If Arthur “Squeaky” Kirk needs help at his Southwest Baltimore rec center, he knows who to call. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon always shows up when Kirk needs someone to speak at adult education classes or collect donations around Christmastime.
Dozens of people packed into that recreation center Saturday as the Democrat formally launched her campaign to become mayor again. Like Kirk, supporter after supporter could point to a time Dixon came through for them or their mother or their grandmother.
“The city needs her back in there,” Kirk said. “We need the person who is going to understand us.”
Dixon opened her remarks by offering thanks and an apology. Almost a decade ago, Dixon was found guilty of embezzling gift cards meant for the poor. As part of a plea agreement, she resigned as mayor and was on probation for four years, during which time she could not seek office.
She said she knows the next mayor must “earn the trust of Baltimoreans.”
Dixon thinks she’s the one to earn voters’ trust, tapping into her experience and reputation among some residents as a pragmatic, focused leader who oversaw a decline in the homicide rate and violent crime during her tenure from 2007 to 2010.
“I simply don’t see anyone in this race with a track record of leadership, vision for our future, or work ethic I will bring to the office of mayor,” she said to applause. “I am sorry for the mistakes I made that brought my term to an end. It is because I had to leave office that I will work three times as hard ... it is because I had to leave office that I will greet each day with a sense of urgency, holding myself and others accountable.
“I believe that redemption makes you even stronger.”
Dixon is jumping into a crowded April 28 Democratic primary, going up against Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Council President Brandon Scott, former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah, former Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith, state Sen. Mary Washington and others.
In 2016, Dixon narrowly lost a mayoral primary to then-state Sen. Pugh. Dixon and her supporters feel this time will be different: “There is a path,” Dixon said.
She pledges that if she is returned to office, she will reduce crime, make smart hires and clean up the city.
“We have to make sure that our folks know that the city government works for the taxpayers,” she said.
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That message resonates with social worker Juanita Maye, 55, who had long told Dixon that she wanted to see her run again. “The city needs a do-over, and she needs another chance,” Maye said. “Whenever you give someone a second chance, and their heart is as pure as hers is, they do better."
Tessa Hill-Aston, the former president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, said residents need Dixon in office to put the city and police department back on the right track.
“When she was mayor, she did a fabulous job,” she said. “Her boo-boo is nothing compared to some things that have happened in the last few years."
Dixon and her supporters dressed in red for the kickoff event, and showed up with donated hats, gloves and scarves to give to families in need.
She posed for selfies and laughed with family and church members who showed up on the rainy Saturday morning.
Among the group of people standing behind her when she announced was Maurice “Peanut” King, a former drug kingpin who recently completed a 37-year prison sentence. When he came back home, he too spoke of redemption and pledged to do what he could to make his old neighborhoods whole again.
“That’s what’s necessary in Baltimore,” he said. "She is trying to rebuild the city.”