Former Mayor Sheila Dixon told The Baltimore Sun Friday she is once again running for mayor, arguing her reputation as a competent city manager and success at decreasing the murder rate should outweigh the scandal that forced her from office.
“I have the experience that none of the other candidates have — with results, with success," said Dixon, 65, in an interview.
She contrasted herself with Mayor Bernard C. “Jack" Young: “He’s been mayor for a brief time, but we’re going to be ending this year with, what — 340 murders? I don’t even watch the news much anymore because I can’t handle hearing the numbers. I just don’t see the urgency.”
Dixon, a Democrat, planned a campaign kickoff event for 11 a.m. Saturday at the Ruth M. Kirk Recreation and Learning Center in the Franklin Square neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore. A flyer for the gathering encourages people to “bring new hats, gloves, scarves and socks to donate to Baltimore families in need."
[ Sheila Dixon kicks off campaign to regain Baltimore mayor’s office: ‘Redemption makes you even stronger’ ]
Nine years after Dixon was found guilty of embezzling gift cards meant for the poor, she’s hoping Baltimoreans are willing to forgive her. As part of a plea agreement to a perjury charge, she resigned as mayor, was on probation for four years and could not seek office during that time.
“I am sorry for some of the choices and mistakes I’ve made. I’ve said it over and over and over. But I also believe in redemption,” said Dixon, calling her crime a “minor misdemeanor.”
“It affected not only me, but my family. I know I’m going to have to work triple hard to gain that trust back," she said. "Hopefully, I can get that trust back because of the results they’ll be seeing.”
Dixon is a mother of an adult daughter and a son in college.
During Dixon’s years as mayor, from 2007 to 2010, homicides in Baltimore dropped from 282 to 238, and the violent crime rate went down each year. Arrests declined from a high during the so-called “zero tolerance” policies of her predecessor, Democrat Martin O’Malley, as she hired a police commissioner who emphasized targeted arrests of violent shooters.
As of Friday night, 325 people had been killed in the city this year. It’s the fifth consecutive year with more than 300 homicides.
Dixon pledges that if she is returned to office, she will reduce crime, make smart hires in government and clean up the city with better performance from agencies.
“I have a whole plan to eliminate panhandlers and squeegee kids from the corners,” said Dixon, adding that she would use outreach workers to connect the youths to services. “They have to come off of those corners. They should be in school. They’re not going to be on those corners.”
She described herself as a “moderate” ― “I never was a liberal Democrat” ― and said she wants to scrutinize school spending and to lower taxes once crime is reduced.
“What’s happening with the money currently?” Dixon asked. “We’ve got to do an assessment. We’re failing our kids. I want to rescind taxes we currently have. I don’t want to add taxes.”
Dixon said that in order for the city to pay to implement the state Kirwan Commission’s recommendations to improve Maryland’s public schools, at a cost to the city of $330 million after 10 years, Baltimore must increase its tax revenues by rebuilding its population. That, she said, can only happen after crime is reduced significantly. The city has 602,495 residents, according to the latest census estimate.
Dixon is currently the marketing director for the Maryland Minority Contractors Association in Baltimore.
Dixon’s entrance into the April 28 Democratic primary pits her against Young, City Council President Brandon Scott, former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah and former Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith, all of whom have announced their candidacies ahead of the Jan. 24 filing deadline. State Sen. Mary Washington already has filed to run, as have nine other Democrats.
In 2016, Dixon narrowly lost a mayoral primary to then-state Sen. Catherine Pugh. Pugh resigned this year as mayor due to her own corruption scandal involving the sale of self-published children’s books. Young, the council president, was elevated to mayor.
Dixon never publicly criticized Pugh during her scandal, saying she empathized with her.
“I don’t believe in criticizing somebody when they’re down. I know what that felt like,” Dixon said. “When somebody’s down, I’m not going to try to knock them down lower. That contradicts my Christianity.”
Even so, Dixon said, she thinks some of the illegal contributions and loans prosecutors cited in their plea agreement with Pugh helped Pugh win.
“There were some questionable issues that affected the outcome of that election," Dixon said. “When people talk about the Russians and Trump, I say, jokingly, ‘I can relate.’”
Dixon’s political fundraiser is Rachael Rice of Rice Consulting in Baltimore, who organized her kickoff event. Dixon had $10,000 left over after her 2016 campaign, according to the most recent state campaign finance filing in January 2019.
Matthew A. Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University professor emeritus of political science, said Dixon is going to be a “significant candidate” in a crowded Democratic field. Being one of just a handful of women in the race gives her a potential base, Crenson said, considering that African American women are the largest demographic group within the Baltimore electorate. Sixty-three percent of Baltimore’s population is black.
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She’ll also be aided by the support of people who think she has proved to be a determined and energetic leader who will not be content with business as usual.
Still, it’s inevitable that the recent corruption scandal surrounding Pugh’s tenure will cast a shadow.
“The downside is that in the aftermath of Catherine Pugh, having another mayor who has been found guilty of a crime in office doesn’t seem like a good trend,” Crenson said. “Some of the other mayoral candidates are trying to emphasize that.”
Marvin James, Scott’s campaign manager, said the council president is framing the race around transparency and integrity.
“The council president is focused on curing the disease of gun violence, cleaning up city government and providing equitable opportunities for youth,” James said. “We hope all the other candidates look to do that, as well.”
Young campaign spokesman Myles Handy said the mayor welcomes Dixon to the race.
“We are focused on a campaign that’s dedicated to serving the people,” he said. “It will not change our game plan in any way.”