BALTIMORE — Mayor Sheila Dixon is close to hiring a new police commissioner. But her chief political opponent thinks she’s moving too fast.
Mrs. Dixon has interviewed “close to 10” candidates for the job vacated six weeks ago by Leonard D. Hamm, the mayor’s spokesman, Anthony McCarthy, said yesterday.
Among the top candidates are Acting Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and former D.C. police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. Both have said publicly they want the job and have sat for lengthy interviews with the mayor.
City Council member Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., Mrs. Dixon’s highest-profile challenger in the Sept. 11 Democratic mayoral primary, accused the mayor of politicizing the issue of public safety. Mr. Mitchell’s campaign has centered on his pledge to confront what he calls a violent crime crisis.
“What the interim mayor is doing is playing politics,” Mr. Mitchell said. “What she’s doing is floating out a decision on the police commissioner two weeks before the election to try to reassure citizens. But the citizens know what’s happening in their neighborhoods.”
Baltimore is on pace to top 300 homicides for the first time since 1999 — the year Martin O’Malley was elected mayor on a zero-tolerance crime-fighting pledge. Mr. O’Malley was elected governor last year, and Mrs. Dixon is finishing his second term as mayor while running for a full term.
Mrs. Dixon has shifted away from zero tolerance toward a strategy that includes targeted enforcement of the city’s most violent offenders, a renewed push to track illegal guns and improving relationships between officers and the neighborhoods they serve.
Concerned that Commissioner Hamm was not committed to carrying out her strategy, Mrs. Dixon asked for his resignation in mid-July and received it. Commissioner Bealefeld, then the top deputy, replaced him on an interim basis.
Mr. McCarthy said yesterday that the city is no longer accepting applications for the job, but he characterized the search as thorough and rigorous.
“We received calls of interest from around the country,” he said. “An enormous amount of information can be and has been gathered on all the candidates for this position, and the field has been narrowed in the last five and a half weeks.”
Mr. McCarthy had high praise for Mr. Ramsey and Commissioner Bealefeld, saying the former D.C. police chief would be “a leading contender for any law-enforcement vacancy around the country” and that Commissioner Bealefeld “has done an extraordinary job at the helm of the police department.”
“Mayor Dixon has a very difficult decision to make,” said Mr. McCarthy, who added that it was “unlikely” Mrs. Dixon would name a new commissioner before the primary.
Mr. Mitchell, who has been endorsed by the city’s police union, said he would cast a wide net to find a police commissioner who would establish a good relationship with rank-and-file officers and conduct regular audits of crime statistics.
Mr. Mitchell declined to say whether he thought Mr. Ramsey or Commissioner Bealefeld would be a good fit for the job and did not name any candidates he had in mind.