Snubs a sign of Obama's new day

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimoreans who voted for Sheila Dixon in 2007 and Barack Obama in 2008 must have a mixture of feelings about the new president's snubbing - twice in just over a month - of the mayor of Baltimore. I'm sure a lot of them even feel sorry for Dixon. Yeah, she's under indictment, but she's missing all the fun, all the photo ops, all the history, not to mention dinner and dessert at the White House. Obama treats Republicans better than he treats Dixon.

Shunning on this level must really smart.

The president-elect came through town on his way to his inauguration last month and never mentioned the mayor, and the stage managers kept Dixon and her fur coat well out of range of camera shots during Obama's appearance at War Memorial Plaza.

Ouch.

Then, last week, Dixon was uninvited to a White House gathering of mayors. Dozens of top city leaders were there - even the mayor of Laredo, Texas (population 176,576, including the mules) - but not the mayor of Baltimore.

Man, that's hard.

One might be inclined to believe that Obama, being smart and gracious, would reconnect with Dixon should the mayor eventually be cleared of the fraud and theft charges she's facing.

But even then - even if Dixon beats this rap - she will forever be associated romantically with a city developer whose company got tax breaks and with accusations that she used gift cards intended for the poor. In politics, this stuff has a boiled cabbage quality to it - it tends to stink up the house for a long time. ("I got good news and bad news," goes the newest joke in town. "Good news is, Baltimore's going to get a big chunk of economic stimulus. Bad news is, it's being given out in the form of gift cards.")

Obviously, someone at the White House is paying close attention to all this.

Can you really blame Obama, who was kicked around during the campaign for some of his past associations, for not wanting to pose for photos with the mayor?

"I like Sheila Dixon, but I also understand that Obama had to snub her," wrote Sun reader Wallace Farmer in a post to my Random Rodricks blog. "She understands this too. As the first black president, he is going to be scrutinized far harsher than his white predecessors, and while it is unfortunate, this is the D.C. game."

Plus, Obama is supposed to be all about change, honesty and the future. Contrast that with Dixon, with the allegations about gift cards and furs and trips and shopping sprees. It's old-school stuff, something out of Baltimore's bygone b'hoys network.

People who voted for Obama probably appreciated the reformist message he had for the mayors last week: Allow the billions of dollars in economic stimulus to fall into corrupt hands, he said, and he'll go after them. Obama said he'd use the powers of his office to crack down and expose waste, fraud or abuse as stimulus dollars flow through America's cities.

"If a federal agency proposes a project that will waste that money, I will not hesitate to call them out on it and put a stop to it," Obama told the mayors. "And I want everybody here to be on notice ... if a local government does the same, I will call them out on it and use the full power of my office and our administration to stop it."

I can't say I've heard such rhetoric from a president before. Most of them have been too cozy with mayors or governors to challenge them publicly like that.

Obama, on the other hand, distanced himself from his allies in the urban political network that helped get him elected and claimed a new standard of accountability.

A president who says such things doesn't want Sheila Dixon in the room; he doesn't want to be seen throwing money at a city run by a mayor under indictment, though that's probably destined to happen anyway.

Some people - the disappointed but still supportive Dixon voters - probably think this is all too harsh, that there's been an overreaction to the accusations against the mayor, that these executive snubs are a bit much, particularly given that Dixon hasn't been tried yet. In the old days, these accusations against Dixon probably would be considered minor infractions, a series of poor but forgivable judgments, certainly nothing that would force a mayor into the shadows and out of photo ops with visiting dignitaries.

But these aren't the old days. That is abundantly clear.

"I am glad, in a way, that she was snubbed," Farmer added. "It is a warning of what politicians risk by being involved in impropriety and deceit. It also tells us a lot about our president, and I like what it says."

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