Business As Usual
Baltimore Gets The Mayor's Race It Deserves
The orange-clad Mitchell for Mayor crew troops down Calvert Street looking like a picket line. A volunteer advance man--hair like Bill Clinton, dressed in a dark blue pinstriped suit with a flamingo-colored tie--bellows at random passers-by.
"Big man will be here in about five minutes, OK?" he booms to a woman who appears uninterested. "Don't believe the numbers, sir! It's Mitchell for mayor. Your next mayor, sir!" he calls to an old guy wearing thick glasses and a cap, who hurries past.
It is Monday, July 16, and this small commotion is taking place in the hot, noontime shadow of 111 S. Calvert St., a gilded office tower at a downtown traffic bottleneck. There are cameras from WJZ-TV and Fox, plus radio microphones, a still photographer from The Sun, and reporters from The Examiner and City Paper.
Baltimore's race for mayor is now in full swing, and the lead challenger to short-time incumbent Sheila Dixon is about to tee off on what he thinks will be one of the campaign's defining issues: corruption. But what happens next illustrates the weakness of 11th District City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell Jr.'s campaign strategy, and in a way of the city itself--or, at least, of its political class. Hating on corruption only works if the masses rally 'round. If they don't, then the money people--the people who depend on government contracts and favor--will dominate.
Mitchell spent the summer blasting Dixon while his fellow challengers have blasted him, lumping Mitchell in with Dixon as a tool of the downtown developers and a puppet of Gov. Martin O'Malley. The result has been a race in which Dixon has quietly coasted along on a sea of money, avoiding confrontations with her opponents, and ignoring questions about her past ethical lapses.
Mitchell has called his press conference on this busy sidewalk to announce his opposition to an item on this evening's City Council agenda: a charter amendment, proposed by Dixon, that would increase the minimum contract amount that the city could award without approval from the five-member Board of Estimates, the city's spending authority.
Mitchell stands before the cameras and arranges his earnest band of college volunteers behind him. "Tonight the City Council can do one of two things," says Mitchell, a towering man with a round, open face and a strong voice. "Continue with the status quo . . . or make a more open and transparent government."
Those words are Mitchell's campaign mantra. Whenever he's not complaining about the crime rate and Dixon's lack of a "plan" to fight the killing spree enveloping parts of Baltimore, he's talking "open and transparent."
But Mitchell doesn't make things plain. He says, for instance, that Dixon wants to "increase the contract threshold from 5,000 to 30,000."
If you already know about city contracting, the Board of Estimates, and Dixon's decidedly dicey relationship to this threshold (she arranged for Dale Clark, her former campaign manager, to receive $600,000 over five years in increments just under that $5,000 limit), then Mitchell's speech resonates. Or at least you know what he's talking about. But if you are among the legions who have never heard of Clark, or a company called UTech, or don't know what the Board of Estimates does, or otherwise live a fairly normal Baltimore life, Mitchell's point might as well have been made in Mandarin. He doesn't even use the word "dollars." He just says " 5,000 to 30,000."
"In the building right behind me there was a company that used this building as a mail drop," Mitchell says, adding that UTech--short for Union Technologies LLC--was involved in "all kinds of shady dealings that was exposed in the media."
Actually, the story, as reported by the Sun's Doug Donovan, explained that UTech, run by Mildred Boyer, hired then-City Council President Sheila Dixon's sister Janice after Sheila was forced to cut Janice from a job inside her City Hall office. That firing came after Sun stories pointing out the illegality of Dixon putting a sibling on the city payroll.
Janice Dixon next made news in February 2006 after The Sun noticed her sister, the City Council president, at a Board of Estimates meeting asking cable-TV company Comcast why UTech was not getting more work as a subcontractor.
Dixon subsequently denied ever voting on any of the UTech contracts; The Sun found she had voted on at least three of them (albeit once in opposition).
UTech--whose CEO was named 2003 "Minority Contractor of the Year" by the MD. Washington Minority Contractors Association--was stripped of its ability to win city contracts because it did not have a real office (just the mail drop at 111 S. Calvert). It also did not have the capacity (a licensed electrician, for instance) to do the work for which it was paid millions of dollars, The Sun reported.
