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Baltimore mayoral candidates Sheila Dixon (left) and state Sen. Catherine Pugh.
Baltimore mayoral candidates Sheila Dixon (left) and state Sen. Catherine Pugh.

Supporters of leading mayoral candidates Catherine E. Pugh and Sheila Dixon are engaging in a war of negative campaign fliers.

A political action committee backing Pugh is circulating a flier with a photo of Dixon doctored to look like a police mug shot, while the Dixon campaign is sending mailers accusing Pugh of accepting "illegal money" as she runs for office.

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The anti-Dixon flier distributed by Clean Slate Baltimore PAC uses the fake mug shot as it recounts that she was found guilty of embezzlement and perjury, which forced her from office in 2010.

The anti-Pugh mailer refers to published accounts that Pugh's campaign received $66,000 in checks that bounced. Some mayoral opponents have alleged that those contributions came from phony companies. Under campaign finance laws, it would be illegal for a donor to make a contribution from a phony company.

Dixon, the former mayor, on Tuesday called for Pugh to condemn the Clean Slate Baltimore flier.

"The tactics from Clean Slate Baltimore are downright ugly, and I've had enough," Dixon said in a statement. "This is funded by out-of-state interests. This kind of campaigning has no place in this important election."

Walter Ludwig, who runs the Clean Slate Baltimore PAC, declined to comment except to say that the doctored mug shot of Dixon in the Clean Slate ad is "clearly art." But Pugh said she agreed the committee's actions were troubling. Under law, the PAC cannot coordinate with the Pugh campaign.

"Catherine Pugh denounces in the strongest terms possible Clean Slate and the tactics used by the group to attack the former mayor as ugly and distasteful," Pugh campaign spokesman Anthony McCarthy said in a statement. "The Pugh campaign joins with other candidates who believe mud-slinging and personal attacks have no place in this election."

And Pugh publicly called on Clean Slate to stop using her name in attack ads. "I will not go negative," she said.

But McCarthy said Pugh, a state senator, also was disappointed with the mailers sent by the Dixon camp.

"Senator Pugh has heard from people across the city about the false and offensive mailings attacking her integrity sent out by Dixon this past weekend and believes that this introduction of negative campaigning has polluted the process and this election," McCarthy said.

Dixon campaign spokeswoman Martha McKenna said the mailings simply present accurate information from newspaper articles.

Clean Slate Baltimore began distributing anti-Dixon material in December, when it released a cartoon ad depicting the former mayor as the Grinch. The group's latest flier contrasts her with Pugh, whom it praises as a national leader.

Jason Curtis, a Dixon supporter who is a community leader in the Mount Vernon area, called the fake mug shot "borderline racist."

"This is very distasteful and disrespectful," he said. "There's a difference between calling someone out over campaign contributions and just being hateful."

Meanwhile, the Dixon campaign has sent out two negative mailers about Pugh's campaign criticizing the bounced checks as well as contributions she has received from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

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City Councilman Nick J. Mosby, another mayoral candidate, criticized both Pugh and Dixon in a news release, saying they weren't paying attention to important issues in the city, such as crime and joblessness.

"Through stale campaign tactics and questionable campaign fundraising, Ms. Pugh and Ms. Dixon are doing nothing but detracting from the systemic issues that have plagued our communities for far too long," Mosby said. "We need leadership now more than ever and they simply are not the answer for a better Baltimore."

The Clean Slate PAC's founder is Alexander M. Sanchez, who is director of politics and government relations for the Laborers' International Union's Mid-Atlantic region. Sanchez's union donated $120,000 to the PAC and has endorsed Pugh.

Ludwig said Sanchez's role in the PAC is minimal.

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