Dixon plans for mayor's office

Aiming for a cleaner and healthier city, council president names her transition team

November 11, 2006|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

City Council President Sheila Dixon made a first step toward taking over the reins at City Hall yesterday, unveiling a transition plan that seeks to bring together neighborhoods and business interests while making the conversion to a new administration "as seamless as possible."

Dixon will ascend to the city's highest elected position in January, becoming Baltimore's first woman mayor. By city charter, she will serve out the remainder of Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley's term - from January through December 2007. Dixon has also expressed her desire to run in 2007 for a full term in what is sure to be a jam-packed field of contenders.

In a City Hall news conference yesterday, Dixon announced a slate of well-connected business, community and development leaders to make up her transition team and shared a vision for a cleaner, healthier Baltimore that she said would expand upon gains made by the O'Malley administration.

Prominent banker Atwood "Woody" Collins III, head of M&T Bank Corp.'s Mid-Atlantic division, and Betty Bland-Thomas, president of the Sharp-Leadenhall Community Association, will lead the team, choices Dixon said are emblematic of her governing philosophy.

"If we have strong neighborhoods and if our businesses are strong, we can create jobs, expand our tax base and help our families be healthier," she said in an interview after the announcement.

Dixon has called on well-connected political minds such as former state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, who will advise on education and lobbying activity in Annapolis, and Mark L. Wasserman, a senior vice president of external affairs at the University of Maryland Medical System, to assist on constituent issues.

The nuts and bolts of the team's operations will be led by development experts Andrew B. Frank, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., and Otis Rolley III, the city planning director.

"They have both played a vital role in the city's current success," said Dixon during the announcement. "I believe they can provide the talent, energy and expertise needed to staff this team, during the brief and ambitious transition period."

Aides to the council president said last night that more names will be added in coming days.

Dixon also offered a glimpse into her vision for Baltimore - focusing on stronger ties between city and state school boards, creating affordable housing and healthy, safer neighborhoods and continuing O'Malley's economic development efforts.

"I want a cleaner city," said Dixon, adding she wants to meet with the city's Public Works Department to discuss improvements and the possible creation of a recycling education program. "Some people might think that's a small thing, but people who live in Baltimore would like to see their city clean."

Still, Dixon is expected to confront many of the city's challenges in the same vein as O'Malley, whom she frequently backed politically in her role in the No. 2 job.

Dixon said she would retain city Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm, despite criticism of the city's arrest policies, and that she would continue O'Malley's CitiStat program of departmental accountability.

As interim mayor, Dixon will face such challenges as dealing with a City Council that includes several potential candidates for the mayor's office, and the reality that some of O'Malley's staff will follow him to the State House.

She has also struggled with an ethics scandal that has led to an investigation by the state prosecutor.

Dixon said yesterday that the probe would have no effect on her ability to lead the city.

"I believe I can govern effectively," she said. "I have cooperated with the state prosecutors; there has been no wrongdoing. And what my focus is to keep the city moving as seamless as possible.

"I've seen a great deal of progress, and I hope we can build on that," she said.

Though Dixon, 52, has been a member of the council for 19 years, the last seven as president, yesterday's announcement was an opportunity for the West Baltimore native to put a fresh face on what has become known as a tough-talking exterior.

The sometimes prickly Dixon sprinkled a few jokes into her remarks, vowing with a smile that ascending to the position of mayor won't deter her from her near-daily workouts.

And Dixon said she has matured since she joined the City Council as its youngest member two decades ago.

"I have grown," she said. "I have tried to communicate better with individuals and look at all sides before just jumping out and taking a decision on a particular issue."

Hoffman, who spent 19 years in the state Senate, said a lot is riding on the transition, not only for Dixon, but also for O'Malley.

"The mayor wants a good smooth transition, because it reflects on him also," she said.

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