Dixon has said that the UTech stories were a dirty trick by her political enemies, and that she has cooperated with a criminal investigation of UTech by the state prosecutor. Neither she nor her sister has been mentioned publicly as targets of the investigation, which is still ongoing.
"Enough is enough of contracts being bid out on family and friends," Mitchell thunders at his July 16 press conference. It's time to "move forward with open and transparent government, or continue to slide backward and award more power to the mayor's office." (Later that evening the council kills Dixon's proposal.)
In 1999, the last time there was no entrenched incumbent running for mayor in Baltimore, 27 contestants lined up at the starting line. Most of them were dreamers at best, and a half-dozen or so had enough experience as criminal defendants that national news outlets took mirthful notice. One candidate was arrested on an open warrant after a televised campaign appearance.
This year only nine hopefuls registered for the Democratic primary (Elbert Henderson, a Republican, has no opposition in his party and will face the winner of the Sept. 11 primary), and two have already dropped out--including Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway, who after months of insisting that Mitchell and Dixon were like clones of former mayor Martin O'Malley, abruptly threw his support to Mitchell at the start of a televised debate on Aug. 27.
It is a mark of Baltimore's progress that none of those running for mayor this year faces open arrest warrants or pending criminal charges. But the fact that Dixon has been able to ignore ethics issues that in other towns might sink a candidate outright perhaps signal how far the city still has to go.
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Dixon not only faces questions about her ethics, but she presides over a city that is on track to surpass 300 homicides in a year for the first time since 1999. Mitchell has attempted, awkwardly, to link these issues.
"Today we surpassed 200 murders for 2007 and still the interim mayor has no plan to address the murder crisis," reads a typical Mitchell attack, e-mailed to supporters and media on Aug. 20. "Instead, the interim mayor has spent her time on securing city contracts for her long-time contributors and promoting her cleaner and greener campaign through photo ops. Cleaner streets are all well and good, but at this point in time her priorities are all wrong."
In an interview on Aug. 17, Mitchell is asked to rate the effectiveness of his campaign's focus on ethics. "I don't know," he says. "This was the first thing I put up [on the campaign web site]. People told me I was crazy--`Put up something on crime or some other issues, schools.' I wanted to send a signal."
Yet it's not clear that the signal is getting out. A Sun poll published Sept. 2, found Dixon out in front with 46 percent of the projected vote and Mitchell a mere 19 percent; no other mayoral candidate broke double-digits.
An observer watching the campaign and reviewing news coverage might not immediately see why Mitchell's campaign has not caught fire. Mitchell is the scion of a local political family boasting three generations of political notoriety and savvy. He has a 12-year City Council record that is, if not glittery with miracle works, at least unblemished by scandal.
But Mitchell lacks two things: money and substance.
As of the Aug. 14 campaign finance reports, Dixon reported $726,000 in her coffers after raising $1.2 million. Mitchell reported only $163,000 on hand after raising $640,000, which was bad enough. But he also had fired his father, Dr. Keiffer Mitchell Sr., for misappropriating about $56,000 of that sum. The elder Mitchell returned $40,000 to the campaign and hired lawyer William Murphy Jr. to speak for him. At a press conference called to defend Dr. Mitchell, the eloquent Murphy said virtually nothing. It was an embarrassment bordering on scandal for Mitchell, and Dixon's people exploited it by offering no public comment, just quiet sympathy.
Mitchell contends Dixon's campaign undermined his fundraising effort stealthily, and long before he discovered that his father had written campaign checks to "cash." The Dixon campaign "started a whispering campaign saying that Keiffer can't raise money, so don't give him any" Mitchell says, adding that he's called would-be donors who have told him they'd like to contribute, but are afraid to because Dixon's people had called first and asked them how much they had committed to him. Nobody with business before the council or the Board of Estimates wants to show up on his campaign report, Mitchell suggests, because then bad things might happen to their city contract or development proposal. "Some of my calls [to past financial backers] haven't been returned," he says. "You find out who your friends are."
