A tiny peek into Dixon's closet


June 20, 2008|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Even before prosecutors started sniffing around for Sheila Dixon's fur coats, her people were worried.

Should the mayor wear fur?

Forget the animal-rights politics. Dixon, a black belt known to threaten bodily harm with high heels, said she'd take care of any PETA types who'd dare douse her with red paint.

Dixonworld was worried about racial politics.

Fur plays fine in black churches and neighborhoods, where it is seen as a symbol of success. But in white areas, be they working-class or upscale, not so much. Roland Park dowagers might have minks in their closets, but that doesn't mean they want to see their mayor in one.

Why not?

Whites and blacks alike buy furs, but they wear them differently, said Toni James, who owns Katwalk Boutique in Mount Vernon with husband Justin James.

White buyers tend to want minks with long, traditional styling, reserving them for formal evening affairs such as a gala or the opera, Toni James said. Black customers tend to buy more "fashion-forward" jackets with dyed fur and edgier styling, "a hipster type of coat" worn for day or night, she said.

Given that, I'm told, Dixon and her staff reached a consensus: In West Baltimore churches, go ahead and flaunt it; but for the likes of Lauraville and Guilford, leave the mink and Persian lamb behind.

(At least two winters ago, presumably before the fur strategy was settled, Dixon was spotted in her long mink at Jimmy's in Fells Point. She was having breakfast, perhaps after church.)

Is every fur-wearing pol so mindful of demographics? Not Comptroller Joan Pratt. When deciding what to wear, she checks the clock, calendar and thermometer, not the census.

Said Pratt, who declined to describe her own fur(s): "Usually, I would say, wear it to after-5 p.m. affairs from November to March when the temperature is 40 and below."

Letting the fur fly: a lesson in politics

Fur coats have threatened other political hides.

Richard Nixon gave his famous Checkers speech to put down rumors of a wifely mink, fessing up to receiving the cocker spaniel as a gift but swearing that Pat had only a "respectable Republican cloth coat."

Political lesson: Cop only to live fur.

Baltimore's fashionista mayor hasn't settled for respectable cloth coats, even the Democratic variety.

"I own several [furs]," Dixon said at a news conference this week. She was responding to a question from WBAL-TV's David Collins, who asked: "Mayor Dixon, do you own a fur coat, and was it a gift, and from whom?"

Alas, Dixon was not to be drawn out on the subject of mayoral outerwear. "I own several," she repeated, "and I'm not going to go into my personal items that I own."

Obviously, Dixon has every right to wear fur unless, as prosecutors seem to suspect, there's something fishy about how she bagged it.

And you thought prosecutors were after shoes. So far as we know, their search warrant-assisted peek inside Dixon's closet did not yield an Imelda Marcos-style footwear cache. (Dixon admits to having a shoe fetish, or, as she once put it in an interview, "a foot fetish.")

The search apparently didn't turn up furs, either, since prosecutors have been calling local furriers, asking if they had her coats in storage.

Eric Aumann of Aumann Furs told prosecutors and The Sun's Doug Donovan that last summer, he stored Dixon's mid-calf black mink, which he valued at $5,000, and her $2,500 Persian lamb jacket.

Where are the coats now?

All Aumann knew was that this year, for some reason, Dixon chose someplace else to save her skins.

Relationships and stuff

Karen Engelke, special events coordinator for the city of Annapolis, would like you to know that everything is on the up and up.

I reported the other day that a guy she's in business with - at a firm based at her house - had done work on special events that she oversaw as a city employee.

"There's no collusion or anything else," Engelke said. "It's someone helping the city."

Engelke acknowledged that she has had a professional relationship with Joseph Meany of Samuel Hutton Associates for 16 years. She also indicated that they have a personal relationship. "Part of our relationship is private," she said.

And so it should remain, unless she's steering work to the guy. Engelke said she's done no such thing.

Meany was paid $14,000 to plan a recent symposium on Annapolis history, according to Engelke. But Engelke said she didn't hire him. He was mostly paid with Maryland Heritage Areas Authority grant money, so it was the state that essentially chose him for the job, she said.

But she did have a hand in it. After Meany came up with the idea for the symposium, Engelke said she "was asked to write a grant, of which planning for a symposium was one component."

And then there's the Clay Street kiosk project. Smaller potatoes. Meany wrote up some history for the panels and was paid $2,000, city records show.

"I have no control over the money," she said. "They were all approved far beyond my pay grade."

But Engelke was manager of the kiosk project, and she acknowledged that she recommended Meany for the job.

Can she understand why people might think that's sort of a cozy relationship?

"It's a wonderful relationship," she said.

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