- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2007

Mayor Sheila Dixon continues to lead the race for mayor of Baltimore, but her nearest rival, City Council member Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., has gained on her slightly, a poll shows.

Mrs. Dixon leads Mr. Mitchell 46 percent to 19 percent, according to a poll published yesterday by the Baltimore Sun. But 28 percent of voters polled were still undecided two weeks before the Sept. 11 primary.

OpinionWorks, an independent Annapolis-based firm, interviewed 559 likely Democratic primary voters by phone from Aug. 26 to 28, with a margin of error 4.1 percentage points.

Mr. Mitchell”s support has grown since a similar poll was taken in July for the Sun, when Mrs. Dixon led him 47 percent to 15 percent.

Even with that increase, experts said Mr. Mitchell”s campaign has not made enough progress to threaten Mrs. Dixon.

“My guess is it”s all over but the final tally as far as the Mitchell campaign is concerned,” said Donald F. Norris, a professor and chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “When you”re down by 27 points with less than two weeks to go, it”s virtually impossible and unheard of to come back.”

The other candidates in the mayor”s race each received less than 5 percent of support in the poll. Schools administrator Andrey Bundley, who also ran for mayor in 2003, received 4 percent, and Delegate Jill P. Carter received 2 percent.

A. Robert Kauffman and Mike Schaefer received 1 percent. Phillip Brown and Frank Conaway, who dropped out of the race two days into the three-day poll, got less than .5 percent.

Mrs. Dixon, the former president of the City Council who became mayor when Martin O”Malley was sworn in as governor in January, has stressed her incumbency in her campaign. And she is doing better among blacks and whites, men and women, homeowners and renters, as well as every age group, education level and geographic region of the city.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mitchell has focused his campaign on the city”s rising homicide numbers. Still, 44 percent of voters think Mrs. Dixon would do a better job dealing with crime, compared with 27 percent for Mr. Mitchell and 19 percent who are unsure.

“Everybody complains about the homicides, but I think the assumption that many voters make, especially in Baltimore, is that the mayor can”t do a lot to reduce the homicide rate,” said Johns Hopkins University political scientist Matthew Crenson. “And maybe Keiffer Mitchell made a mistake to make that the focus of his campaign.”

This support for Mrs. Dixon comes despite an increasing dissatisfaction with the city”s progress.

Only 29 percent of voters said the city is heading in the right direction, compared with 34 percent in July”s poll. More voters also said Mrs. Dixon is doing a poor job running an honest government than in the July poll, a jump from 13 percent to 19 percent.

Mrs. Dixon”s opponents have attacked her for questionable contracts issued by her office when she was council president and voting on contracts that benefited a company that employed her sister, an action prohibited by the city”s ethics law.

Mrs. Dixon”s former campaign chairman, Dale G. Clark, received more than a half-million dollars in taxpayer money without a contract. He was charged Thursday with failing to file income tax returns for three of the six years in which he earned money from the city.

Scandal also hit Mr. Mitchell”s campaign in August when aides found that $40,000 in campaign funds were used on questionable expenses and his father resigned as campaign treasurer. The amount was later revised to $56,000, and questions remain about where the money went.

Although more than three-quarters of voters said they had heard of the scandal, 61 percent said that it would not cause them to change their vote or that they were unsure.

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