Mayor expects a place on the platform

The Baltimore Sun

Sheila Dixon expects to be part of the festivities when Barack Obama comes to town Saturday, a source close to the mayor said yesterday.

Maryland politicos have been buzzing about whether the president-elect, having just left behind a shady home-state governor, will appear on stage with the newly indicted Baltimore mayor. Speculation that Dixon would be disinvited grew as word spread that Obama would speak at the War Memorial Building rather than City Hall.

(Official details have yet to be made public, but insiders say they've settled on 4 p.m. at the War Memorial Building, which is on the other side of a plaza from City Hall.)

"She's scheduled to be a part of it," my source said.

Of course, it's hard to imagine Obama turning away Baltimore's black female mayor - a black belt at that - from the biggest political to-do in town. But isn't that what Rahm Emanuel is for?

Maybe theft, maybe gift

Mayor Dixon stands accused of being a thief, a liar and - worse - a regifter.

According to her indictment, the mayor took about $3,400 in gift cards meant for needy families, used lots of them to buy electronics and other goodies for herself, and gave away others to staff members as Christmas presents.

Oh, you shouldn't have!

Well, it's alleged, she didn't. Thank-you notes should be addressed to Ronald Lipscomb and the mysterious "Developer B."

At his news conference Friday, Dixon attorney Arnold Weiner ridiculed the idea that the mayor would be accused of stealing from Lipscomb since, elsewhere in the indictment, it's alleged that he freely showered expensive gifts and cash on her.

"Theft from Mr. Lipscomb? Give me a break," Weiner said.

Perhaps not the world's most robust defense - why would Dixon need to steal from the guy if she's already on the take? - but one that does highlight a contradiction.

In two separate counts, theft and fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary, Dixon is accused of stealing gift cards that Lipscomb meant for the poor. But in two other counts, perjury and misconduct in office, she is accused of failing to disclose the very same gift cards on city ethics forms as gifts from someone doing business with the city.

So what do we have here, illicit gifts or thefts? Shouldn't the prosecutor pick a theory and stick with it?

Actually, no, said Warren A. Brown, a veteran defense attorney who has been watching the case but isn't involved in it. The "dual theories" are no different from when a prosecutor charges someone with murder and manslaughter in a single death, Brown said.

"One might look at that as inconsistencies, but not really," Brown said. "It just covers all the bases."

An innocent digit?

Mayor Dixon appeared on the front page of yesterday's Daily Record with one finger - the middle one - sticking straight in the air.

Rich Dennison snapped the picture for the paper just after he and other photographers who'd been ejected from a public meeting at City Hall were allowed back in.

Is Her Honor flipping the bird?

"I think the picture speaks for itself, which is what we let it do," said Daily Record Managing Editor Ed Waldman. (Full disclosure: Waldman used to work for The Sun.)

But Dixon spokesman Ian Brennan said the mayor was not letting the media know what she thinks of them.

"She is fixing her glasses. It is utterly preposterous that they would choose that of all the photographs taken," Brennan said. "That is how she, along with many people, adjust their glasses. They use one of their fingers."

Rally 'round the flag

For some reason, a lot of Maryland lawmakers return to work today with flags on their minds.

Del. Wayne Norman has pre-filed a bill requiring that any U.S. or Maryland flag displayed on state property be made in the United States.

State Sen. Nancy Jacobs' bill would go further, outlawing private retailers in Maryland from selling foreign-made U.S. or Maryland flags to anyone.

What's with the sudden burst of star-spangled protectionism?

Fort McHenry ranger-historian Scott Sheads offers a theory that sounds a little like Obama's old "cling to guns or religion" remark, but in a good way.

"When times get tough, people go to the flag," he said. "The flag is the one fabric in our lives that never changes."

State Sen. Barry Glassman, who cross-filed Norman's bill in the Senate, had a more practical explanation: "When the economy's bad and the state budget's in a shambles like it is right now, you'll see more peculiar bills, symbolic bills that don't require the expenditure of money."

Indeed, Norman's bill might not cost the state a cent, since it would merely codify the flag-buying habits of the General Services Administration, which manages 50-plus state buildings.

Flags flown at those buildings are already made in the U.S.A. - by prisoners at Jessup.

Nothing says "Land of the Free" like prison labor!

"It's basically a feel-good bill," Norman said.

But Norman didn't feel good about banning Wal-Mart and other retailers from selling imported flags, as Jacobs' bill would.

"I think she may run into a little bit of trouble with the Commerce Clause on that one," Glassman said.

But Jacobs stands by her bill.

"We're talking about being patriots here with the flag," she said.

Why stop at flags? How about banning all those lead toys from China?

"I think that's probably a little unrealistic," she said.

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