Just sitting pretty, awaiting his cue

The Baltimore Sun

Frank Conaway's grand constitutional challenge to Sheila Dixon's swearing-in as mayor of Baltimore ended quietly, with Conaway either outfoxed or unduly demure.

Put out that Dixon had asked Gov. Martin O'Malley to administer the oath instead of Conaway, the Circuit Court clerk had vowed to stop the inauguration by withholding a book and citation normally used in the ceremony.

The night before, Conaway and Dixon's office reached a compromise: After O'Malley swore Dixon in, Conaway could come forward with the "test book" for Dixon to sign.

Conaway brought the big red book with him and kept it by his chair as he sat on the stage with the other dignitaries. He waited for signal to come up with the book. It never came.

Instead, the newly minted mayor autographed a second book, already sitting open on the stage beside the lectern. Officials sworn in by the mayor normally sign that book, which is kept in City Hall.

"He just didn't get up," said Dixon spokesman Sterling Clifford. "I thought that Mr. Conaway had discussed that he would go up right at the end of the official oath. I didn't know we were supposed to give him a signal."

Clifford said it was a misunderstanding, which he chalked up to "just a busy morning."

But Conaway, who works in a courthouse infested with rats, thought he smelled one at Morgan.

"On the way out he [Clifford] said, 'What happened?'" Conaway said. "I said, 'You know what happened.'"

You can always tell who the big shots are

Two big-name celebrities who grew up in Baltimore were on stage at Morgan State as Dixon took the oath of office. One was television talk-show host Montel Williams, son of former city Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr.

The other was Kevin Liles, the Warner Music Group executive and former president of Def Jam Records.

Sitting right nearby, Attorney General Doug Gansler recognized the talk show host but didn't know Liles. However, Gansler did figure Liles was somebody big.

"He had fancy shoes. A lot of colors going on."

Two more votes of confidence

Back stage after the inauguration, Williams and Liles had good things to say about Dixon and the city.

Williams said he intends to work with City Hall on several redevelopment projects in Cherry Hill, where he grew up, and other neighborhoods.

Said Liles: "Motherhood will take over Baltimore. She's a mother and we always turn to our mothers to fix what's wrong."

Another dapper figure chimed in.

"I'm very high on this girl. She's going to be a terrific mayor," said Tommy D'Alesandro III, who noted that he was sworn in to the same office exactly 40 years ago.

They nearly got Du Burns to come

Other former mayors who joined in the festivities: Martin O'Malley, Kurt Schmoke and - incredibly - Clarence H. Du Burns.

Burns, the city's first black mayor, died in 2003 at the age of 84.

The press release trumpeting his participation in yesterday's ceremony was shorter lived.

It was sent out at 1:35 p.m. City Hall issued a revised version six minutes later.

On the up and up, out in the open

Susan Taylor, editorial director of Essence magazine, probably had lots of names to drop while playing mistress of ceremonies at Dixon's inauguration. She chose this one: Janice Dixon.

Taylor told the crowd that the night before, she'd had a chat with the mayor's sister, and Janice revealed what she admired most about Sheila: "She's always taken the high road."

So, Baltimore, don't worry that your new mayor would ever do anything like secretly pressuring a city contractor like Comcast to hire the dubious minority subcontractor that employed her sister.

No, Sheila Dixon has never operated like that. She put the pressure on Comcast in the light of day, at public hearing called just for that purpose.

Now that's taking the high road!

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