- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

BALTIMORE

It’s difficult enough to lead a city plagued by rampant violent crime, failing schools, widespread poverty and drug addiction. For Mayor Sheila Dixon, the job figures to get tougher this year - and not just because of the sagging economy.

A city grand jury Friday indicted Mrs. Dixon, a Democrat, on 12 counts, including theft and perjury. She has pledged not to resign, and her term runs through late 2011.

But a conviction on any of the 12 charges would trigger her removal from office under the Maryland constitution, and that possibility could dog her for years as her case winds through the courts.

“She’s damaged,” said Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins University. “As often as people will say that she’s innocent until proven guilty, nevertheless this is going to hurt her and it’s going to undermine her effectiveness.”

The need to devote time to her legal strategy may distract her at critical moments. With the state’s legislative session about to begin, some wonder whether Mrs. Dixon will be able to advocate for Baltimore’s needs as she has in the past.

“It may well be that we see the deputy mayor an awful lot, instead of her,” said state Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley, Western Maryland Republican.

Still, Mr. Brinkley thinks lawmakers will look past the indictment and consider the merits of the legislation Mrs. Dixon pushes.

Some political observers think Mrs. Dixon can forge ahead, at least in the short term.

She’s accused of using gift cards meant for the poor to buy clothes and gadgets for herself. The indictment does not suggest she allowed money to influence her job performance.

“It would seem that unless the prosecutor’s case becomes much stronger than it currently appears to be, this is not likely to have much impact on her ability to govern,” said Donald F. Norris, professor and chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The city has seen a decrease in homicides under Mrs. Dixon, and she’s been praised for shrewd hiring and quick problem-solving. As the first black woman to be elected mayor of Baltimore, she has a strong base of support in a city that’s two-thirds black.

Mrs. Dixon should not expect the 15-member City Council to stand in her way. The are all Democrats but not particularly powerful.

City spending is approved by the Board of Estimates, a five-member panel that includes the mayor and two mayoral appointees.

City Council member Mary Pat Clarke said Mrs. Dixon should rein in her ambitions for the city’s future and concentrate on making sure things don’t get worse.

“We’re in a national recession,” she said. “We need to retain, retain, retain the jobs and business that we have. I think she can do it well.”

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