A lack of friends, or a lack of their money, can cripple a citywide run for office, but so can a lackluster campaign. Since announcing his intention to run in January, Mitchell has jabbed at Dixon's missteps and made broad promises--such as hiring 400 new police officers--without offering many details as to how he'll accomplish them. And there is the matter of his council record.
Asked to name three major victories, Mitchell begins with "the $42 million school loan that I sponsored," helping to save the city's school system from state takeover in 2004. It's an odd first choice, given that the loan deal was widely credited to O'Malley and considered to be a part of his strategy to lay the groundwork for his own takeover of the governor's office in 2007. Mitchell did get credit in a Sun story for hatching the idea as "plan B" to a state bailout, and he played a central role in getting it through the City Council. The loan closed a budget gap at the end of the year and was repaid within a few months.
Number two on Mitchell's list: In 2003, Mitchell says, he was able to save Hedwin Corp., a plastics manufacturer in Medfield, from shutdown after it was bought by a foreign company. About 100 jobs stayed in the city, and the company is now worker-owned. But Mitchell's involvement appears routine, by his own description: "I got them in touch with people," he says. "Governor Ehrlich, DBED"--the state Department of Business and Economic Development. Referring panicky business owners to a state agency would seem a routine part of a city councilman's duties.
Number three is "bringing my office out on the corner," says Mitchell, who has held afternoon sessions on Pennsylvania Avenue at Laurens Street, a notorious drug corner that doubles as a Metro stop. Mitchell has been there "signing people up for drug treatment," he says. "I'll be out there again next week."
The first two of these accomplishments were assists. They required a collegial relationship with more powerful politicians and helped them look good. What all three accomplishments have in common is this: Nothing new was built, and nobody got a fat contract. It's a sign, perhaps, of political hygiene, but also a signal that perhaps Mitchell hasn't developed the power or detailed, insider knowledge to move earth or close big deals.
Mitchell is also disarmingly unsure of how he'll manage the city if elected. To the question of how he'd pay for 400 new police recruits, he offers a question of his own. "Do you know how much waste there is in [the police department]?" Mitchell asks after 12 years on City Council. "Neither do I. You'll find waste." An audit of the Baltimore Police Department would discover enough money to hire 150 cops, Mitchell estimates. The rest will come from federal Homeland Security grants.
Mitchell further promises an "agency by agency audit" of city government. "The thing I need to do as mayor is find out what are the cards I'm dealt," he says.
And so Mitchell, lobbing charges of corruption and "pay to play" at Dixon, is still not sure if the deck is stacked, or where the jokers are hidden.
The rest of the field challenging Dixon certainly has its share of jokers.
Mike Schaefer pilots his Scion Xa up Charles Street, chattering about road signs he's found confusing, misleading, or downright dangerous. The Biddle Street-to-Guilford Avenue ramp looks like an on-ramp to the Jones Falls Expressway, Schaefer opines sourly, "but it's one-way against you."
Yet as Schaefer drives it becomes clear that he regards the law requiring motorists to "keep right" as a kindly suggestion. He cruises up the JFX, takes an exit ramp a bit too fast, and in a few minutes is piloting up Reisterstown Road looking for the Empowerment Temple, setting for an Aug. 16 candidates' forum. He's not sure if it's on the right or the left side, so his little car hugs the double-yellow, twitching this way and that at the site of likely parking spots.
"There it is," he says, diving left across two lanes at Primrose Avenue. In a minute he's out of the car with an armload of campaign signs.
Schaefer is a frugal millionaire with a four-decade political record stretching across the nation. Since serving in the early 1970s on the San Diego City Council he has run for office more than 20 times, in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Maryland. His proudest political accomplishment is setting the legal precedent, in 2000, that a congressional candidate need not reside in the district he seeks to represent.
In a case Schaefer says he argued before the California Supreme Court (though records indicate it was the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit), he made the precedent that a candidate is not required to live in the state in which he runs for Congress--not, at least, until inauguration day. Former Republican House majority leader Tom DeLay ran afoul of this ruling last year and was forced to stay on the Texas congressional ballot despite claiming a Virginia residence.
