Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon announced her candidacy for the city’s top office last week.
She will face incumbent Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in the primary on April 26, 2016, which falls during Passover. She is the first challenger to enter the race.
Dixon, the city’s first African-American female to serve as City Council president and the city’s first female mayor and third black mayor, resigned in 2010 after being convicted of a misdemeanor charge of stealing gift cards that were intended for the needy.
She announced her candidacy on July 1 via her personal Facebook page, which linked to a new website, SheilaDixonforMayor.com.
“I believe I have the leadership skills and experience to bring citizens across the city together to create a safer city that is also cleaner, greener and healthier than we are today,” she wrote. “Together we can reclaim, revive and rebuild Baltimore. … I believe in Baltimore and its future as a united and inclusive city.”
The mayor’s race is sure to be competitive, said John Bullock, an assistant professor of political science at Towson University.
“She was a fairly popular mayor when she was in office,” he said of Dixon. “I think she was known as a community person, and I think people still see her in that light.”
Those who worked with her remember Dixon being active in the Jewish community.
“When we had the Chanukah House,” a house decorated elaborately for the holiday, “she would personally attend,” recalled Ronnie Rosenbluth, owner of Tov Pizza, vice president of Shomrim and a former Maryland Democratic Central Committee member. He also connected with Dixon’s office on issues related to Shomrim as well as the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association, where he is a board member and a former president.
Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said Dixon attended a trip to Israel with the BJC as a councilwoman and that his organization always had her ear while she served in all of her capacities.
“We didn’t always agree on everything, but we always got a fair hearing when she was a city councilwoman, city council president and mayor,” he said. The BJC has enjoyed similar rapport with Rawlings-Blake.
There was a time Dixon, as the new City Council president, as well as then-Mayor Martin O’Malley helped the BJC block a strip club from being built on same street as Baltimore’s Holocaust Memorial.
“We spent a lot of time on why it would not be a good idea, and both she and then-Mayor O’Malley agreed it would not be a good idea,” Abramson said.
While the Jewish community may have warm memories of Dixon’s time in office, Bullock expects opponents to bring up the scandal that forced her to resign. But with voters’ minds on the unrest following the police custody death of Freddie Gray in April and the escalation in violence that followed, these more pressing issues may take center stage.
“That has to be a center point in the campaign,” Bullock said of the recent unrest.
Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, a member of the state Democratic Central Committee, said his vote will be based on platforms.
“The city desperately needs a plan to move forward and needs some fresh ideas,” he said.
While he acknowledged that Dixon’s former scandal is “the elephant in the room” he cited the concept of doing teshuvah, repentance, and if Dixon has repented, he doesn’t expect the Jewish community to judge her on previous actions.
Schleifer’s biggest concerns are safety and the city’s tax base; he’d like to see it more on par with Maryland counties and see the city’s property tax rate lowered. He’d also like to see more city leaders run for mayor to give voters more options as to how to move the city forward.
Like Schleifer, Rosenbluth is more concerned with having a mayor who will tackle the city’s issues.
“We’ve got much more serious issues and I’m not only referring to crime, but I’m referring to infrastructure, technology,” he said. “I would like to see overall … some changes in the city no matter who the mayor is.”
He’s excited by the young candidates running for City Council, he added.
Rosenbluth, who does outreach for City Council President Jack Young’s office, said outreach to the Jewish community, including getting people registered and pushing early voting, is important with the primary election falling during Passover.
“The Jewish vote could make a difference in some of these races, all things being equal,” he said. “The Jewish vote will be important this year.”