Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon Rejoins Race for Mayor With Write-In Campaign

In an exclusive interview with The Root, Dixon talks about the city of Baltimore and her plans for re-entering its mayoral race.

Baltimore mayoral candidate Sheila Dixon talks with voters during a rally to mark the anniversary of the police-involved death of city resident Freddie Gray in Baltimore on April 25, 2016.
Baltimore mayoral candidate Sheila Dixon talks with voters during a rally to mark the anniversary of the police-involved death of city resident Freddie Gray in Baltimore on April 25, 2016. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Some people thought they had seen the last of former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Dixon, alternately one of the most beloved and hated figures in Baltimore politics, will officially announce her write-in candidacy for mayor in the Nov. 8 general election Tuesday morning.

“While a write-in candidate has never been successful in recent history here in the city of Baltimore,” Dixon said in a press release, “we’ve seen successful write-in candidacies across the country, including right next door in Washington, D.C., when Anthony Williams ran a successful write-in campaign after being left off the ballot in the 2002 Democratic primaries.”

During Freddie Gray’s funeral in April 2015, in the wake of riots, current Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was given a lukewarm reception while Dixon received two thunderous standing ovations filled with outbursts of “We love you, Sheila!” and “We need you, Sheila!”

This base of voters has been urging Dixon to run, especially after the primary election was marred by a state review that found 1,650 ballots were handled improperly and eight data files went missing a day after the election. Dixon lost the primary to state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh with 46,301 votes to Pugh’s 48,709 votes. According to the Baltimore Sun, Pugh crossed racial boundaries, finishing either first or second in every precinct in the city, whether predominantly white or black.

While some will welcome Dixon’s return to the race, there is an equal number of passionate detractors who will not forgive Dixon’s transgressions. Specifically, her misdemeanor conviction for embezzling $500 worth of retail gift cards intended for the needy. She apologized publicly and said that the violations related to issues around paperwork. Critics say she is a distraction in a city with deeply entrenched problems.

Her successes during her tenure as mayor in a city with an outrageous homicide rate included hiring a police commissioner who helped to drop the homicide rate to the lowest it had been in 20 years. Other initiatives that were celebrated included a recycling program, a campaign to target gun offenders and getting rid of vacant properties. She created the Charm City Circulator—a free bus service in parts of the city with heavy traffic—and instituted a $15 minimum wage for city workers.

In an interview with The Root Friday, Dixon revealed that she would be running as a write-in candidate. She said she could have asked for a recount, but said it would have cost her “millions of dollars.” She said she plans to file paperwork at the Baltimore City Board of Elections at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday and will hold a news conference afterward and a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday via social media.

Here’s some of what Dixon had to say about her run:

The Root: What does change look like in Baltimore?

Sheila Dixon: Various things have to happen that are not just related to police reform. How police deal with the public is one variant, but we also have to deal with how we treat each other. We need to look at taking more responsibility for ourselves.

New York has one of the largest school systems in the country, but it’s one of the best school systems in the country. I worked on an initiative called Family Strengthening. What it meant was we began to work with families, people coming out who were incarcerated, connecting them back to the family. Kids today, some of them need psychological help, not just providing for them. We have issues—we have to break cycles. We need to be accountable and we need to assess what’s working and what’s not working.

TR: But the difference between New York and here (Baltimore) is jobs …

SD: There are jobs here, but the problem is we don’t have skilled people. Like the Port Covington initiative—that’s 20 years out. I instituted initiatives as mayor that called for equities for minorities, increase minority opportunities, training. It’s a good model to duplicate. Everybody doesn’t want to go to college. A lot of our vocational programs don’t have the latest technology. Students should begin freshman year in high school working on a plan for graduation—either going into an apprenticeship or college.  

TR: State Sen. Pugh has had some accomplishments with youth around the creation of the Baltimore Design School.

SD: Well, they’ve had turnover in students and principals and they want to try [to] keep out certain kids. There are a lot of issues. It didn’t come out during the campaign. This campaign was about anybody but Sheila as far as the establishment was concerned.

TR: Well, that’s the other issue; it’s clear that people love you or hate you. There’s a deep divide. Do you think you can get past your conviction in the public’s consciousness?