No excuse

Our view: A "So what?" response to Mayor Dixon's indictment demeans the office

January 15, 2009

Mayor Sheila Dixon is not the only elected official to remain in office while under indictment. She is just the most recent one. A review of Maryland political history shows that City Council President Walter S. Orlinsky, Baltimore County Executive Dale Anderson and his colleague in Anne Arundel, Joseph W. Alton Jr., stayed on the job after being indicted by grand juries. Gov. Marvin Mandel transferred power to his lieutenant governor two years after his 1975 indictment, but only after suffering a small stroke; he never resigned.

All were accused of selling their offices, charges that some would say are far graver than those facing Ms. Dixon, who is charged with failing to report gifts she received from a city developer and stealing gift cards intended for the needy. But that's what's troubling here: any attempt to define down the alleged wrongdoing and then excuse it.

The charges against Ms. Dixon are no less injurious to the public than an indictment claiming extortion or bribery would be. Political commentators and apologists for the mayor who suggest otherwise - asking, "Is that all there is?" -fundamentally misunderstand the responsibility of an elected official.

As mayor, she is a guardian of the public trust. In that role, she or any other elected official, for that matter, should be above reproach and guarded against even the perception of wrongdoing. In this country, those charged with a crime are presumed innocent, and Ms. Dixon contends she has done nothing wrong. For the most part, the law in Maryland allows an elected official to remain in office unless he or she is convicted.

But when a mayor or county executive or governor is indicted while in office, the public's confidence is shaken. Ms. Dixon, the first mayor to be indicted, may find herself with an extraordinary challenge - maintaining her credibility and reassuring voters that she is the right person for the job.

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