Scandal-ridden Baltimore mayor cops plea, quits

Mayor Sheila Dixon fought back tears as she announced her resignation and thanked her staff for its loyalty and hard work. She acknowledged that she made poor choices and that she “disappointed” herself and her constituents.

What she didn’t do was apologize or explain the actions that led to her downfall — her guilty plea on a perjury charge and her earlier conviction on a misdemeanor embezzlement charge.

Dixon’s resignation Wednesday ended a three-year tenure that began with promise but unraveled amid embarrassing allegations that she stole from the poor.

Her attorney characterized the plea deal as favorable — she will receive probation before judgment at her sentencing Feb. 4, the same day her resignation takes effect.

After she satisfies the terms of her probation — including a $45,000 charitable contribution and 500 hours of community service — the convictions will be wiped off her record and she’ll be free to run for public office again. The probation will last a minimum of two years, meaning she will be barred from running in the next citywide election in 2011.

Dixon, a 56-year-old Democrat, also gets to keep her city pension, which she would have had to forfeit with a conviction on her record.

“This is a result that makes a lot of sense for Miss Dixon and the city of Baltimore,” said Arnold M. Weiner, the mayor’s lead attorney. However, he added, “I think the people of Baltimore would have been better off if she’d been able to remain as mayor.”

Dixon’s plea and resignation caught observers by surprise. It came on a day when her attorneys were expected to argue a motion for a new trial.

Even as she pleaded guilty, Dixon showed signs of the defiant streak that characterized her yearlong battle against allegations that she stole gift cards intended for needy families and lied about thousands of dollars in presents from her former boyfriend, a developer who received tax breaks from the city.

In a brief meeting with reporters at City Hall, Dixon hinted that she still has not given her side of the story.

“I still can’t get into any details of the case because of some things that are very time-sensitive,” she said. “As soon as this is all over, I’d love to sit down.”

Earlier, in court, the mayor interrupted Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough as he read the from the statement of facts that supported her guilty plea to the perjury charge. McDonough was detailing how Dixon’s then-boyfriend, Ronald H. Lipscomb, gave her up to $2,000 in cash to help her pay her American Express bill after a shopping spree in Chicago in 2004.

“Your honor, those things are not true,” Dixon said.

Weiner later clarified that because Dixon was entering an Alford plea, she did not agree with the statement of facts but acknowledged that prosecutors would present such evidence and that she could be convicted.

Dixon had another unusual response in court when she was asked whether she was entering the plea voluntarily.

“Basically,” she said.

The perjury plea relates to her failure to disclose gifts from Lipscomb, who showered her with cash, fur coats and travel during their romance. A jury convicted her in December of embezzling about $500 worth of gift cards donated to the city by another developer, who thought they would be handed out to needy families.

State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh called the resolution of the case “a victory for justice.”

“I would hope it would send a message to politicians, that even if you commit what some would consider a minor offense, you’re going to lose your job,” he said.

Dixon has been mayor since January 2007, when she took over for fellow Democrat Martin O’Malley after he was elected governor. She was the first woman to hold the job, and she easily won election that fall to a full four-year term.

She won praise for her shrewd hires and firm, no-nonsense leadership. Violent crime declined during her tenure, with homicides hitting a 20-year low. She revamped the city’s trash collection service, resulting in a big increase in recycling, and she partnered with other big-city mayors to call for tougher penalties for gun offenders.

But she has long been dogged by questions about her ethics, and after her indictment in January 2009, her administration seemed to stall, with several key positions remaining unfilled for months.

City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, will replace Dixon.

“This is a difficult and sad time for Baltimore,” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “My goal is making sure that the city is protected and that public safety and essential services are maintained.”


Associated Press writers David Dishneau, Alex Dominguez and Kasey Jones in Baltimore contributed to this report.