BALTIMORE – Sheila Dixon says that when she becomes Baltimore’s mayor in January, her first priority will be a clean city.
The Baltimore City Council president, who will become the city’s first female mayor when Martin O’Malley resigns to become governor, said Friday that cleaning up the trash, empty cans and fast food wrappers which seem to have become a permanent part of the cityscape will be “a 24/7 job.”
“It might be a small thing,” Dixon told a press conference, “but it’s really a major thing that can go a long way.”
As she prepares to become mayor of the state’s largest city, Dixon also faces the challenge of cleaning up her own image if she hopes to win election in her own right next year.
She became mired in two potential scandals this year, which are being investigated by the state prosecutor’s office. One was over a city contract awarded to a company where her sister works, and the other was over $500,000 worth of non-contract work done by a former campaign chairman’s firm.
“I believe I can govern effectively,” she said Friday when asked about the probes. “I have cooperated with the state prosecutors. There has been no wrongdoing.”
In addition, she still carries some baggage from an early reputation as a political firebrand. At a council redistricting meeting in March 1991, she famously waved a shoe at her white colleagues and said, “You’ve been running things for the last 20 years – now the shoe is on the other foot.”
The incident may haunt her, but Dixon, 52, said Friday that she has “matured” since she was elected as the youngest member of the city council 19 years ago.
She said that now, she tries “to communicate better with individuals and to look at the bigger picture and look at all sides before just jumping out and making a decision on a particular issue . . . I’m really a shy person, but I’ve come out a lot more to express to people about who I am personally and the love that I have for people and communities and families.”
Much like O’Malley said Thursday when introducing key members of his transition team, Dixon promised “as smooth and seamless” a transition as possible. She introduced Atwood Collins III, an executive vice president of M&T Bank, and Betty Bland-Thomas, president of the Sharp-Leadenhall Planning Committee, as the chairs of her transition team.
She also stressed a desire for “consistency” in the city administration, including at the Police Department, where O’Malley’s administration had seven commissioners in as many years. “I like Commissioner [Leonard] Hamm,” she said.
Dixon, an exercise and work-out buff, has her work cut out for her in the coming months. She has said that while finishing O’Malley’s term as mayor, she will also campaign for election to the office next year. Earlier in the week, she said she expected a “very deep pool” of candidates to run against her.
The list of those said to be seriously considering running includes the city state’s attorney, Patricia C. Jessamy; the city comptroller, Joan Pratt; and two members of the City Council, Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and Kenneth N. Harris Sr.
Reporters Friday pressed Dixon to give an endorsement to her own successor in the council president’s office, a question she dodged.
“I think things are going to work out very positively for someone of great leadership who’s been a part of this whole process to become the city council president,” she said. “So I didn’t answer it exactly, specifically, but…”
Later, though, she said council vice president Stephanie Rawlings Blake would be a reasonable choice as her successor.
“Stephanie Rawlings Blake is a leading contender. Stephanie has worked with my office in administration. She believes in the philosophy of working together collectively,” Dixon said. “Stephanie is more than capable of filling in that role.”
No longer the youngest member of the council, Dixon at one point said, “I’m having a senior moment” as she tried to recall her first thoughts upon learning she would be mayor.
Then it came to her: “I am not giving up my workout.”