rent.

Mitchell conceded defeat at the city police union headquarters in Hampden about 10:45 p.m.

"I want to thank my Mom and Dad, who are here, who taught me the lesson of unconditional love," Mitchell told disappointed supporters.

Yesterday, Yule Foster, 45, came off his shift at a local hospital - still dressed in scrubs - and went to the polls at the Mary E. Rodman Recreation Center to vote for Mitchell, despite the problems that marked his campaign.

"Even though his campaign wasn't as strong as hers, I just want to see a change," Foster said. "A change is always good."

Dixon ran a campaign focused largely on her incumbency. Nearly all of her events were organized through the mayor's office, and she mostly seemed to ride above the infighting among the other six Democratic candidates at campaign forums and debates. The mayor made few campaign promises for the next four years but pledged to continue the policies she has put in place.

She raised more money than all of the other candidates combined, which enabled her to launch a television advertising blitz. On Aug. 26, less than three weeks before the election, Dixon had $569,000 in cash on hand compared with Mitchell's $194,000.

Carter, 44, was hamstrung somewhat by the legislative session, which occupied much of her time early in the year while other candidates were raising money. Her campaign, which called for declaring a "state of emergency" over crime, became more engaged as the summer wore on, but never seemed to gain momentum.

Schools administrator Andrey Bundley, 47, who captured about one-third of the vote against O'Malley in the 2003 primary, also ran an underdog campaign this year.

Baltimore Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr. - the only candidate other than Dixon to have ever been elected to a citywide office - dropped out of the race Aug. 27 during the campaign's one live, televised debate, though his name still appeared on the ballot.

Yesterday's vote appeared relatively free of polling place shenanigans. But Mitchell's campaign released photos of Dixon walking through a polling place and said she violated the state law against electioneering within 100 feet.

State election officials said it might not have been electioneering - Dixon covered up a campaign T-shirt before walking in and appeared to be interacting with poll workers in the pictures, not voters - but the officials said Dixon should not have entered the polling place without credentials.

An aide said that after consulting with campaign attorneys, Dixon would not enter any more polling places. Mitchell's campaign vowed to file a formal complaint.

In the race for council president, Rawlings-Blake, 37, who took over the position in January when Dixon became mayor, had the support of most of the city's major unions as well as a number of key elected leaders, including O'Malley.

Last night, she celebrated her victory in a downtown bar with the governor and other elected officials who campaigned hard for her in the final days of the election.

"I believed in my heart that the work that I've done with people who care so much about Baltimore would be valued, respected and rewarded. But this did not have to happen," said Rawlings-Blake, who thanked the women in her life.

"I stand here with our mayor ready to claim our place in history," she said, standing next to Dixon - two of the four black women holding Baltimore's four top elected positions.

Sarbanes, 42, a former aide to Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, ran a campaign with few endorsements and rarely mentioned his father, former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

Minutes after Rawlings-Blake left the stage, Sarbanes conceded defeat at a downtown restaurant where he was greeted by his family. He said he had called Rawlings-Blake and congratulated her on a "a hard-fought and competitive campaign."

He thanked his campaign workers for their spirit and effort. "We believe that Baltimore has great promise," he said.

Lenneal J. Henderson, a professor at the University of Baltimore's School of Public Affairs, said he expected to see more cooperation from a Rawlings-Blake and Dixon administration than if Sarbanes had won.

"I think Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the mayor see eye to eye on many things," Henderson said. "I would describe her role as more collaborative and supportive than independent."

One Republican, Elbert R. Henderson, 57, ran unopposed in the mayoral primary. Henderson, who will face Dixon in the Nov. 6 general election, garnered about 12 percent of the vote against O'Malley in the 2004 general election.

john.fritze@baltsun.com sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com



284 of 290 precincts - 98%

x-Sheila Dixon* 50,639 63%

Keiffer Mitchell 18,965 24%

Andrey Bundley 6,163 8%

Jill Carter 2,222 3%

Robert Kaufman 822 1%

Mike Schaefer 695 1%

Frank Conaway 484 1%

Phillip Brown 252 0%

x=winner; *=incumbent.



284 of 290 precincts - 98%

x-Stephanie Rawlings-Blake* 39,268 49%

Michael Sarbanes 30,648 39%

Kenneth Harris 9,298 12%

Charles Smith 316 0%

x=winner; *=incumbent.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad