Mayor Dixon

November 09, 2006

The governor's race may be over, but the campaign for Baltimore's mayor is just beginning. And City Council President Sheila Dixon will have the advantage if she can distinguish herself as the city's mayor over the next year. This is an opportunity for her to shine, to show she has what it takes to govern, to enhance the city's strengths and attend to its very serious ills. The city needs a leader, not a caretaker.

Ms. Dixon will succeed Mayor Martin O'Malley, the governor-elect, with nearly 20 years in the City Council, the last six as its president and chair of the city's powerful Board of Estimates. But she will move to the mayor's office with a state prosecutor's investigation of a City Council computer contract still under way. Ms. Dixon has acknowledged that the contract didn't follow proper procurement rules, but blamed her staff for the mistakes and lax oversight.

If Ms. Dixon is anything, she is a fighter. But, as City Council president, she has worked to reach consensus through compromise. She has been a loyal ally of Mr. O'Malley's, an alliance that has helped prepare her for the move to the mayor's office. Now, she must assemble a City Hall team that is competent, politically savvy and diverse. Those choices will say a lot about the direction of a Dixon mayoralty. They also may allay concerns about her leadership style.

Ms. Dixon, a former teacher and trade specialist, has matured politically since her early days as an outspoken member of the council. But she does still speak her mind, at times, sharply. On crime, she will have to speak frankly and act boldly. She will have to be an advocate for city schools but adamant that they deliver a quality education. Transparency should be her hallmark.

Should the city's finance director and health commissioner remain at City Hall, Ms. Dixon will benefit from the former's expertise and the latter's vision. She shouldn't hesitate to remind Mr. O'Malley that he remains a partner in the city's progress.

But as she meets with council colleagues interested in succeeding her, Ms. Dixon must stress the importance of a smooth transition, continued progress in the city and improved services for the citizens of Baltimore. That should be the mayor's first priority.

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