To her credit, Sheila Dixon almost stressed the right spiritual quality – almost, not quite – when she announced over the weekend that she wants to be mayor of Baltimore again.
She stressed redemption.
Good for her. Her past covers her like a shroud, and she’d be foolish to ignore it. She was mayor once but left in disgrace when she was caught embezzling gift cards that were meant for poor children.
Then, nearly a decade later, when some people’s memories were fading, the city was unfortunately reminded of her crime when another mayor, Catherine Pugh, likewise left office in disgrace over exorbitant payment for her “Healthy Holly” children’s books.
“I am sorry for the mistakes I made that brought my term to an end,” Dixon said last Saturday, Dec. 14, in front of a reported “dozens” of supporters at the Ruth M. Kirk Recreation Center. “It is because I had to leave office that I will work three times as hard. … I believe that redemption makes you even stronger.”
Well, there’s that word – “redemption” – and it’s a good one.
When used in its fullness.
But as Dixon mentioned Saturday (and will surely stress again and again), she runs on her mayoral record and not only her personal redemption.
The homicide rate was lower when she was mayor. So was overall violent crime. The numbers weren’t wonderful, but they were better than those of today.
Today, the city not only staggers from the street violence in its toughest neighborhoods, but a perception of itself as beyond redemption.
And there’s that word again.
It’s not Sheila Dixon’s redemption that’s at stake here – it’s the city of Baltimore’s. Fairly or not, we’ve become a national symbol of urban danger and dysfunction. Fairly or not, we’re an American punch line.
The last thing we need is another reason for America to sneer at Baltimore.
Or for people who live in the surrounding metro area to have another reason to think, “This is the best they can do? Run a convicted felon for the top city job? And they’re telling me the city’s doing better on crime?”
Or for the remaining city residents to think the same, “This is what we’re reduced to?”
Dixon brings some positive qualities to her newest mayoral campaign. She was a pretty good mayor. She knew how to take control. She’s a very tough cookie. It’s not easy exposing herself to the inevitable flak she’s going to get.
And she’s got a point. We do believe in the quality of redemption. People make mistakes, and we wish them well on their journeys to a better life.
But don’t look for redemption at the city’s expense. Let Sheila Dixon save her soul from within, not by chasing the most public job she can find, and thus painfully reminding everyone of both her painful journey and the city’s.
This is about redemption, all right.
But it’s not Sheila Dixon’s redemption, it’s the city of Baltimore’s, which is far more important than hers.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.
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