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Politicsby Fern Shen2:22 pmOct 19, 20230

Sheila Dixon’s fundraiser draws faithful fans and frustrated newcomers

The scene as the former Baltimore mayor seeks financial support for her latest bid to return to City Hall

Above: Former state Delegate Bilal Ali poses with mayoral candidate Sheila Dixon at her kick-off fundraiser in southeast Baltimore. (Fern Shen)

The fundraiser for Sheila Dixon’s latest run for mayor, at a waterfront restaurant in Canton last night, was in many ways a reunion for Team Sheila.

There were people there who know her from church or had worked with her when she was Baltimore’s mayor a dozen years ago or have volunteered during her previous two attempts to get back her job.

There was even a group of supporters who had joined the 69-year-old on her morning workout a few hours earlier.

“I’ve been knowing Sheila for years,” said Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee Vice Chair Robin Boston, noting that among other connections, the two attended the same high school.

“When she was mayor, the city was cleaner, crime was down, things got done, she held all her top people accountable and there was no turnover in her large staff,” said Boston, succinctly summing up Dixon’s basic campaign pitch and capping it off with a knock on Dixon’s opponent, incumbent Mayor Brandon Scott.

What happened at last night’s Scott fundraiser that was closed to the media (10/19/23)

In addition to Boston, who is a cousin of lobbyist Frank D. Boston III, there were plenty of insiders and one-time elected officials in the crowd.

To cite five of them: former City Council members Rikki Spector and James B. Kraft, former state delegates Bilal Ali and Darryl Barnes, and former Circuit Court Judge Wanda Heard.

Baltimore Circuit Court Clerk Xavier Conaway, also on hand, was certainly no “former,” having been elected to that office just last year at age 25.

Neither was another guest, longtime Maryland lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano. (Resuming his practice after being sentenced in 1998 to five months in prison on a fraud charge, Bereano remains a top earner in Annapolis.)

“You’ve got to have connections. You’ve gotta get out in the field”  – Dixon supporter Kermit Fowlkes.

Dixon’s relationships with so many movers and shakers and community leaders, Kermit Fowlkes told The Brew, is precisely what will make her effective as mayor.

“You’ve got to have connections. You’ve gotta get out in the field. You’ve gotta build relationships with police, the fire department, the neighborhood people,” said Fowlkes, a lifelong resident who lives in West Baltimore and owns a moving business.

“She’s ready to complete her assignment as mayor. It’s in her DNA to do this job. She’s going to be great,” added a church friend who has known Dixon for more than 30 years.

A guest poses at the 360-degree photo booth at the Sheila Dixon fundraiser. (Fern Shen)

A guest, Jacqueline L. Banks, poses at the 360-degree photo booth at the fundraiser at Bayside Cantina. (Fern Shen)

“An alternative to Brandon”

Still, there was a segment of the crowd that was not so “connected” and appeared to waver at the prospect of casting a vote for Dixon.

Several said they hadn’t made any decision yet and will look at other candidates who might enter the race.

But they all expressed certainty about their negative view of the state of the city under Scott.

“I’m not happy with the current situation here. Where do I even begin?” said Dawn Taylor, a young professional who sold her house in northeast Baltimore and now rents an apartment downtown.

“It’s a very unclean city – very dirty. I don’t like how old it feels,” Taylor said. “I think the city needs to be reinvigorated in many different ways for the residents and even for visitors.”

Agreeing with her was a friend who grew up and worked in family businesses in Baltimore, but now resides in Ellicott City.

“When Dixon was mayor, everything was going great, but now the environment has changed,” said Alex Jung. “It seems like we’re not growing anymore.”

Federal Hill resident Faith Milspaugh chats with a volunteer for the Sheila Dixon campaign at a fundraiser at the Bayside Cantina in Canton. (Fern Shen)

Federal Hill resident Faith Millspaugh chats with a Sheila Dixon supporter at the fundraiser. (Fern Shen)

Jung said Baltimore is on a trajectory that resembles that of Philadelphia, where the downtown is desolate and dangerous at night, and friends who live there warn him to stay away.

Taylor said she wishes Baltimore could emulate Charlotte, North Carolina, which she described as “thriving in a brand-new, shiny way.”

Could she really expect all of this shiny new energy from a candidate whose accomplishments date back more than a decade and who also carries the baggage of a disgraced politician who resigned in 2010 after a corruption scandal?

(In 2009, Dixon was convicted by a jury of embezzlement for stealing gift cards meant for poor children. As part of a plea agreement to a separate perjury charge, she resigned as mayor, was on probation for four years and could not seek office during that time.)

“That’s a really good question,” Taylor replied. “Let’s just say, I’m open to it.”

The Sheila Dixon story: It wasn’t just about the gift cards (5/18/20)

Another guest took the same position after running through a litany of complaints about the current administration.

“I’m here at the event to check things out,” said Richard Anderson, a Butchers Hill resident who owns a clothing business. “I’m looking for an alternative to Brandon.”

Guests enjoy the music at Sheila Dixon's fundraiser in at restaurant in south Baltimore. (Fern Shen)

Guests enjoy the music at Sheila Dixon’s “happy hour” fundraiser. (Fern Shen)

An Old Hand with a New Broom?

Asked how many were in the standing-room only crowd, staffers said the campaign had sold 118 tickets.

Some guests nibbled on appetizers, while others swayed to “Uptown Funk” and other tunes that a deejay played.

Making her entrance at about 6:15 p.m., Dixon called out, “How about Beyoncé?”and in her remarks seemed well aware of the need to describe herself as both an old hand and a new broom.

“This effort to be mayor, to do new things that will work but to also incorporate things that did work, that can also work to move the city forward. It’s not about Sheila Dixon, it’s about all of us,” she said to the clapping guests, many wearing red Dixon tee-shirts like the ones used in her prior campaigns.

Zipping cheerfully through her stump speech points (“I see the bar line is long”), she referenced crime and struggling city schools.

On the latter, she worked in a mention of the big news which just so happened to break earlier in day – an endorsement by Delegate Sandy Rosenberg, who previously supported Scott.

“I’m a product of Baltimore City public schools. I know our schools can be great,” Dixon said. “The announcement today by Delegate Rosenberg, who is a product of Baltimore schools, who is a delegate in the 41st district, means a lot to me.”

The crowd listens as Sheila Dixon speaks at her campaign event. (Fern Shen)

A crowd on the second floor of the cantina listen to Sheila Dixon. Other supporters were downstairs. (Fern Shen)

When she got to her third platform point, name-checking multiple onerous taxes and, in her view, poor city services like recycling and road repair, Dixon got the biggest audience reaction.

“And if we have a dead tree in front of our house, it shouldn’t take seven years to get rid of a dead tree!” she declared.

Amid hoots from the crowd, several people shouted out, “How about water bills?”

Responding with a knowing eye roll, she replied, “That’s a whole ‘nother issue for another time.”
• To reach a reporter: fern.shen@baltimorebrew.com

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