City Council members take oath of office

15-member panel meets for first time amid flurry of bills

December 10, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's outwardly tough-as-nails City Council president began her second term yesterday showing a softer side in a speech during which she was moved to tears at moments, gave heartfelt thanks to God and suggested that she is not nearly as fearsome as her black belt in karate might suggest.

"Sometimes they think I'm the toughest of all," Sheila Dixon said, referring to her council staff. "I'm actually the gentlest of anyone you can imagine. But I want the best for Baltimore."

Dixon and the 14 other members of the smaller, reconfigured council were sworn in during a two-hour ceremony at City College, a location Dixon said she chose to highlight their commitment to Baltimore public schools.

Five hours later the new council held its first meeting, at which members unanimously re-elected Councilwoman Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake as vice president and introduced several bills, five of them from Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, a former council president who left office in 1995 and was elected this year in the 14th District.

"I've been waiting nine years," Clarke said, explaining the flurry of legislation.

More than 200 people attended the swearing-in, including U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, and state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., whose brother, Robert W. Curran, was among those taking the oath of office.

Del. Salima S. Marriott introduced Dixon, calling her "an outstanding daughter of Baltimore." Mayor Martin O'Malley swore in each council member individually during a program filled with religious references and performances by the Winston Middle School jazz band, the City College choir, and soloist Steffan Carter from Baltimore School for the Arts.

Carter sang "Center of My Joy," a song praising Jesus that Dixon said was performed at her request.

"If it weren't for Jesus being the center of my joy, I could not stand here today," Dixon said, adding that she draws strength from her faith.

Accompanied on stage by her children - Jasmine, 15, and Joshua, 9 - Dixon cried as she recalled the moment in 2001 when she learned her sister, Janice, had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

"She has been a four-year survivor of breast cancer," said Dixon, who lost her brother and sister-in-law to AIDS. "She is one of the best persons that you would ever want in your life. Thank you, Janice."

Dixon thanked departing council members for their service. Four council seats were eliminated by redistricting that was brought about by a November 2002 ballot initiative known as Question P, which forced some incumbents to run against each other in 14 new, single-member districts.

She also thanked O'Malley "for being in partnership with" the council, adding that they did not always agree but did work together to move the city forward.

Dixon said the city had made significant progress during the past five-year term, with school test scores up, violent crime down and development booming.

But Dixon also said that city schools remain "woefully under-funded" and that homicides, after falling for several years, are back on the rise. She said the new council is ready to address those and other problems.

"This council will not be deterred. ... We've come too far to turn back now," she said.

Sun staff writer Doug Donovan contributed to this article. For a transcript of Sheila Dixon's speech, go to www. baltimoresun.com/council.

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