It's her turn

January 19, 2007

Mayor Sheila Dixon made sure she covered all the bases: a safe city, clean streets, improved schools, an end to homelessness, green spaces, workforce housing, balanced growth and high-wage jobs. Each and every item is on her mayoral agenda.

But she was candid yesterday about the challenge facing her, and equally as candid about the imperative for Baltimoreans to unite in common purpose to change those things that undermine this city. It needed to be said, because if Ms. Dixon is going to tackle the ills of city life, she needs the community with her.

Ms. Dixon, a native of Baltimore, has known its pain and problems personally; her brother died of drug-related AIDS. But she also has known its potential, capitalized on its opportunities and, with tenacity and grit, pursued a life of public service, from teaching in the public schools to presiding over the City Council. That perseverance led to her swearing-in yesterday as mayor, the first woman to hold the job.

Ms. Dixon enters the mayor's office knowing that she will have to oversee the affairs of the city while campaigning to keep the job that at least three city officials have said they want. In the months before the Sept. 11 primary, she will have to keep the city moving forward but also put her mark on City Hall. Despite her sweeping platform, Ms. Dixon must put a priority on public safety.

The pace of killings so far this year requires the police commissioner to refocus the department's efforts on the class of violent criminals responsible for the most mayhem. And the prolonged debate about arrest policies, their impact on communities and the effectiveness of the criminal justice system underscores Ms. Dixon's call for a coming together, and the need to "leave behind old ideas and long-held grudges."

The mayor will have an ally in Gov. Martin O'Malley, and she should push for increased state funding to expand treatment for Baltimore addicts, because the nexus between addiction and crime has proved disastrous for the city.

In her inaugural address, Ms. Dixon recognized the improvements made under her predecessor, but she rightly acknowledged that "far too many" Baltimoreans are losing hope. By her own admission, Ms. Dixon includes herself in a generation of leaders who have yet to demonstrate that they can put aside personal and political differences for a common purpose. Now is her time.

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