Another longstanding precedent helps define Schaefer's political career: He likes seeking out other, more prominent politicians with the same last name as his and running for office in or near their districts. Perhaps you've seen his red-and-white campaign signs stapled to fences and abandoned buildings. be safer with schaefer, they say, do-it-now! The name "Mike" doesn't appear on them, nor even does the "by authority of" notice explaining, in small print, whose campaign paid for the sign.
That notice is legally required, according to Jared DeMarinis of the Maryland State Board of Elections. But Schaefer, a lawyer who was disbarred in Nevada in 2001, disagrees.
"The modern view on that," Schaefer says, "is you have to identify the sign unless it's all in the records of the election office, and it's a one-candidate slate.
"I asked somebody," he adds, getting back into his car to drive the final 350 feet to the Empowerment Temple's parking lot. "I think [with] somebody at the elections office."
Besides claiming he is close friends with his idol, former mayor, governor, and state comptroller William Donald Schaefer (no relation), Mike Schaefer offers an eclectic mix of campaign promises.
He suggests a youth employment program in which the city would pay employers each worker's full salary for the first 90 days, then half-pay for the next 90 days. The youths would by then be trained and able to hang onto the jobs, Schaefer surmises. He's not sure how much this would cost the taxpayers, but he advocates a commuter tax to generate revenue. Schaefer says he would double, to 10, the city's horse-mounted police.
But a significant part of his platform involves numerous reforms of the city's parking ticket ordinances (if you get to your car before the meter reader gets the ticket on it, you should win, he says). At the Empowerment Temple forum, he announces, "I'll commute any parking ticket you get on your birthday," and smiles.
The crowd bursts into laughter. "Oooh, Def Comedy Jam, man," a woman near the back says. "This is a joke."
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Also on the dais at the Empowerment Temple forum, Andrey Bundley thanks the crowd for contributing to his "One Baltimore Fund" and invites attendees to visit him on his leased campaign bus, which he calls a "mobile mayor's office."
Bundley earned a Ph.D. in education from Penn State University, but he speaks with a preacher's cadence. He outlines a sweeping plan to "backward map" the city from the thriving place he envisions 30 years from now, and then build toward that goal. "If you're going to lead you've got to have vision!" Bundley says, falling into the magic ministerial speech rhythm. "I'm talking about the head. I'm talking about the heart. I'm talking about inspiring people who are somewhat uninspired. I'm talking about the hands . . . watch the people, see if they put their hands on the plow and do the work."
The speech is hypnotic, poetic, even though it melts out of your ears as soon as he stops talking.
In an interview in his campaign bus a few days later, Bundley explains his "One Baltimore Plan," the 22-page blueprint he touts as both his campaign's comprehensive message and his administration's future guidebook. The plan begins with an ambitious reorganization of city services, with the Office of Neighborhoods growing from the present staff of 12 to some 550 people.
Bundley says he'll divide Baltimore into 55 "neighborhood clusters," based on census information, and reassign 10 existing city workers to each cluster. They'll fan out and, working with neighborhood leaders and ordinary residents, fashion a "neighborhood improvement plan"--NIP for short. "This would take 311 to the people," Bundley says. "This would also leverage people power," his shorthand for the strength, knowledge, and volunteers of neighborhood organizations.
There will be a schools officer, a public-safety coordinator. There'll be someone making sure the streets are clean and someone else making sure families are kept whole. Some neighborhoods might need a drug-treatment coordinator, Bundley says. Others will have different needs.
Although as a school principal and administrator he has never accomplished such a large management reorganization, Bundley says that he would begin the plan in a single "cluster"--a tough one--and then follow with others later. "If we do it in one geographical area, we know it's duplicable," he says.
Bundley has the gift of inspiration. As he mesmerizes the 100 or so people at the Empowerment Temple, you believe him as he tells you every city youth over the age of 15 will have a summer job. You believe that the 50 percent of Baltimore's working-age population that is not employed will be, under a Bundley administration, generating perhaps $200 million in additional tax revenue.
