Dixon challenged on contributions

Mitchell urges mayor to decline funds from city contractors, offers his ethics reform plan

August 24, 2007|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

Mayoral candidate and City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. challenged Mayor Sheila Dixon yesterday to refuse campaign contributions from city contractors and complained that a "pay to play" culture permeates Baltimore government.

"Our citizens see a culture at City Hall that seems to reward friends and political cronies," said Mitchell, unveiling his plans for ethics reform in front of City Hall in War Memorial Plaza. "They see no-bid contracts given to campaign workers, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. They see these things and they rightly ask, `What about me?'"

In addition, Mitchell said, he would move to reduce the mayor's control over appointments to the City Ethics Board, a body he insisted has been beholden to the mayor's interests.

Mitchell said that as mayor he would not accept contributions from city contractors, during the bidding process or over the life of a contract. He acknowledged that he has taken such donations in past campaigns, but he said as a City Council member he has not been in a position of influencing contract awards.

"The businesses and taxpayers of Baltimore will know that with me as mayor, city contracts will be awarded on the merits, and the merits alone," he said. "I ask interim Mayor Dixon: Will you end the pay to play culture at City Hall by agreeing to the same ban? My guess is you already know the answer."

Mitchell's comments come on the heels of negative ads and automated-calls to voters that have criticized Dixon's relationships with contractors and past ethics controversies.

The calls emphasize Dixon's hiring and steering contracts to her sister, Janice Dixon, and a state inquiry into Dixon's former campaign chairman, Dale G. Clark, who was paid to manage City Council computers without a contract.

Last year, The Sun reported that Dixon had voted on city contracts that awarded money to a minority-owned firm that employed her sister. City ethics laws prohibit public officials from participating in any matter that involves a sibling's interest or the interest of a relative's employer.

In January, the Ethics Board said that it would not pursue the matter.

Mitchell said the board cannot be objective if four of its five members are appointed by the mayor. Instead, Mitchell favors a board made up of seven members - three appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council, three appointed directly by the council and a final member chosen by the other six members of the board.

"Many people say this weakens the power of the mayor, but we don't need more laws that make it easier for the interim mayor or anyone to abuse the public trust," he said.

Martha McKenna, Dixon's campaign manager, said Mitchell's announcement was an attempt to gain attention for his struggling campaign. McKenna also took a shot at a recent Mitchell campaign spending controversy.

Dr. Keiffer J. Mitchell Sr. resigned as his son's campaign treasurer this month after other campaign officials discovered expenses they deemed questionable - including more than $20,000 spent at a Towson hotel. Through his attorneys, the elder Mitchell has said the expenses were appropriate.

"Keiffer Mitchell is having trouble sustaining his campaign financially, and that's because most people support Mayor Dixon," McKenna said. "Even those few who don't are afraid that their campaign contribution to Mitchell will be spent to pay a hotel bill in Towson."

McKenna did not respond to Mitchell's challenge that Dixon refuse contributions from city contractors, but said: "The mayor is going to continue to receive support from community activists and business leaders across the city."

Mitchell also attacked Dixon on crime, an issue that has dominated the mayor's race. Flanked by leaders of the city Fire Department and Police Department unions, Mitchell said that cronyism is preventing city leaders from improving schools and fighting a "murder crisis."

"The interim mayor said we can't afford more police officers to fight the murder crisis," he said. "but she finds half a million to pay raises for her staff."

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

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