- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

BALTIMORE (AP) — Sheila Dixon won an extended stay as mayor of Baltimore, assuring herself of becoming the first black woman elected to the office with a resounding victory in yesterday’s Democratic primary.

“I stand humbled in front of every Baltimorean tonight, regardless of what button you pushed, uptown or downtown, have lots of money or none,” Mrs. Dixon said in a speech at her victory party. “I am your humble servant, who will work tirelessly on your behalf.”

With 60 percent of precincts reporting last night, Mrs. Dixon had 26,307 votes (61 percent) to 11,022 votes (26 percent) for her closest competitor, City Council member Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr.

Mrs. Dixon will face little-known Republican Elbert R. Henderson in the Nov. 6 general election, but that contest is considered a formality because 79 percent of the city’s registered voters are Democrats.

Mrs. Dixon, 53, has held the office since January, when she took over for Martin O’Malley when he became governor. Baltimore has elected one black mayor, Kurt L. Schmoke, who served from 1987 to 1999, and Mrs. Dixon is the first female mayor.

Rain showers fell throughout much of the morning and early afternoon, and the progress of voters into polling places across the city resembled a trickle. City Elections Director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. said 82,921 persons voted — a 28 percent turnout. Baltimore has more than 263,000 registered Democrats and nearly 32,000 registered Republicans.

Some who voted were less than enthusiastic about their choices. After careful consideration, retired city employee Jim Hall, 66, decided not to vote for anyone for mayor, even though he voted in other races on the ballot.

“I think Dixon has done a good job, but I just don’t like all the things that are circulating about her behavior with her relatives,” Mr. Hall said.

Mrs. Dixon’s term as City Council president was marred by questions about whether she improperly steered taxpayer money toward her sister, Janice, and a close friend, Dale G. Clark. Janice Dixon was also on the mayor’s campaign payroll.

Mr. Hall said he likes Mr. Mitchell, 39, but didn’t think he has what it takes to be mayor.

“To not vote is serious business,” he said.

Graham Vinzant, 76, said he voted for Mrs. Dixon largely out of frustration with the way Mr. Mitchell ran his campaign. Mr. Mitchell’s father resigned as campaign treasurer and has been embroiled in a nasty dispute with the campaign over his spending while he held that position.

“She’s talked the talk,” Mr. Vinzant said of Mrs. Dixon. “But I’m not terribly happy with her. She was not outstanding as City Council president, in my opinion.”

Norma Terry, 73, declined to say whom she voted for, but said she had a tough time making up her mind.

“Sometimes you pick the lesser of two evils, and I think it’s very difficult to tell in this day and age who’s honest and who’s not,” Miss Terry said. She said she was troubled by questions about Mrs. Dixon’s ethics but noted that “Mitchell has the same thing — the baggage.”

A poll conducted in late August showed Mrs. Dixon with a 27-percentage-point lead over Mr. Mitchell, and analysts have declared the race hers to lose.

Victories by Mrs. Dixon and City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake would give black women a historic sweep of the city’s top four elected positions. Joan Pratt ran unopposed for comptroller, and State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy is not up for re-election.

In the race for president of the City Council, with 40 percent of the precincts counted, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had 66 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Michael Sarbanes .

Mrs. Rawlings-Blake, chosen by the City Council in January to succeed Mrs. Dixon as its president until the election, has never run a citywide race. Mr. Sarbanes is the son of former U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and the brother of U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes.

Mrs. Dixon’s supporters trumpet her experience. After 12 years on the City Council, she was elected to the presidency in 1999, when Mr. O’Malley won his first term as mayor, and she frequently describes herself as the former mayor’s “partner in progress.”

“She’s been there; she’s experienced,” said Fariydah Rasheed, 45, who voted for Mrs. Dixon. “I think old school’s better.”

Mr. Mitchell’s campaign posted photographs on its Web site that appeared to show Mrs. Dixon greeting voters inside a polling place other than her own. State law bars campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place.

Mr. Mitchell’s campaign complained to the city and state election boards, and any evidence of improper electioneering will be forwarded to the state prosecutor’s office, said Ross Goldstein, deputy state elections administrator. Chief Investigator James I. Cabezas declined to comment on whether the state prosecutor would be looking into the complaint, citing office policy.

Martha McKenna, Mrs. Dixon’s campaign manager, said any violation of the law was unintentional.

“It was just an innocent mistake,” she said. “We were notified and reminded, and we’re certainly going to stay outside that 100-foot line. It’s not a big deal.”

Beyond the electioneering flap, the primary appeared to run relatively smoothly. Maryland’s 2006 primary election was riddled with problems that caused precincts to open late, prompting court action to extend voting hours in Baltimore and other jurisdictions.

In addition to Mrs. Dixon and Mr. Mitchell, candidates for mayor included Phillip A. Brown Jr., city schools Administrator Andrey Bundley, state Delegate Jill P. Carter, activist A. Robert Kaufman and businessman Mike Schaefer. All have received scant support in polls.

Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr. remained on the ballot despite announcing last month that he was dropping out of the race and endorsing Mr. Mitchell.

n AP writers Ben Greene and Todd Hallidy contributed to this report.

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