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?
SD: It was a misdemeanor. I corrected it—you show me a perfect person. You mean nobody deserves a second chance? When I win the write-in, I know I am going to have to win people’s hearts and their trust, and I’m going to do everything in my power to do that.
TR: Why does Baltimore need you right now?
SD: Because we’re in a crisis and we can’t wait four years for this person to be the puppet. You can put somebody in that has a track record and can get the city moving in the right direction. But not only that; I want to bring young people in that really want to be in public service for the right reason and learn the system. If something is working, you don’t throw it out just because someone else implemented it.
Like CitiStat [an accountability program for public agencies], there were pros and cons, but I knew it was a way to assess our city agencies and keep our agencies on point, and so I used that. I used it not to scare them but to say this is the problem. It’s a good tool. Martin O’Malley implemented that.
Women in Action was an effort I spearheaded with principals with an interest with young women in middle schools. The initiative went well. When they went to school, they were mentoring these middle schoolers. After I left, it got thrown away.
TR: What do you think about focusing on projects like Port Covington rather than building up poor areas like Sandtown?
SD: The amount that will be contributed to Port Covington will come out of what Under Armour puts in. They increased affordable housing from 5 percent to 10 percent. You want to have a flagship corporation in your city that’s willing to give back. You want to make sure in that process that everybody is a part of it.
Do we want to clear away vacant properties and create more green space? Do we want to create some hub zones? How do we look at an area?
TR: There’s always the danger of displacing people.
SD: There is, but in some of those cases, moving into a better area could be potentially better for themselves and their families. That’s why some of the people who left their areas when they did the EBDI [Johns Hopkins University redevelopment area]—we were able to give them the value of their property and even enough to buy another home. Some of those people left and they’re doing much better.
TR: What separates Baltimore from other major cities is not having a good transportation system.
SD: I really fault O’Malley’s administration because I was one of the early ones on board with the whole grant we got to do the Red Line, and for me, you have to get stuff shovel-ready. [Gov. Larry] Hogan would not have been able to say no, we can’t do it. That’s why they were able to choose in continuing the Purple Line.
TR: Is the Red Line still viable?
SD: I don’t know whether or not we can get a subway system right now. I think economics will be a factor. Question is, can we figure out the best route to deal with it right now as well as address the roads.
TR: How did Baltimore get better under your leadership?
SD: Crime was reduced, the city began to get cleaner and greener and healthier with initiatives like the ban on smoking and healthy-babies initiative.