Thursday, November 12, 2009
Baltimore Braces for Trial of Mayor Dixon, Accused of Stealing from Needy Kids
On Thursday, more than 10 months after she was indicted, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon will face a jury, accused of taking $1,500 in gift cards to Old Navy, Best Buy, Toys-R-Us, and Target for her personal use. Prosecutors allege that Dixon stole gift cards donated for the use of needy families and then spent them on clothes, DVDs, and electronics for herself.
Dixon has adamantly denied all charges. But even before the lawyers' opening statements, the trial is proving divisive in a city already known for being highly polarized.
When Dixon was elected mayor in 2007, she seemed like a politician on the rise. Not only did her victory represent a breaking down of barriers -- Dixon was both the first woman and just the third African-American to be elected mayor in Baltimore -- but she also found early success. Under Dixon, the number of homicides in Baltimore has fallen to its lowest point in 20 years -- no mean feat in a city that routinely ranks among the highest in the nation for homicide rates. The overall crime rate is also at a two-year low.
Dixon was indicted in January but investigations began two years ago. And, taking gift cards donated by local business owners is not the only charge Dixon must answer. She is also accused of failing to report gifts from Baltimore developer Ronald Lipscomb and perjury. That trial is to begin in March.
With the political stakes as high as they are, both the prosecution and defense appear to be gearing up for a pitched battle. Dixon has lined up a team of seven attorneys, and The Baltimore Sun reports that the state prosecutor's office took the unusual -- and expensive -- step of hiring an outside consultant to help with jury selection before finally arriving at the pool of nine women and three men.
Dixon does plan to attend the trial on Thursday. Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Dixon, told Politics Daily that she had kept a full public schedule throughout the investigation and would continue throughout the trial. "The mayor is still in charge of the city, running the city, and continues every day to be focused on that," said Peterson.
Still, as the charges have unfolded and the trial has moved closer, some have called for the mayor to resign. Dixon has repeatedly rejected those calls. No surprise there, but the big question is what will happen in Baltimore's 2011 election cycle.
Dixon once looked like a lock for a second term; now her political future will likely hinge on the events of the next few weeks. Dixon hasn't confirmed her plans but the possibility of a second run is still on the table. "She loves being mayor of Baltimore," said Dixon's spokesman. "2011 is definitely still out there, still out in front."