- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 11, 2009

BALTIMORE | It was easy to find the symbolism in Mayor Sheila Dixon’s first public event since being indicted on theft and perjury charges.

With the song “Eye of the Tiger” blasting through speakers, the embattled mayor donned red boxing gloves Saturday and climbed into a ring to perform cardio-kickboxing with a dozen others to promote physical fitness.

But the event didn’t go as planned. The boxing ring couldn’t handle the workout and soon collapsed beneath them. No one was hurt. Mrs. Dixon, unfazed, climbed out and continued her workout on the gym floor.

It was vintage Dixon, showing once again that she’s not easily rattled. Her demeanor remains unchanged, despite allegations she took gift cards intended for families in need and lied about gifts from her developer ex-boyfriend.

“It is a regrettable moment in our history, for sure. It’s not to be taken lightly,” said City Council member Mary Pat Clarke, a staunch Dixon supporter. “But it’s not a showstopper. It’s not something to stop the wheels of a successful administration.”

After all, as Mrs. Dixon’s attorney said after the mayor was indicted Friday, she is not charged with bribery. Nor is she charged with racketeering, extortion or fraud — all of which carry more severe penalties. Nowhere in the indictment is an allegation that Mrs. Dixon allowed money to influence her job performance.

“Any accusation of wrongdoing is embarrassing,” said Larry S. Gibson, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and a veteran political operative. “But considering how comprehensive and how long and how expensive this investigation was, it is almost a clean bill of health for city government.”

Mrs. Dixon, a Democrat, was already under investigation by state prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh when she became mayor in January 2007. The first black woman to hold the office, she took over as the city’s chief executive after Martin O’Malley, also a Democrat, was elected governor.

When asked at the time about the probe, which focused on her financial dealings as City Council president, she denied any wrongdoing and expressed confidence that it would end without charges being filed.

Mrs. Dixon remained confident, even when prosecutors searched her home last summer. She criticized Mr. Rohrbaugh for allowing the probe to drag on so long and wondered aloud what his investigators were looking for.

They found, among other things, several unredeemed Toys R Us gift cards that were purchased by a city agency for distribution to families in need. According to the indictment, Mrs. Dixon on several occasions solicited gift cards for the poor and used them instead for her personal holiday shopping.

For the rest of her time in office — her term runs through late 2011 — she risks being linked perpetually with gift cards the way disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was associated with flirtatious text messages.

“It’s not as embarrassing as it was for Detroit, but this is pretty bad,” said Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins University.

At the boxing center Saturday, Mrs. Dixon didn’t address the allegations directly, but made veiled references to her plight.

“There are going to be challenges, obviously, every day that we face in our lives,” Mrs. Dixon said. “But I believe Baltimore city is going to soar in 2009.”

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