Dixon's win makes Baltimore history

Democrat becomes the first woman elected to lead city

November 07, 2007|By John Fritze and Julie Bykowicz | John Fritze and Julie Bykowicz,SUN REPORTERS

Mayor Sheila Dixon decisively won her bid to lead Baltimore yesterday as voters gave her an overwhelming, if predictable, victory and made her the first woman elected as the city's mayor.

Dixon, the 53-year-old former president of the City Council, will sit at the head of a government led almost exclusively by black women - including the newly elected president of the City Council, the city comptroller, who won a fourth term yesterday, and the city state's attorney.

Unofficial returns showed Dixon with a solid lead over Republican Elbert R. Henderson, who did not aggressively campaign for the position and faced devastating odds before he even put his name on the ballot. Democrats have not ceded the mayor's office in four decades.

"We're up for it," Dixon said during a victory speech delivered at her campaign headquarters on Eutaw Street, where she was joined by the other elected women. "We're up for moving this city a lot further than even it is today."

City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, easily defeated Green Party candidate Maria Allwine in the race for president. All eight council districts with contested races were in Democratic hands, and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, also a Democrat, faced no opposition in either the primary or general election. City State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy was not up for re-election this year.

Voters left in place the same leaders who were closely aligned with Martin O'Malley's mayoral administration and who took over top positions at City Hall on an interim basis after he became governor in January. In so doing, they also made history by electing a team of black women to office.

"To those of you who thought a general election would produce more of the same, you tell me if this looks like more of the same," Rawlings-Blake told the crowd at Dixon's headquarters as she gestured to the other elected women in the room. "It is with humility that I stand here ready to serve the city that I love."

The city's sleepy general election, which came eight weeks after the more contentious September primary, was met with apathy by voters, most of whom did not turn out. In some cases, relatively few voters trickled into polling places in the blustery weather yesterday and found completely open banks of voting machines.

"This is a Democratic town," said Marion Purviance, who voted for Dixon at Northwood Elementary School. "Sometimes, people who are incumbents know [how] to get more things done than somebody coming in."

Dixon, who lives in the Hunting Ridge neighborhood of West Baltimore, joined the City Council in 1987. She was elected City Council president in 1999 and became the mayor in January to fill out the remainder of O'Malley's term. Rawlings-Blake moved up to take Dixon's position as council president.

The two initially struggled with a soaring homicide count that has slowed in recent weeks but that is still higher than the total at this time last year. Dixon asked former police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm to resign in July and replaced him with Frederick H. Bealefeld III early last month.

In addition to promising to make the city cleaner, Dixon approved a smoking ban that prompted Maryland lawmakers to pass a statewide prohibition. She vowed to build up to 10 new schools, has floated a proposal to deal with city-owned vacant property and suggested using revenue from a theoretical slots casino to reduce property taxes.

Though an investigation by the state prosecutor continued over whether city money was illegally doled out to Dixon allies when she was president, Dixon cruised to victory in the Democratic primary, beating City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and five other challengers. Rawlings-Blake defeated community activist Michael Sarbanes and City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. in that election.

Dixon is not only the city's first female mayor but one of just two black women among the leaders of the country's 100 largest cities. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is the other, and she helped Dixon campaign and raise money during the primary election.

"We're making history with four women who are in the highest positions in the city who will be working together to continue to build on the strengths of the city," Dixon said after casting her ballot. "We have a whole host of issues and work to do ahead of us."

Candidates put out a smattering of signs, and volunteers huddled together in the cold as they handed out political literature near key polling places. But it was a remarkably different scene from the primary, when many schools, senior centers and churches were plastered with signs and surrounded by campaign workers.

Marilyn Smullian arrived with her husband, Ron, at Cross Country Elementary School in Northwest Baltimore, though she said she knew there wasn't much of a contest. She said she felt compelled to fulfill her civic duty. Both voted for Dixon.

"I knew nothing about her opponent," Ron Smullian said. "There wasn't much of a choice."

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