Not personal, just business


June 27, 2008|By LAURA VOZZELLA

You've heard of friends with benefits. Now, lovers with benefits.

A rich developer can find plenty of gals who'll give him a little kiss. Only a handful can give him a little TIF.

Some Tax Increment Financing here, city grants and land there, and pretty soon, it's not just romance. It's business.

Sheila Dixon has been caught publicly having an affair with Ronald Lipscomb. But that isn't the worst part. It's the possibility that the developer might not have been in it for the sex.

The mayor is always the last to know!

"When you take a position of power and authority, you don't take a vow of chastity, but you do take a vow of prudence," said Stanley Renshon, a political scientist and psychoanalyst who heads a program in - what else? - political psychology at City University of New York. "The point here seems, quite obviously: It's not the sex. It's the collusion."

(Sun lawyers interrupt this column to insert the word alleged before collusion.)

Dixon's best defense, presumably, is that the fur coats and other gifts that Lipscomb showered on her were tokens of affection, not bribes. Prosecutors seem to have a different take on the relationship.

Consider one deal alone: In 2003, Dixon acknowledged that she had "twisted some arms" to help Lipscomb's Doracon as well as Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse develop Frankford Estates on the east side. The city gave the housing development up to $6 million in tax increment financing bonds, an $800,000 grant and land worth $237,000. It also waived $47,600 in building permit fees.

If I were the developer, I'd be in love, too.

Making a point about equal standards

Mayor Dixon has put a feminist twist on the old story of cheating pols. Cherchez la femme in this affair and you won't find her standing by her man in pearls. For better or for worse this time, the gal's the embattled figure standing alone at the podium - in Jimmy Choos.

Has Baltimore's first female mayor shattered another glass ceiling?

"My guess is that feminists will find something to applaud in this while the rest of us hold our noses," Renshon said.

While some of Dixon's supporters say prosecutors are picking on her because she's a woman and black, you could argue that she's being treated like one of the guys. Among the white men who know what Her Honor is going through: Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and James "Gay American" McGreevey.

"I think this is a good place to make the point about equal standards," Renshon said. "We don't want men to subvert the legitimacy [of their offices] or trade on their positions, and we don't want women to do it either. I think this is equal norms for both."

The fur coats of North Baltimore

My recent column about concerns in Dixonland that mayoral fur did not play well in white neighborhoods prompted an e-mail from reader Thomas Sprenkle, who objected to my statement that "Roland Park dowagers" had minks of their own but mostly saved them for the symphony.

"Roland Park dowagers are almost as extinct as the dodo bird, and their daughters and granddaughters have long since fled for the greener and waspier pastures of Ruxton or Butler or Annapolis," he wrote. "That said, there's still plenty of folks in North Baltimore who have fur coats, particularly in Guilford.

"In certain mainline protestant churches of North Baltimore, the first cold Sunday in November is the unofficial fur coat Sunday, when women, old and young, bring out their furs. Furs are also not uncommon while shopping at Eddies, especially when paired with jeans.

"So, I seriously doubt that even contemporary Roland Parkers would be upset at the sight of the mayor (or perhaps soon to be former mayor) parading around town in her furs."

Connect the dots

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