- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2007

BALTIMORE (AP) — Mayor Sheila Dixon appears poised for an easy victory in Baltimore’s Democratic mayoral primary, which would assure her of serving a full four-year term as the city’s first female elected mayor.

With a victory, she would continue as the public face of a city more starkly divided than ever by the prosperity enjoyed downtown and in many neighborhoods, and the blight that strangles large swaths of the city.

“The city has become more extreme in terms of the gap between the community of haves and the community of have-nots,” said Anirban Basu, director of the Sage Policy Group Inc., an economic and policy consulting firm.

Mrs. Dixon was elevated to the mayor’s office from the City Council presidency in January when her predecessor, Martin O’Malley, became governor.

A poll conducted in late August showed Mrs. Dixon with a 27 percentage-point lead over her closest rival. She has raised more than twice as much money, and she’s picked up the endorsement of the popular Mr. O’Malley. Analysts proclaimed the race a virtual lock.

The winner of Tuesday’s primary faces little-known Republican Elbert R. Henderson in the Nov. 6 general election, but that contest is basically a formality since nearly 80 percent of the city’s registered voters are Democrats.

A surge in homicides, however, presents the most obvious symptom of Baltimore’s woes. With 213 slayings as of Sept. 7, the city is on pace to easily top 300 homicides, a threshold it has not exceeded since 1999.

Upon becoming mayor, Mrs. Dixon was immediately confronted with a dramatic upturn in homicides and nonfatal shootings, and in July she replaced Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm with his top deputy on an interim basis.

But if she is not perceived as an effective crime fighter, Mrs. Dixon will bear the burden.

Mrs. Dixon’s top challenger, City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., is running stark TV ads in which he claims that Baltimore faces a “murder crisis,” and he pledges to put more police officers on the street. The city’s police and firefighters’ unions endorsed him.

Mrs. Dixon’s supporters preach patience with her crime strategy. And they think her background leaves her well-positioned to lead the two Baltimores.

Mrs. Dixon worked for 17 years in the state economic development office and has strong ties to the business community. She is also a native of West Baltimore and a former kindergarten teacher. Her brother, Phil, the father of NBA player Juan Dixon, was a heroin addict who died of AIDS.

“Sheila will be in a position to say things to people that others might not be able to say,” said U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, who endorsed Mrs. Dixon. “As an African-American woman who has grown up in West Baltimore, she can go into a group of recovering addicts and say, ‘Look, don’t expect people to feel sorry for you.’ ”

Mr. Mitchell, too, has deep roots in the city — he comes from a long line of political leaders and civil rights activists — but his campaign has been marred by a feud with his father, whom the campaign accused of misusing $56,000 in funds while serving as its treasurer. His father paid the money back, but maintains the expenses were legitimate.

There is concern that Mrs. Dixon would use an election victory to reward those closest to her. Her term as City Council president was marred by questions about whether she improperly steered taxpayer money toward her sister, Janice Dixon, and a friend, Dale G. Clark, who worked without a contract as a City Hall technology consultant. Recent campaign-finance reports list Mrs. Dixon’s sister on the campaign payroll.

“The hiring of her sister and the paying of her sister out of campaign funds raise the ethical issue once again,” said Donald F. Norris, a University of Maryland at Baltimore County political scientist. “It’s yet to be seen whether her administration will continue to be plagued by apparent or real ethical lapses.”

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