Just 17 months after being forced into political exile after she resigned from the mayor's office in disgrace, Sheila Dixon is quietly advising candidates in this year's election and floating the idea of a political comeback in 2015, The Sun's Julie Scharper reports. The subtext is that Ms. Dixon did a lot of good as mayor (which is true) and that what she did to get in trouble wasn't really that bad. Baltimore needs to nip that narrative in the bud, and the effort should start with the three mayoral candidates who are playing political footsie with her.
Just to review, Ms. Dixon was convicted by a jury of her peers of stealing about $500 in gift cards that she had solicited from developers for the purpose of donating them to poor families at Christmas. She was a real-life Grinch who stole Christmas, but instead of seeking to dump all of Whoville's toys off a mountain, she put an Xbox and other goodies under her own tree.
That was the offense that led to the plea deal that included her resignation from office, but it's hardly the only thing she did wrong while in office.
While she was City Council president, she harangued officials to steer more business to a company that employed her sister, a fact that she had not disclosed. The company, Utech, turned out to be a sham minority business that didn't actually perform the work it was supposedly assigned as a subcontractor on city development deals.
She brought on her former campaign chairman as a computer consultant to the City Council and paid him $600,000 over six years, most of it without a contract. Ms. Dixon's staff instructed him to submit invoices of less than $5,000 so as to avoid having to bring the matter before the Board of Estimates.
And she engaged in a romantic relationship with a prominent city developer, Ronald Lipscomb (who, incidentally, was married) while she as council president was voting on contracts that benefited his company, Doracon. She received thousands of dollars in gifts and cash from Mr. Lipscomb and went on several getaways with him. In one case, she voted on a tax break for a project Doracon was working on and then hopped on a train to New York with him mere hours later. She did not disclose any of the gifts.
That Ms. Dixon was not convicted for those offenses does not make them right, and it does not erase an evident pattern of Ms. Dixon failing to see the distinction between public duties and private gain.
Perhaps there will come a day when the city can reasonably assess Ms. Dixon's legacy, good and bad, but that day has not yet come. The former mayor has not apologized for what she did and has not truly taken responsibility for it. What she has taken is somewhere in the neighborhood of $117,000 so far in taxpayer money through her pension. She will continue to collect that $83,000 a year for the rest of her life.
The fact that candidates Otis Rolley and former City Councilman Joseph T. “Jody” Landers have been in communication with Ms. Dixon about strategy in their bids to unseat Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake does not make them unethical. The same goes for state Sen. Catherine Pugh, who says she has not sought Ms. Dixon’s advice but sees the former mayor regularly at church and speaks well of her accomplishments and political accumen. Nor does it suggest that they would conduct themselves in office the way Ms. Dixon did. However, it does show a lack of leadership on their part. They could take the opportunity to articulate their understanding of what Ms. Dixon did wrong and lay out their plans for putting the city on a different path. Instead, they appear to be courting her endorsement as if it was some kind of prize.
There is something to Ms. Dixon's criticism that Ms. Rawlings-Blake hasn't presented a convincing vision of where she wants to lead the city — instead, she has spent much of her term managing one crisis or another — but it seems doubtful that this issue is what's driving the former mayor's evidently ardent desire to oust her successor. There is an air of pettiness to the whole thing, as in her observation that Ms. Rawlings-Blake isn't "touchy-feely" and "doesn't come off as caring." And there is surely an undercurrent of bitterness, not just that Ms. Rawlings-Blake is finishing the term Ms. Dixon won but that the new mayor made clear from the moment she took office that she was seeking a complete break in style, tone and substance from her disgraced predecessor. Perhaps that rubs Ms. Dixon the wrong way, but it was the exact right thing for the city and is something that even Ms. Rawlings-Blake's opponents should seek to emulate.