Dixon says she would be a `neighborhood mayor'

Urban Chronicle

December 29, 2005|By ERIC SIEGEL

At this time next year, Baltimore could be preparing to inaugurate a new mayor. If Mayor Martin O'Malley wins the Democratic primary and general election for governor, City Council President Sheila Dixon automatically becomes mayor. Dixon sat down recently to answer a few questions about that possibility. Some excerpts from that conversation: How much time do you spend thinking about the fact that a little more than a year from now, you could be the city's next mayor? I have this philosophy, to be honest with you, when I started in politics, and I have maintained it, is that I try to wake up every day to serve Baltimore to the best of my ability in whatever capacity I'm in.

Now, one thing that I have learned that I do wake up and think about is how to create systems to keep things moving and not allow whatever change that happens to impact something positive down the road. I probably think more about that so that when the transition takes place, or if it takes place, you don't have a lot of bumps.

For me, the prime example is development initiatives that started under the Schmoke administration. Camden Crossing [a residential development in Southwest] is an example. It took three years of my term as president to get that moving. You are supporting the mayor for governor? I'm supporting the mayor for governor. You've been around long enough to see that it's very unique, the president of the City Council and the mayor relationship, that I think has made a tremendous difference in the progress. I think moving forward at the state level, that relationship can continue, with having a governor who truly would be a partner and understand the needs of the city. What have you learned about Martin O'Malley that most people don't know? That he's very passionate. He has this urgency to get things done. And when he's committed to a particular issue like he is to crime, there's a frustration level when he doesn't necessarily see the progress. He keeps trying to hammer at it and go at it that I don't know if everybody necessarily sees. Have you been too closely aligned with his policies? I think that's a misperception people have because we work in partnership in the end. I disagree over a whole lot of issues, but I don't need to go out and have a press conference. We agreed to make certain areas of the city priorities, and I think it's paid off. What's your take on the city now compared to when you became City Council president and O'Malley became mayor? There's been a lot of progress. We've tried to make city government transparent and responsive, to make city agencies and people who work in our agencies more accountable. There's been a lot of structural issues the finance department in particular has faced, and I think we've made a lot of inroads. Finally, over the last few years we've gotten to deal with health benefits and other areas that eat at the budget as well as put more money into areas that have been neglected in the past. As a former schoolteacher, has the city been too late and done too little in directing extra resources to the school system? We had some tight budgets for a number of years. But I think as we looked at diversifying our tax base, I think with some of those taxes we could have, I think we should have dedicated more to schools.

I think when the partnership happened with the state and city, I think it definitely took away some authority and power that we had because of having to work closely with the state. I think politics has created pitfalls for us.

But I think we should have done more. It would have meant sacrificing some other areas, but I think it would have been worth it. What would you like people to know about you that they don't already know? I like to look at the human element of people in the city. And that if you take a holistic approach to try and deal with a lot of the ills that we face, to make people healthy and whole -- I'm not sure that people realize that's where my real passion is. What have you done that you wish you hadn't? What I have done that I wish I hadn't done when? Anytime. When I first came on board as City Council president and created the commission to review the council, I wish I had gone and educated the public -- yes, we need to downsize, but I think the multi-member districts with less districts and more members versus more districts and single members I think would have been better.

I think we've created in some degrees little mayors in some districts. I just think the multi-member districts -- seven districts, two members -- we'd get a lot more done. What kind of mayor would you be? I would be a neighborhood mayor. I would be a mayor that puts children first. Because the legacy is going to be based on what we do for our children. How disappointed will you be if Mayor O'Malley doesn't become governor? You know, in this business, there's no guarantees. That's why I take it one day at a time. And that's why, you know, if he doesn't, then I look at it as it's not meant to be right now.


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