Baltimore political leaders eager for Dixon's problems to be resolved

The new indictments issued last week in the City Hall corruption probe have some Baltimore political leaders impatient for resolution to a case that has spanned three years and left the city's reputation in limbo.

"Most people I talk to are saying 'Let's just get this over with,' " said Baltimore Del. Curtis S. Anderson, a Democrat. "Let's get to trial and see what really happened."

A grand jury indicted Democratic Mayor Sheila Dixon on theft and perjury charges, and City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton and baking magnate and developer John Paterakis for allegedly violating campaign finance rules.

The new indictments in the Dixon case somewhat restore and add to State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh's original charges, handed up in January although some of those charges were later dismissed.

The new charges mean that the case, and what it says about Baltimore, won't disappear anytime soon.

"It is not something we are proud of," Del. Talmadge Branch, an East Baltimore state delegate, said of the new charges.

Branch, a Democrat, said many were hoping the cloud over City Hall would "blow over." But it hasn't, leaving Branch "waiting and seeing" what happens.

The mayor did not veer from her public schedule last week, speaking to a group of young adults who held city jobs over the summer in her pet program, YouthWorks, addressing business leaders and riding her bike. When confronted by reporters, she repeated a mantra that she is "focused" on running the city.

Projecting steadiness is the best strategy for Dixon if she wants to keep her job, said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia.

"You schedule as many real-life events as possible, you introduce legislation, you sign bills," Sabato said. "You have to show people that you are continuing to work for the city even though the truth is you must be spending dozens or hundreds of hours with your lawyers."

Dixon had won a major legal victory in May, when Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney dismissed five of Rohrbaugh's original 12 charges against her. But the new indictments put her legal defense back at square one, requiring her to mount another battle against a more detailed set of charges.

The mayor is charged with theft for spending about 60 gift cards intended for needy families on herself, her friends and a relative, and perjury for failing to report thousands of dollars of gifts from her then-boyfriend, developer Ronald H. Lipscomb, on her city ethics forms. Her lawyers, Arnold M. Weiner and Dale P. Kelberman, have dismissed the importance of the new indictments, saying they contain the same legal flaws as the initial ones.

Holton, meanwhile, again has had to step down as chair of the City Council's powerful Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee now that she, too, has been indicted. Holton had won a dismissal of her original indictment on bribery but now faces charges of campaign finance violations in connection with a re-election poll that was partially paid for by Paterakis.

One of Dixon's most ardent supporters acknowledges that Dixon's legal problems have caused some distraction.

"I think she certainly is concerned," City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector said. "You would have to be a piece of wood not to be concerned, but it has not consumed her."

The alternative can be an implosion, as occurred in Detroit after Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and misconduct stemming from accusations that he lied under oath about his efforts to fire a police officer and his relationship with his chief of staff.

There city government became "paralyzed," with Kilpatrick unable to get his budget passed after the indictment, said Adolph Mongo, a Detroit-based consultant who did some work for the former mayor.

"It was hard to get anything done," Mongo said.

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