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Politicsby Fern Shen7:05 pmSep 7, 20230

Still hoping to be Baltimore’s once and future mayor, Sheila Dixon enters the 2024 race

Her campaign kickoff at a West Baltimore park featured promises to curb crime, criticism of City Schools and Safe Streets and a show of support from the Conaways

Above: Sheila Dixon announces her candidacy for Baltimore mayor. Standing behind her, Circuit Court Clerk Xavier Conaway and his mother, Register of Wills Belinda Conaway. (Fern Shen)

Standing in a West Baltimore pocket park where she said she got her start as a politician, Sheila Dixon invoked her past performance as mayor while announcing her latest attempt to return to office.

“We were able to reduce crime to its lowest in 30 years by getting illegal guns off street, by addressing the many issues of crime that we face, the quality of life issues that impact us, and I know that I can do it again,” Dixon said, standing on a stage surrounded by a phalanx of supporters in sweltering heat.

Dixon may have been out of office for more than a decade – she resigned in 2010 as part of a corruption case plea agreement – but she says she is struck by the number of city residents who come to her seeking help.

“People call me for issues dealing with illegal dumping, permits – I could go through a whole list of issues, daily, for years now,” she said, explaining why she’s making a third try to get back to City Hall.

Castigating the administration of incumbent mayor, Brandon Scott, without mentioning his name, she declared, “I look at city government today, and I don’t recognize it anymore.”

Tonika Garibaldi, of Black Women Build, poses for a picture with Sheila Dixon. (Fern Shen)

Tonika Garibaldi, of Black Women Build, poses for a picture with Sheila Dixon. (Fern Shen)

Knocking City Schools

Hinting at her electoral ambitions for months, Dixon has stayed in the public eye in part through appearances with a close ally, Democratic State’s Attorney Ivan Bates.

Her announcement today confirmed that the 69-year-old is jumping into the so-far quiet 2024 mayor’s race, setting up a rematch with the 39-year-old Scott.

Scott, who narrowly defeated Dixon in 2020 and has announced plans to seek re-election, is now poised to go head-to-head with Dixon in the May 14, 2024 Democratic primary, the decisive race in deep blue Baltimore where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 20 to 1.

Dixon, who also ran unsuccessfully in 2016, is launching her latest campaign with many of the same strategists from her past bids.

She started the day’s rollout with an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun and an appearance on WBFF FOX45. Her comments on the air mirrored those she made at the park in the 500 block of Gold Street.

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” she said. “Crime is going down a little bit, but they still don’t feel safe. Carjackings, juvenile crime. I could go down the list.”

“We should create more charter schools,” Dixon said, also suggesting possibly lengthening the school day.

Dixon also offered extensive criticism about city schools.

“We have to have a school board that’s accountable to the schools – our children they are our future,” she said. “We have to do better by them – Baltimore ranks number four in per pupil [dollar spending] in the country. We should have the best schools in the country.

“We should create more charter schools,” she continued, also suggesting possibly lengthening the school day.

Her third line of attack today was about the inability of city government to provide basic services.

“We’ve got to have regular trash pickup. We’ve got to make sure with our water bills that we know what they are and that they’re accurate.”

“There’s a spinning wheel of department heads,” she added, a nod to the executive turnover in thr Scott administration. “We need some stabilization.”

Sheila Dixon supporters assembled for her campaign campaign kick-off. (Fern Shen)

Dixon supporters, including former Baltimore City Councilwoman Helen Holton (far right), assemble in West Baltimore today for her campaign kick-off. (Fern Shen)

Support from the Conaways

Casting herself as an old hand who needs to right the listing ship of city government, Dixon gathered a crowd around her that sent a message about her base that included local ministers and current and former elected officials.

Dixon was introduced, for example, by Register of Wills Belinda K. Conaway, the daughter of longtime Baltimore City Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr., who died in 2015.

Standing beside her was a younger member of the political dynasty, her son Xavier A. Conaway, elected to the court clerk position at age 25.

Also in the crowd was former Councilwoman Helen L. Holton who was indicted by a grand jury in 2009 as part of the corruption probe that led to Dixon’s resignation.(In 2011, the Maryland Court of Appeals dismissed the most serious charges against Hilton, currently vice chair of the Board of Trustees of Baltimore’s Employment Retirement System and Elected Officials Retirement System.)

On Gold Street, Rev. Rodney Hudson hands a motorist a leaflet about a community meeting. (Fern Shen)

On Gold Street, Rev. Rodney Hudson hands a motorist a leaflet about a community meeting. (Fern Shen)

In the crowd listening to the remarks was the Rev. Rodney Hudson, of nearby Ames Memorial United Methodist Church.

He said he is worried about violence and blight in the area and feels “more confident” about Dixon than the current administration.

“She has a track record, and she is truly embedded in the community – the people who sweat here, bleed here,” Hudson said. “She listens to the people, not the think tanks and the pundits.”

“She listens to the people, not the think tanks and the pundits”  – Rev. Rodney Hudson, Ames Memorial United Methodist Church.

At another point, Dixon appeared to distance herself from one of her old initiatives.

Prompted by a Fox reporter, she criticized the Safe Streets program, which Scott has embraced but which was started during her administration.

Dixon said she has become concerned about the program in recent years. “Not necessarily the employees – I wouldn’t give up those names – but the funding, where’s it going to? Where’s the accountability? How’s the reporting done?”

Asked if she would commit, as mayor, to keeping Safe Streets, she pointedly did not say “yes.”

“Let me put it this way, there’s a whole lot of different programs that need to be analyzed,” she answered.

Sheila Dixon staffers, Gabriel Ortis and Martha McKenna. (Fern Shen)

At the Sheila Dixon campaign kick-off, staffers Gabriel Ortis and Martha McKenna. (Fern Shen)

“They can trust me”

On the subject of Dixon’s resignation from office in disgrace in 2010, the questions today were gentle and her answers were oblique.

In 2009, Dixon was convicted by a jury of embezzlement for stealing gift cards meant for poor children.

As part of a plea agreement to a separate perjury charge in the case, she resigned as mayor, was on probation for four years and could not seek office during that time.

She admitted lying on her ethics form – failing to disclose thousands of dollars worth of meals, hotel stays, fur coats and shoes that she had received from her developer boyfriend, Ronald Lipscomb.

The Sheila Dixon story: It wasn’t just about the gift cards (5/18/20)

In her Sun op-ed today, Dixon wrote that she has been told that her prior public apologies “have fallen short.”

So she offered these words:

“I let matters of the heart lead me astray once before, and for that, and the pain that it caused to my beloved Baltimore, I am truly sorry.”

At the announcement event, she also asked people “to forgive and help me to move forward to help the citizens of Baltimore.”

But can voters trust you, someone asked.

“They can trust me,” she replied. “I’m the most transparent person, the most trustworthy person.”

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