A Dixon Victory

Rawlings-Blake defeats Sarbanes in Democratic race for City Council president amid low turnout

Baltimore Votes -- 2007 Primary Results

September 12, 2007|By John Fritze and Sumathi Reddy | John Fritze and Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporters

Sheila Dixon, the hard-driving West Baltimore politician who became the city's first female mayor, easily defeated Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a scion of one of the nation's prominent civil rights families, in a low-turnout Democratic mayoral primary yesterday.

In the race for City Council president, Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, the incumbent, beat Michael Sarbanes in a contest that pitted the children of two respected political leaders against each other.

"I have never been more honored in my life than I am right now at this very moment," Dixon, 53, told jubilant supporters at a Canton victory party last night. "I am your humble servant and will work tirelessly on your behalf."

Together, Dixon and Rawlings-Blake will pick up the reins of a city that has made tremendous progress in the past decade but is facing difficult challenges - from a glut of vacant homes to a school system with a staggeringly low graduation rate to a homicide rate that is the second-worst in the nation, behind only Detroit's.

"Too many of our children are not getting the education that they deserve. Too many of our neighborhoods are turning to drugs and crime. Too many people are unable to find the jobs to support their families, but I will guarantee to each and every Baltimore citizen that I will devote all of my energy to all dreams because all dreams are possible," Dixon said last night.

As Dixon declared victory, Mitchell conceded the race and pledged to support her.

"Mayor Dixon has a tough job ahead of her. The time of politics is over," Mitchell said. "We need to work as one."

Rain fell intermittently throughout the day as voters sprinted from their cars to polling places. Volunteers handing out candidate literature outside schools and recreation centers wore makeshift ponchos or juggled umbrellas with handshakes and campaign materials.

Initial returns suggest that turnout was lower than in recent city elections. In 1999, about 118,000 voters cast a ballot in the Democratic mayoral primary; in the 2003 primary, roughly 89,400 voted. City election officials said about 83,000 cast ballots yesterday. Election judges in precincts across the city said they were surprised by the slender turnout.

"This is highly unusual," said Councilwoman Helen L. Holton, who was crisscrossing the 8th City Council District. She blamed the weather for keeping voters away, but added: "It also could be the fact that there's not much of a [mayoral] race."

Crime became the dominant issue during the mayoral campaign as Mitchell, Del. Jill P. Carter and other candidates tried to blame Dixon for a spike in homicides and shootings that reached its peak in mid-July. By September, the pace of homicides had slowed, but the number of killings was still about 14 percent higher than at the same time last year.

Several of the candidates, including Mitchell and Carter, had called for the ouster of the police commissioner, Leonard D. Hamm. On July 19, the Dixon administration announced that Hamm had resigned and that a deputy commissioner, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, would serve as acting commissioner. Hamm's resignation was seen as a shrewd political move because it weakened criticism by Dixon's opponents.

Several who voted for Dixon yesterday said they appreciate the job she has done since January. Dixon took over as the city's first female mayor Jan. 17, serving out the remainder of Martin O'Malley's term after he became governor.

"She remembered where she came from," said Wanda Morgan, 47, who went out in the rain early to cast her ballot at Sarah M. Roach Elementary School. "I liked that she didn't just concentrate on the Inner Harbor."

Mitchell, 39, a third-term city councilman, had proposed a platform that included the hiring of 400 police officers and a mayoral takeover of the city school system. But Mitchell struggled to inspire voters and despite personal sacrifices - he lost his job because of the campaign - seldom came across as someone who sincerely wanted the mayor's job.

It is not clear that Mitchell ever was a leading candidate in the race, but whatever momentum he had built was slowed in early August with the revelation that his father, Dr. Keiffer J. Mitchell, had resigned as campaign treasurer after questions were raised about $56,000 in expenditures that he had authorized.

The expenses included thousands of dollars for a Towson hotel room, which the elder Mitchell later justified as a campaign cost, saying that fundraising took place there. In a series of bizarre twists, Mitchell's father kept the story in the news. On Sept. 4, the elder Mitchell publicly attempted to evict his son's campaign operations from his medical office on Druid Hill Avenue, citing unpaid rent.

Mitchell conceded defeat at the city police union headquarters in Hampden about 10:45 p.m.

"I want to thank my Mom and Dad, who are here, who taught me the lesson of unconditional love," Mitchell told disappointed supporters.

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