Several mayoral candidates stress this problem in Baltimore--the problem of "low expectations," the problem of cynicism, of not believing in a better city, a better life. But Bundley does it different. He does not, like O'Malley did, like Dixon does, appeal by stressing his competence and experience at the reins of power. He does not tout his record as a consensus builder, as a team player. Instead, Bundley proudly touts his outsider status. "That's why I was an unpopular principal," he says at one point, when challenged about his record at Walbrook High School. He cares too much to play nice with the people--incumbents, bureaucrats, naysayers of all stripes and colors--who have stood in the way of progress for so many years, he intimates. Andrey Bundley will sweep them all away, he will start fresh, and he will engage the people--you--to help him rebuild this city from scratch.
In his plan, however, every institution and every person is aligned fully with all his goals. There is no provision for dissent, no blueprint for how Bundley might handle a powerful person--a John Paterakis, say, or a Peter Angelos--who wants to do something his own way.
This is a hard crowd, seasoned with strong-muscled men and gimlet-eyed older women wearing elaborate, flowery hats. They have seen it all, they've heard it all, and they will laugh at a candidate--Mike Schaefer, say--who strikes them as unserious. For Andrey Bundley, they applaud.
Jefferson Jackson Steele
The crowd applauds Del. Jill Carter as well, and no wonder. Carter and Bundley have staked out some of the same turf, the grass roots in many of the city's more desperate neighborhoods. But unlike Bundley, Carter has actually won elections and held office, for five years now.
On the night after the Empowerment Temple forum Carter paces the Metro stop at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Laurens Street in Upton, an area northwest of downtown, just south of North Avenue, that real-estate types have tried to redub "Marble Hill" in a nod to some of the fine rowhouses (one a past residence of Thurgood Marshall) that grace the side streets here.
This is a notorious open-air drug market, the place Keiffer Mitchell is proud to have stationed himself during daylight hours, but on this night, under a utility pole mounted with four separate police cameras, there are no drugs being sold, just hot dogs and bottled water given away to people, who, in turn, extol Carter.
"I think Jill Carter ought to be in office," passer-by Wanda Clayton Woods says. "I don't know too much about Dixon and Keiffer, but I don't think they're doing their jobs."
It's Friday, Aug. 17, near 11 p.m., and Carter is just beginning her sixth overnight campaign party on a drug corner. She says she won't sleep tonight and will keep campaigning tomorrow morning at the Waverly Farmers' Market. As she stands on the corner, men and women grab her arm, or shyly inquire, and then take her aside to tell her their stories. There is a former city temp worker, out of work, out of luck. There are people who have been arrested--falsely, they say--and need advice. They know Jill Carter is with them on that issue.
One block down the street someone smashes a bottle. One block up the street a group of men hover on a stoop, fixing hard stares on strangers. All along the street jill carter for mayor banners sprout from the curb on wire frames. A white minivan bedecked with more Jill Carter signs blares R&B from 92Q, and Carter's people--some relatives and some friends--dance in the street, waving signs. "Honk if you love Jill Carter," they yell. Some people honk.
"I'm happiest when I'm out here," Carter says, after marching into the street to hand literature to a man in a white Volvo stopped at the light.
Carter has fought an uphill campaign for notice and respect in a crowded field, and she's trying to differentiate herself--particularly from Dixon and Mitchell, whom she regards as establishment candidates--with these drug-corner campouts. A few weeks ago, Carter announced that as mayor she would increase the city's school funding by some $40 million while cutting millions from the bureaucracy at school system headquarters on North Avenue. Her proposals earned her praise by The Examiner's editorial board, but she was later overshadowed in the media when Dixon announced a creatively financed $250 million school building plan.
Since her election as a state delegate from Northwest Baltimore's 41st District in 2002, Carter has been frustrated by the media's coverage of her and her initiatives. "I feel like a lot of the media don't understand the city and don't understand the people," she says. "You go to the leadership for comments, you ask them questions, and that's how the issue gets covered."
