Blunt talk at end of Dixon scandal — but not from Sheila

February 04, 2010|By Jean Marbella

Sheila Dixon was given one more chance to address or, dare we dream, even apologize for the wayward gift cards, the dalliance with the developer and the rest of the sordid mess that forced her from office yesterday.

She said, no thank you.

I say, fine, we won't ask again.

What Dixon fails to realize is that it's not just important what she has to say about her finally concluded criminal case, but when she would get around to saying it.

And now that time has passed -- specifically, at noon yesterday when she went from Mayor Dixon to Citizen Dixon. So enough with her empty promises about the truth coming out some day. If and when it does, it'll be old news -- gossip even, the trivial details of a closed case involving some former official and some mess she made some time ago. We will have moved on. We will have quit you, Sheila Dixon.

It's not that she has exactly fallen silent during her final days in office. Instead, she has taken the opportunity of every "last" -- her last "Dixon Report" e-mail, her last luncheon for the City Council, her last Board of Estimates meeting -- to conduct a Cher-worthy farewell-to-me tour.

Of course Dixon would want to shape how we view her legacy: The whole cleaner, greener thing. The end-homelessness thing. The jobs-for-youth thing. Whatever. I know what her accomplishments are and I salute them -- I think once-a-week recycling pick-up is right up there with George Clooney's smile and sweet potato french fries as proof that these are wonderful times indeed.

But Dixon's valedictories are lost on me. If she would first address the whys of leaving office, then I'd listen to what she thinks she accomplished in it.

Then there have been the often loopy interviews to reporters that she gave in the wake of her conviction and ultimate agreement to step down. There was the heart-to-heart she had with The Baltimore Sun's Annie Linskey, where she rued getting romantically involved with developer Ronald H. Lipscomb. Then she opened up to the Associated Press' Ben Nuckols, trashing Lipscomb as a "player" and saying that she was the "cheapest" of his "multiple girlfriends." Oooh, way to be your own worst spokesperson.

He may well have done her wrong -- although he sure didn't come out of this without paying a pretty high price to his finances and reputation -- but it does the city's chief exec no good to play the victim. You can't handle a bad romance, but you can handle the business of an entire city?

Maybe it didn't matter at that point, when she already had resigned herself to resigning her office. Take no prisoners, unload what's been bugging you all this time. But then at yesterday's sentencing hearing, when Dixon had a legitimate venue in which to speak, she suddenly fell silent.

I think Dixon is going to regret taking a pass. Just from the standpoint of pure self-interest, she could have started rehabilitating a badly frayed image. She could have acknowledged that she let down a whole lot of people who supported her, believed she was doing a good job as mayor and wanted to see her continue building on that.

I don't know how she could have explained taking gift cards intended for the poor, or failing to report gifts from Lipscomb on her city ethics forms. But she has some pretty talented lawyers who could have crafted a statement that struck the right notes of regret for dragging the city through all this, remorse for her personal failings and reflection on whatever soul searching she's since undergone.

But, no. Maybe it was pride, or maybe it was, as Judge Dennis M. Sweeney suggested yesterday, Dixon's sincere or self-serving belief that she was "unfairly prosecuted on flimsy evidence."

In an astonishingly bluntly worded prepared statement that he read from the bench, Sweeney left no doubt that he thinks Dixon is in total denial if she believes that. In essence, he said Dixon was lucky to get away with one conviction and, had she not pleaded out the perjury case, it was a "virtual certainty" she would have gone down as well in that trial.

I sensed some simmering outrage in Sweeney's rebuke, not so much over what happened within the courthouse during the trial but what was going on outside it at the same time. As he acknowledged that the Dixon legal team's job was to throw any and all defenses out there to see what will stick, he was appalled that Baltimore City Solicitor George Nilson did the same thing over at City Hall. Nilson had provided an opinion that Lipscomb, for all his prominent development projects that had been approved and received tax breaks from city officials, somehow did not fit the definition of someone doing business with the city -- ergo Dixon did not have to report gifts from him.

And, Sweeney continued, no other elected officials said, What? Or rather, as the judge much more judiciously put it, "This official position of the city was not met to my knowledge by any dissent or outrage by other elected city officials."

It was quite the indictment, and not just of Dixon, who he said "leaves the office in total disgrace." No, Sweeney would add other political leaders on his charging documents, and probably left room for citizens who similarly are less than outraged by what this trial revealed about city government. At least for them, though, it's not too late to heed the lessons of Dixon.

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