Dixon sees easy transition if she succeeds O'Malley


Maryland Votes 2006 -- A Special Section

November 08, 2006|By Doug Donovan and John Fritze | Doug Donovan and John Fritze,Sun reporters

Poised to become Baltimore's first female mayor, City Council President Sheila Dixon said last night that her partnership with Mayor Martin O'Malley will help make for a smooth transition if she assumes the city's top post next year.

Under the city charter, Dixon would take over the remainder of O'Malley's term next year - from January through December - if he is elected governor. After that, Dixon would have to run for a full, four-year term to keep the job.

Though there has been tension between O'Malley and the council at times, Dixon has enjoyed a relatively healthy rapport with the mayor. The two coined the phrase "partners in progress" to characterize their relationship as they started to run together for re-election in 2003.

"It's a natural progression for me to take over," Dixon said last night. But, she added, she will have to work hard to keep the council from becoming discordant as the 2007 city elections approach. Several City Council members are flirting with a run for mayor.

"I don't want to see us become divisive," she said.

Dixon, who hails from West Baltimore, has focused a great deal of attention on health issues - she has recently warmed to, though not fully stated her support for, a proposed citywide smoking ban. The 52-year-old has also recently made an issue out of affordable housing.

City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., often talked about as a potential mayoral candidate, said that tensions will naturally arise as council members jockey for higher office next year.

"There will be tension, but not acrimony," Mitchell predicted.

The councilman said he will make a decision on whether he will run for mayor or council president in the near future.

Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young said he will pursue Dixon's seat. He said the council must work together to prove that the city can continue to make progress without O'Malley as mayor.

Dixon will face a number of challenges if she takes over City Hall. First, she must overcome an ethics scandal that has led to a continuing investigation of her office by the state prosecutor. Next, she must deal with the reality that many of O'Malley's top staff members could follow him to the State House.

Political experts have said that if Dixon can prevail on those issues, she has as a good a chance as anyone to win in the primary next year. Still, no modern council president in Baltimore has served out the remainder of a mayor's term and then won re-election to a full term.

Clarence H. Du Burns was the last to try. In 1987, when William Donald Schaefer became governor, Burns became the city's first black mayor. But he lost his Democratic primary bid to Kurt L. Schmoke, who was then the city's state's attorney.

Dixon has been more visible in recent weeks, stepping up her public schedule and making a number of major staff changes. She has also been working to court business leaders in recent weeks.

Dixon served 12 years on the council before being elected president in 1999.

doug.donovan@baltsun.com john.fritze@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.

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