As a legislator she fought for tougher lead-paint standards (landlords cannot use friends and relatives as lead testers because of Carter's advocacy, she says) while battling an epidemic of arrests in Baltimore City. She announced that as many as 2,000 people per month were being arrested, then released without being charged in Baltimore City during 2005. She pushed legislation to allow people to get their arrest records expunged.
"It was because of my leadership on the policing issue that we now have other candidates saying they're for community policing," she says, drawing a line between O'Malley's "zero tolerance" policy of arresting people for low-level crimes (or no crimes at all) and the current murder spike. "We could have stopped that [arrest policy] two years ago and have been reforming the police department for the past two years."
Carter says she was out front on education as well. "I haven't always won, but all these advocates calling for an elected [city] school board--I brought these people all together," she says. "That hard work that I did, pushing the legislation that never got passed, laid the foundation" for what today is a standard political plank in mayoral platforms, though Mitchell has not endorsed the concept and Dixon opposes it.
"I can't say I was successful in getting everything done I wanted to get done," Carter says, "but I did raise the issues."
Her constituents clearly appreciate her efforts; last year she was the top vote getter among the 41st's delegates, winning re-election with more than 13,000 votes. But she acknowledges that she has not always been politic. "I'm not a flowery, feel good, skate-around-the-issues person," she says. "I could have been a little more deferential to my colleagues, especially to some of the older, more seasoned veterans. It would have gone over a lot better."
Although Carter says she regards Mitchell and Dixon as indistinguishable on the issues, she has not been the most combative candidate. That distinction belongs, as usual, to A. Robert Kaufman.
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Kaufman is by now familiar to anyone who's paid attention to anything political in Baltimore over the past 50 years. The irascible, indomitable socialist has run for Senate, mayor, Congress, City Council, and various other offices, stretching back decades. Before that he was an organizer against the U.S. war in Vietnam, and before that, back into the 1950s and even the '40s, as a high-school student, he was an uncompromising advocate for civil rights, he says.
Kaufman has often been dismissed as a "perennial candidate," which of course he is, but he runs, he says, to keep his issues before the voters. This year, he's enjoyed an unusual level of success in getting out his message.
"The Afro American has published my letters," Kaufman says. "The Examiner has given me some coverage. I've been on [former Baltimore police commissioner] Ed Norris' radio talk show three times."
Kaufman has a 30-point campaign platform he refers to constantly. "Norris sat there and is looking through my 30 points," Kaufman recounts. "He says, `I agree with them all.' But everybody does!"
Kaufman pledges, among other things, to "take the profit out of drugs." He doesn't like the term "decriminalization" or "legalization," instead proposing that doctors dispense actual heroin and cocaine to addicts as long as they need it. Most heroin addicts, he maintains, could hold down jobs as well as alcoholics often do. And the crime and violence that undergirds the city's enormous drug economy could be halted.
Kaufman speaks with authority on this issue, having been mugged twice--once nearly fatally--during the past two years. The first attack has left him with total kidney failure, and he has pleaded publicly for a new kidney as he goes thrice weekly for dialysis. Yet his health is surprisingly good: "I'm actually healthier now because I lost all that weight," after the bludgeoning and stabbing attack.
The publicity surrounding that crime, which left him in a five-and-a-half-week coma even as he ran for U.S. Senate, brought new sympathy to Kaufman. He says he received cards and letters from many people he didn't know, and he reconciled with his estranged sister. The attack also made him "more empathetic," he says, to the plight of the "underclass." All of that makes this year's campaign different from those past. "Wherever I go, people know me, and like me," says Kaufman. "I'm not used to that."
The Kaufman prescription for Baltimore, then, includes: Universally available, taxpayer-funded health care (so radical it's standard equipment in European nations), massive education and jobs programs for those who are, as Kaufman frankly says, "unemployable." He's called for a "red-light district" featuring legal prostitution. He wants to make the distribution of wealth in the city more equitable by replacing the property tax with a city income tax and a commuter tax.
