Tuesday, August 14, 2007

BALTIMORE — (AP) Mayor Sheila Dixon picked up key endorsements yesterday from Gov. Martin O’Malley and former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, with both men praising her tenacity in a city that continues to struggle with homicides.

Mr. O’Malley worked with Mrs. Dixon, a Democrat, as City Council members and when he was mayor from 1999 until he became governor this year.

He described her as “a tireless advocate to advance the common good.”

“I could not have accomplished anything were it not for the openness, the candor, the honesty and the partnership extended to me by Sheila Dixon, your next mayor,” said Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat.

Mrs. Dixon became acting mayor when Mr. O’Malley was sworn in as governor in January.

With City Hall in the backdrop, Mrs. Dixon gathered yesterday with supporters.

Mrs. Dixon, a Baltimore native and the city’s first female mayor, has deep roots in Baltimore politics. She was elected to the City Council in 1987, then became City Council president by winning citywide races in 1999 and 2004.

Mrs. Dixon, a karate student and the aunt of NBA player and former University of Maryland basketball star Juan Dixon, is one of eight candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the Sept. 11 primary. She holds a more than 3-to-1 lead over City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell, her nearest rival, according to a poll published July 16 by the Baltimore Sun.

Among her supporters are state Sens. Nathaniel J. McFadden and Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrats, and City Council President Stephanie Rawlings Blake, also a Democrat.

Mrs. Dixon also leads Mr. Mitchell in fundraising. She raised $1.2 million from Jan. 11 to Aug. 7. Mr. Mitchell raised $651,000, according to the campaigns.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Elbert R. Henderson, the lone Republican candidate.

Mr. Mfume, a Democrat who headed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People after serving five terms in Congress from Maryland’s 7th District, said Mrs. Dixon was the best person suited to send “a message about healing” in a city that “cries out for leadership.”

“Does she have all the answers? No. But she seeks, like all of us, new answers, new ideas by reaching out every day to community leaders and others,” he said.

Baltimore is having a tough year with its perennially troubling homicide rate. The city has recorded 196 homicides so far this year, compared with 169 at the same time last year.

Mr. O’Malley said Mrs. Dixon is “hanging in there” during a difficult period and that as mayor he contended with a similar situation.

Last month, Mrs. Dixon fired Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm. The job has been marked by instability for years. Mrs. Dixon said she is trying to assemble a strong team at the department, but she declined to say whether interim Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III will become the permanent pick.

Mrs. Dixon said she is trying to keep the department focused on the city’s most violent offenders. She also said that encouraging residents to work with the police is crucial.

Mr. Mfume agreed that would be the best way to bring down the city’s homicide rate.

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