Looking ahead

November 12, 2006

She's not mayor yet, but Sheila Dixon hosted her first formal post-election announcement in the City Hall conference room reserved for Baltimore's chief executive. It was a symbolic, but telling, way to show she's comfortable in that space. And all the right people were in the room.

Her transition team represents a cross-section of Baltimore: black and white, figures from previous administrations and the present one, the business sector and the community, who have invested their brains and talent in improving the quality of life in the city.

Ms. Dixon, who will succeed Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley, chose individuals who can advance her primary interests: safe, clean neighborhoods, economic development and empowerment, and quality public schools. The team's co-chairs - Atwood "Woody" Collins III of M&T Bank and Betty Bland-Thomas, president of the Sharp-Leadenhall Planning Committee Inc. - acknowledge the importance of the business community and neighborhood leaders to a successful mayoralty. The challenge for Ms. Dixon will be learning to balance the needs of both and not serve one at the expense of the other.

By year's end, Ms. Dixon will confront some serious issues: the expiration of an exclusive development agreement for the stalled west-side project, contract negotiations with police and fire unions, and the new General Assembly session. Some of her adviser choices anticipate the early decisions she will have to make. For example, Barbara A. Hoffman, the former state senator from Northwest Baltimore who chaired the powerful budget committee, should be a key player in drafting Mayor Dixon's legislative agenda with a focus on state funding for city schools.

Kenneth Banks, a Baltimore contractor-developer, and Mark L. Wasserman, a vice president of the University of Maryland Medical System and veteran of both City Hall and the State House, should help ensure the city maintains a robust development pace. Ms. Dixon also drew from the city's foundations, including Robert C. Embry Jr. of the Abell Foundation and Scot Spencer of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, who can offer insight and strategies on ways to better serve children in need.

Ms. Dixon's choices suggest she knows where her focus must be during the nine months she will be mayor before the 2007 city election. It's a good start.

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