Mayor Sheila Dixon glided onto the stage of Morgan State University's Murphy Auditorium yesterday in her stunning red dress and waved to the crowd, who gave her a standing ovation. Within an hour, she would take the oath of office as Baltimore's first woman mayor.
Three former mayors - Gov. Martin O'Malley, Kurt Schmoke and Thomas D'Alesandro III - were on stage with her. So were Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy, Comptroller Joan Pratt and City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin were on hand, as were members of the Baltimore City Council - what would a mayoral inauguration be without a contingent from the original Punt-On-First-Down crew? - and so was former congressman and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume.
Several state legislators attended, although Del. Jill Carter - an opponent of Dixon's and a frequent O'Malley critic - was noticeably absent. (I figure her invitation to this little shindig got lost in the mail.) Four members of Maryland's congressional delegation - Reps. Elijah Cummings, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes and Steny Hoyer - were among the dignitaries. State Comptroller Peter Franchot, Attorney General Douglas Gansler, Clerk of the City Court Frank Conaway and Judge Joseph Kaplan rounded out the political attendees.
Frank Reid, pastor of Bethel AME Church, gave the invocation in which he had the assembled throng repeat "Together, we can make Baltimore the greatest city in the world."
OK, so Reid forgot to add the crucial phrase "in an alternate universe of our own creation," but hey, the guy couldn't think of everything. And besides, this was Dixon's day. After O'Malley administered the oath and gospel singer Maurette Brown Clark sang a powerful, stirring rendition of "Yes," Dixon took the podium to give her inaugural address.
I should make this clear: Dixon, when it comes to oratory, is no Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X or Louis Farrakhan or Stokely Carmichael. (Not that it's relevant, but the best of that group was Carmichael, who could tell the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in such a way that it would leave you wanting to tar and feather Goldilocks.)
Dixon might not be a good talker, which leads me to believe she's quite an effective doer. In fact, during the mayoral campaign, I talked to one woman who described Dixon as precisely that: a doer. That, the woman said, was why Dixon was popular and why she would win.
Now Dixon has won. But can she really "do" anything about the level of violence in Baltimore?
She thinks she can. In her speech, Dixon said her administration is implementing a strategy that will, among other things, "get illegal guns off our streets."
I used to be really unkind to Baltimore elected officials who uttered this kind of talk. I'd much prefer that we get criminals who illegally use guns - especially the repeat violent offenders - off our streets. But guns don't have to be convicted. Criminals do. Sometimes repeat violent offenders get convicted in Baltimore's courts. Sometimes they don't. Dixon might have just been making the promise she figures she can deliver.
The new mayor feels she can deliver on another initiative of hers, the Family Strengthening Platform.
"A strong and stable family life is fundamental to the development of our young people," Dixon said. "Healthy families teach children right from wrong, the importance of hard work, discipline, respect, responsibility and love. But too many of our families are hurting, too many are struggling and even breaking, and the price our children pay for this is beyond calculation. These suffering families are caught up in a destructive cycle. And it's a cycle we must break to start the healing."
Dixon said that the focus of the Family Strengthening Program will be to "help parents and guardians develop the tools necessary to raise healthy, happy and productive children." I asked her for specifics in a news conference she gave us pesky reporters after the ceremony.
"We are training mentors," Dixon answered.
"How many social workers will be needed, and do you have enough?" I asked.
Her Honor said she didn't have those specifics, but would be happy to sit down with me to discuss them in the near future. I'll be taking her up on that offer sooner as opposed to later.
If Dixon's initiative can have an impact on repairing Baltimore's dysfunctional families, our new mayor might find she won't have to get nearly as many illegal guns off the firstname.lastname@example.org