Dixon criticizes city budget

says she is writing book

Ousted Baltimore mayor says legal troubles stemmed from bad relationship, not gift card theft

March 27, 2010|by Baltimore Sun staff

Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon criticized her successor's draft budget as a "scare tactic" for raising the prospect of deep public safety cuts, and declined again to apologize for the theft and fraud case that resulted in her criminal conviction and ouster from office during a televised interview to air on Sunday.

In the interview, taped Friday for the "Square-off" program hosted by longtime Baltimore newscaster Richard Sher and running on WMAR Channel 2, Dixon reaffirmed that she is writing a book about her career and recent travails. She denied that the theft of gift cards intended for needy families was a central part of the case prosecutors brought against her, and blamed her troubles on a failed relationship with a developer whose name she said she could no longer bear to utter.

A jury found Dixon guilty of theft of gift cards intended for needy families in December 2009, and she announced her resignation in January 2010 as part of a plea agreement that allowed her to keep a $83,000-a-year public pension.

Dixon was part of a panel discussion for this week's episode of the public affairs show, and later participated in a 10-minute interview. Sher told The Baltimore Sun that Dixon would be a regular panelist, but in an off-air portion of the taping, when Sher asked the former mayor directly if she would commit to frequent appearances, she answered "maybe."

Baltimore's budget problems were a main topic before the panel. Last week, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released a $2.2 billion annual spending proposal that filled a $121 million shortfall in part by laying off 600 city employees, many of them from the police and fire departments. Rawlings-Blake said she would introduce a separate package of fees and taxes which, if adopted by the City Council, could reduce the cuts by $50 million.

Dixon said she did not like the timing of the draft budget and said city residents were taxed too much. The budget "should have been presented the way it was, but it also should have been presented with alternatives and ways to address the issue, not just give people a scare tactic," Dixon said.

Dixon said that it appears that individual city agencies didn't have enough of a say. "You have to give agencies a target," Dixon said. "You can't have [the] finance [department] dictate. Part of this proposal, this is finance saying, this is what will happen."

Rawlings-Blake spokesman Ryan C. O'Doherty declined to respond to Dixon directly, but said the mayor is "working hard with the City Council on a comprehensive plan that will fix the devastating $121 million deficit that she inherited," and that she has led the way by cutting the budget of the mayor's office by 10 percent.

In the separate interview, Sher focused heavily on Dixon's criminal case, and pressed her for an apology something she has refused to give. "What do you mean apologize?" Dixon said at one point.

Dixon became the biggest target in a years-long investigation into City Hall corruption, and prosecutors charged her with failing to disclose gifts she received from a developer boyfriend, Ronald H. Lipscomb, who relied on city approval for tax breaks for his projects. Another developer, Patrick Turner, delivered gift cards to Dixon's city council president office that were intended for needy families; she spent them on herself and her family, prosecutors showed.

Dixon said the case "wasn't really about the cards ." She said that giving back to the community "is really a mission and a passion that I have. I would never do anything to hurt anyone It really was about a relationship that I made a bad choice in. And that's it. That's all I'm saying.

Dixon said she was "not even parting my lips" to mention Lipscomb's name.

Asked by Sher if she was writing a book, the former mayor said she has "kept a journal I've kept a journal for 20 years. And this last year is a big piece of it. And then people will have real facts."

The Dixon interview can be seen on "Square-off" at 6:30 Sunday on WMAR-TV Channel 2.

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