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What do you get for a mink?

The Baltimore Sun

You know how you get a song stuck in your head? Ever since the fur started flying in the state prosecutor's investigation of Mayor Sheila Dixon, I keep hearing that song from Guys and Dolls , the one sung by a doll who was shocked, just shocked, at what a guy expected in return for his gifts:

Take back your mink,

Take back your pearls.

What made you think

That I was one of those girls?

Ever since that first caveman bonked a furry beast and gave its pelt to his best cavelady, that has been the question: Just what does a guy get for giving a doll a mink?

A complicated question, even without the particular complications of the current Dixon drama: Just what does a developer seeking city business get when he gives the City Council president a mink?

Whatever the answer, the question itself is interesting - if only because it upends the usual political sex scandal, the usual president-and-intern or senator-and-page match-up that we've come to know and loathe. Instead of the man trading power for sex, this time it's the woman who had the political power on her side of the equation.

And the man? Given that he is Ronald Lipscomb, a prominent developer in town, also muddles the conventional scenario in a terribly interesting way. Who was giving and getting what in this relationship is not quite as clear-cut this time around.

It's always been one of those amusing side questions to the issue of getting more women in political office - what would their scandals look like? If what we've learned so far of the Dixon investigation is any indication, it seems as if there would be more shopping than golfing, more nights at the Ritz than chicken wings at Hooters. But then, maybe that's just the case when it comes to our Material Girl Mayor.

Dixon, if you're just awakening from a deep sleep, has been under investigation for contracts, tax breaks and other deal sweeteners that she voted for as council president, some of which benefited her one-time paramour, Lipscomb. As an affidavit uncovered by The Sun documents, he showered the now-mayor with everything from a $2,000 Mano Schwartz gift certificate to all manner of out-of-town getaways.

Those have been the headline grabbers, of course, the love-and-labels trips and shopping sprees that have made at least some of the court records in this case read like something off the chick lit shelf of Barnes and Noble. (Well, not quite, since obviously it was a man who wrote what frankly is a flawed and incomplete description of Dixon's haul - would it have killed him to specify which Jimmy Choo sandal and what kind of moisturizer from Saks?)

But for all the his-and-her credit card receipts from Armani and Coach and Niketown, for all hints of dining preferences (upscale Chinese in Manhattan and Chicago), this isn't just a silly shopaholic scandal, a frothy Choogate.

No, once you can get past the juicy bits, the real scandal emerges - Lipscomb's company, Doracon Contracting, as well as his other business entities have had a hand in some of the most prominent development deals in town, from Spinnaker Bay in Harbor East to the huge East Baltimore revitalization project around Hopkins Hospital.

Dixon has maintained that her relationship with Lipscomb did not influence the votes she cast on the Board of Estimates that ultimately benefited his business. Maybe it didn't - OK, take a brief timeout to laugh yourself silly, and come back when you're ready to read on - but this is why financial disclosure forms were invented and required of public officials. But Dixon reported no "gifts (including travel expenses)" valued at more than $50 from anyone doing business with the city during the time that she and Lipscomb were, well, doing some kind of business together.

The personal is the political, the feminists say, but I'm not sure this is exactly what they meant.

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