As is his tradition, Kaufman disparages the other candidates, saving his most stinging insults for Dixon and Mitchell, whom he considers tools of the ruling class. He ridicules their positions on crime: "Mitchell calls for 250 cops. [Dixon] says, no, we have to keep the ones we have, which is right, then a week later she says she wants 240 [more] cops . . . then it's 300 cops. Now Mitchell is for 400 cops. It's absolutely ridiculous, and they might as well be saying the Tooth Fairy is going to pay for it!"
Jefferson Jackson Steele
The two most difficult candidates to pin down in this race offer a study in contrasts. One is Dixon, the interim mayor and odds-on favorite, the other is Phillip Brown Jr.
Brown has not made much impact so far. His campaign is virtually invisible, and even Kaufman doesn't bother attacking him. He ran for City Council in the 2nd District in 2003, and he was one of the field of 26 who ran for mayor in 1999. Wags at the time noted that at least six mayoral candidates had criminal records, and Brown was one of them, having been convicted in 1992 of impersonating a police officer, and facing charges of harassment and reckless endangerment during the campaign. Those charges were later dropped. Public records indicate that Brown's driver's license was suspended this summer for failing to pay a fine after running a red light. He is also facing wage garnishment at his job at Life Like Products, a cooler and ice-pack manufacturer, for a $1,135 judgment in a civil case.
After agreeing to a meeting downtown on Saturday, Aug. 25, Brown did not show up and did not return a message left on his campaign phone.
Dixon has been almost as hard to pin down, and for the opposite reason. In recent months she has been everywhere, trooping through neighborhoods with a corps of city officials in tow, solving problems, reopening parks, announcing city expenditures.
Critics have noted her absence at most mayoral candidate forums, calling her tactics a "rose garden" strategy. It's a time-tested ploy for incumbents: avoid appearing with mere challengers and claim you're too busy governing to deal with petty politics.
Dixon extends the strategy to press interviews, which she grants sparingly. Calls to both her campaign and city offices over three weeks finally yielded a 30-minute interview in her second-floor sanctum at City Hall on Aug. 28.
"She'll be doing a lot of things during the interview," mayoral spokesman Anthony McCarthy says as he leads the reporter into a large room with a conference table. Though, in fact, the mayor, dressed casually in tan slacks and a blouse, focuses on the questions, pausing only briefly when an aide comes in with a lunch she doesn't touch.
Asked to say something nice about Mitchell, Dixon says, "Well, first of all we were colleagues in the 4th District. We really worked together. He understood my style."
Mitchell, then, was good for an assist. Dixon was the leader. But something changed.
Mitchell, Dixon says, has been "blatantly" putting out "information and things that aren't factual."
She says he didn't vote for the 2001 city police budget, for instance. This is important, she insists, because that was a time for political courage. Cuts were needed, and she hatched a plan to retrain and retain city employees who lost their jobs. "We took care of people," Dixon says. "It was a very controversial process for us." Mitchell voted against that budget, saying he was against the cuts in custodial and other staff. Dixon, who used that vote in a TV ad this month to charge Mitchell with voting against pay raises for police officers, wants these things remembered.
As for her handling of police matters this year--when she has ordered foot patrols, rescinded them, reintroduced them, and fired her police commissioner--Dixon insists things are well in hand.
"I know they pulled off some of the detectives" from beat-walking, she says, but the seemingly random redeployments were not, as they appeared to some observers, a sign of confused desperation in the mayor's office but reasoned decisions taken in response to changing conditions on the streets. "They were out there at one time when we needed the visibility," Dixon says.
And, contrary to her portrayal by her opponents, Dixon suggests she has been a champion for the city's have-nots, both in government and in the neighborhoods. But she has done things quietly, she says, and through a complex governmental process her competitors do not understand.
The theme runs through her rendition of her three proudest achievements, which begins with changing the culture of the City Council after she became its president in 1999. Under her leadership the council became "more focused," "more transparent," and more responsive to the voters, she says. This claim overlooks some incidents, such as when open-government advocates Joan Floyd and Doug Armstrong had to push their way into City Council "pre-meetings," held in a small side room, where business is actually done. Dixon later had police remove a public television activist at a Board of Estimates meeting, saying, "Get him out of here now, because if I have to put my hands on him, I'm gonna be in trouble."
