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Dixon's return

Given the riots after Freddie Gray's death, the ensuing spike in violent crime and all the systemic economic, educational and social problems that have been brought to light as a result, Baltimore could assuredly use an election. We need a real conversation about this city's leadership, and we need new ideas to move forward. But the entrance of former mayor Sheila Dixon into the contest against Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake risks turning the race into a debate about the past, not the future.

There is no question that many in this city view the Rawlings-Blake administration as overwhelmed by the tumultuous events of the last two months, a circumstance that has fostered considerable nostalgia in some circles about Ms. Dixon's tenure as mayor. But in remembering the positive aspects of her leadership, we cannot forget the flaws revealed by the series of scandals that followed her for years. People remember the theft of gift cards meant for underprivileged kids at Christmas, the one offense for which Ms. Dixon was found guilty, but that was hardly the only thing she did wrong. Here's a brief recap:

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•In 2006, when she was City Council president, Ms. Dixon publicly pressured Comcast to steer more business to a company called Utech. What she did not mention — or disclose in city ethics forms — was that her sister worked for Utech, which turned out to be a sham minority business that did not actually perform the work it was assigned on city development deals.

•For six years, starting just after she became council president in 1999, Ms. Dixon employed her former campaign chairman to manage the council's computer system. He was paid at least $600,000, most of it without a contract. Ms. Dixon's staff instructed him to submit invoices in amounts below the $5,000 threshold that would have required them to be approved in public at the Board of Estimates.

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•In 2003 and 2004, Ms. Dixon carried on a romantic relationship with developer Ronald Lipscomb, who was married, and she received thousands of dollars in gifts from him even as his firm sought tax breaks from the city. The two went on lavish vacations together, including a trip to New York just hours after Ms. Dixon voted to support a tax break for one of his company's biggest projects.

When she was forced to resign in February, 2010, Ms. Dixon pointedly ducked the opportunity to apologize. Last month, when it was already clear that she was on the verge of entering the mayor's race, she made a half-hearted attempt to rectify that in an interview with WJZ's Vic Carter: "I think people in Baltimore want to hear my sincerity — that I am sorry for what happened. I'm apologizing about it. I also know that people want to hear that I have not taken anything for granted in that process of what happened."

Color us unimpressed. We need to hear more than the word "apologize." We need to hear the former mayor explain exactly what she did and why it was wrong; how else can we have any confidence that she understands and wouldn't do exactly the same thing again if given the chance?

Unless Ms. Dixon can convincingly put to rest questions about her ethics and judgment, we will never get the kind of substantive debate we need about Baltimore's many problems. Ms. Rawlings-Blake has never been shy about pointing out her predecessor's failings, and she is now promising an "aggressive campaign that clearly lays out the choice between where Baltimore was when I took office, and how far we have come under my leadership" — in other words, a mix of Dixon bashing and self congratulation that lacks the kind of vision for the city's future that we need. Similarly, Baltimore has bigger issues than Ms. Dixon's redemption or payback for the justifiably unkind things Ms. Rawlings-Blake has said about her predecessor.

Fortunately, these are not the only two people considering running for mayor. Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, state Sen. Catherine Pugh, Del. Jill P. Carter, Councilmen Nick Mosby, Carl Stokes and Brandon M. Scott have all expressed interest to one degree or another, as have some from outside the city's political establishment. The field of candidates in the last election, in 2011, was crowded, and though turnout was low, the race did produce a wealth of new ideas for addressing the city's problems. If ever we needed that, we do now.

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