Monday, July 23, 2007

While Baltimore voters are concerned about crime and worried that the city is headed in the wrong direction, Mayor Sheila Dixon holds a more than 3-1 lead over her nearest rival in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary, a poll shows.

Mrs. Dixon leads in virtually every region and in every demographic of the city, according to the poll, published last Monday by the Baltimore Sun.

Although most voters think Mrs. Dixon is doing only a fair job controlling crime, improving schools and making government honest, 71 percent have a favorable impression of her and 55 percent approve of the job she has done since stepping up in January from City Council president to fill the remainder of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s term.

The poll of 601 likely voters was conducted July 8 to 10 by OpinionWorks, an independent firm based in Annapolis. It had a margin error of four percentage points.

It found Mrs. Dixon ahead of City Council member Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. by 47 percent to 15 percent, with 28 percent undecided. The other six candidates in the primary received less than 5 percent each, with schools administrator Andrey Bundley receiving 4 percent, state Delegate Jill P. Carter and Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conway at 2 percent each and Philip Brown at 1 percent. Activist A. Robert Kaufman and businessman Mike Schaefer got less than 0.5 percent.

“Dixon has a lot of good will, and there’s a lot of hope for her and what may occur in this new administration,” said OpinionWorks founder and President Steve Raabe. “She’s almost instantly created the idea that she’s going to try to tackle some of the city’s toughest problems.”

The poll suggests that Mrs. Dixon, 53, a former public-school teacher, has a chance to make history as the city’s first woman and second black elected mayor, although most voters — 77 percent — said her sex was not a factor.

“She’s got it,” Johns Hopkins University political scientist Matthew Crenson predicted. “We’re less than two months from the primary [and] with that kind of a spread, Dixon would have to suffer some major disaster in order to lose her lead.”

Despite Mrs. Dixon’s formidable lead, primary elections in this predominantly Democratic city remain volatile. Voters often do not start paying attention until just weeks before the election. In August 1999, for example, an independent poll showed Mr. O’Malley trailing City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III by three percentage points. Mr. O’Malley ultimately won by a 3-1 margin.

Yellow fellows

Two of the announced challengers to U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest picked almost identical T-shirts for their campaigners at the eat-drink-and-be-merry crab feast last week on the Eastern Shore.

State Sen. Andrew P. Harris, who is challenging Mr. Gilchrest in the Republican primary for his 1st District seat, and Frank M. Kratovil Jr., a Queen Anne’s County prosecutor running for the seat as a Democrat, decked out their troops with bright yellow T-shirts.

“Andy’s always been navy and gold; the yellow T-shirts are what stood out best,” Harris political director Chris Meekins said at the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield.

Mr. Meekins added that yellow was a merciful choice for the campaign volunteers who weathered the heat and midday sun.

The candidates went for a yellow polo (Mr. Harris) and a black polo (Mr. Kratovil). Another Democratic challenger, Christopher R. Robinson, sweated through the day in a button-down white shirt and red tie.

What powder?

An onlooker from out of state — who out of embarrassment didn’t want his name used — asked a seemingly innocuous question at the aforementioned feast: “What’s that powder they’re putting on the crabs?”

That “powder,” as all Marylanders know, was Old Bay seasoning.

Volunteers at the festival had large foil pans filled with the seasoning, for the 300 bushels of Maryland blue crabs they were steaming.

Old Bay, of course, is a universal seasoning in the Free State, good on everything from meat to eggs and french fries to pizza.

Though maybe not on ice cream.

Wilson a winner

Democrat Justin Wilson won a close election to fill a vacant seat on the Alexandria City Council on Tuesday.

In complete, unofficial returns, Mr. Wilson captured 4,737 votes, or 52 percent, to 4,390, or 48 percent, for Republican Bill Cleveland in the special election to fill the seat vacated by Andrew Macdonald.

Only 11.5 percent of the city’s voters went to the polls, the lowest turnout since a similar special election in April 1996.

New spokesman

Matt Jablow, who served as the Baltimore Police Department’s director of public affairs for nearly four years, was fired and replaced by a top aide at City Hall.

Sterling Clifford, a key adviser to Mayor Sheila Dixon, told the Baltimore Sun that he was replacing Mr. Jablow.

Neither Mr. Clifford nor Mrs. Dixon would discuss the circumstances surrounding Mr. Jablow’s ouster, just days after Leonard D. Hamm resigned as police commissioner last week and was replaced by his top deputy, Frederick H. Bealefeld III. Police officials declined to comment.

Mr. Jablow would not discuss the circumstances of his firing.

“It was truly an honor to have worked with the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department for the past four years,” he said.

Mr. Jablow joined the department in August 2003 after working as a news reporter for WBAL-TV in Baltimore. He also worked as a reporter and anchor in Denver, Houston and Long Island, N.Y.

Mrs. Dixon said Saturday that the mayor’s office was not involved in the decision.

“It’s a personnel issue, and we’re moving forward and we’re trying to put things in place to keep things moving, to have accessibility,” she said.

Mr. Clifford is a former spokesman for Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. He said Mrs. Dixon and Commissioner Bealefeld would be “working closely” on more personnel changes at the department.

Tom LoBianco contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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