Second on Dixon's list is the controversial 2005 Hilton hotel and convention center development project, specifically "the way that that deal was handled." It was handled in controversy: Nine council members voted against it at first, three of whom voted for it later after being promised development in their districts. Dixon says getting a fund for affordable-housing out of that deal was a huge victory--though most observers credited the activist group BUILD with pressuring Mayor O'Malley to fund the affordable-housing trust fund along with the hotel.
The hotel deal exemplifies the Dixon style. It was big, it was risky (putting city taxpayers on the hook for a $305 million hotel project the private sector would not back), it was a bonanza for a giant hotel company, and Dixon's friend, Ronald Lipscomb of Doracon Contracting, happened to get a major contract out of it.
Her third deed is empowering the people of her former council district, the old 4th. Without her leadership, Dixon says, the residents would not have become effective advocates for themselves, citing "illegal billboards. That was citywide, and it had to go to the Supreme Court, I think."
She is right. The city's 1994 billboard ordinance banning alcohol and cigarette ads in residential areas went to the Supreme Court. But a search of the LexisNexis database does not turn up a single mention of Dixon's name among the activists credited with that victory.
Still, Dixon insists that the complaint by her opponents and others that she is too much of a downtown mayor and not enough of a neighborhood mayor is "totally inaccurate. If not for downtown we wouldn't have the $59 million [from the hotel deal] now going to the Oliver community, which in some places looks like a war zone."
Dixon believes--like a lot of businesspeople and economists--that the engine of any city's growth is the central business district. She believes that feeding that central business district--awarding tax breaks to favored developers, assembling land for them, changing zoning for them, financing their hotels--allows wealth to trickle down to the neighborhoods. This is a standard, very defensible position. But it is not the only position. Some believe that twisting tax and zoning rules for the big boys warps the market and whets their appetite for more breaks. Development will come anyway, these critics claim, so giving away millions is just that--a giveaway--even if you get them to pledge a few million, or even a few tens of millions, to a project in Oliver.
Dixon says she has not been the development-friendly administration lackey her critics portray her as. Her example is telling: In 2000, the Frankford Estates Community Association wanted new housing in its Northeast Baltimore neighborhood, while city Housing Director Paul Graziano favored commercial warehousing for the area. "My first action was going over there and supporting their vision," Dixon says. She went to the mat against Graziano and won; now the community's vision is fulfilled with 176 new housing units. But is she getting credit for that?
"No I'm not, and I'm getting bashed," she says. "They said it was because I wanted to choose the contractor. But I didn't care who built it."
That may be true. But again, Dixon made that project happen--"twisted some arms," is how she put it years ago. After she got the project by O'Malley and Graziano, she got $4 million in TIF bonds approved. She became friends with Lipscomb during this time; he went to the Bahamas with her and 30 of her friends to celebrate her 50th birthday, according to a 2004 profile of Lipscomb in The Sun. Lipscomb's Doracon Contracting won the contract, which was approved by a Dixon-including Board of Estimates in February 2003 and voted on by the City Council five times subsequently. Working as a subcontractor for Doracon was UTech, and working for UTech was Dixon's sister Janice.
Dixon refuses to talk about UTech's troubles "because it's still under investigation."
Mitchell's campaign focus on it has gone nowhere, she says, because voters are tired of the ethics issue. "I think people have already seen through to the fact that Dale [Clark]'s contract was cleared, the ethics board had a ruling, there was no wrongdoing," Dixon says.
McCarthy jumps in. "No wrongdoing," he says. "They've grown weary of it."
The day after this interview, the state's attorney indicted Dale Clark for failure to pay state income taxes.
At this late point in the campaign, Baltimore's voters appear willing to live with a few questionable contracts if, in return, houses get built as well as downtown skyscrapers. And though weary of the city's endlessly scandalous murder rate and its Dodge City schools, Baltimore's citizens can live with those, too. They have for all these years.
Dixon insists that she's going to do better if she's elected to a full term. "We have every ingredient to be successful," she says. "It's a matter of connecting the dots so people in this city can reach their full potential."
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