Sheila Dixon’s TV commercials open with a man who distorts history and clearly hopes no one will notice.
Dixon’s running for mayor of Baltimore, trying to get the job right this time around.
The man in the commercial tells us she was great the first time around.
“Take it from me,” says this fellow, perched on a classic Baltimore rowhouse front stoop. “I’ve been in Baltimore my entire life. And Sheila Dixon is THE best mayor we ever had.”
The man appears to be middle-aged. But he talks as though he were born yesterday.
Calling Dixon our best mayor is a shameless contradiction of history.
I do not wish Dixon ill. I admire her astonishing resilience. She’s back in public life after personal humiliation.
But I wish she would campaign by telling us a reasonable version of the truth.
She was not the best mayor of Baltimore, not by anyone’s standards, unless we measure strictly by the standards of the last three mayors.
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who followed Dixon, seemed to sleepwalk through her tenure. She failed to run for re-election in the aftermath of the Freddie Gray disturbances of 2015, during which many believe she disappeared.
Catherine Pugh lasted as mayor only long enough to bankroll herself. Her infamous “Healthy Holly” books got her criminally convicted and recently won The Sun newspaper a Pulitzer Prize.
Bernard C. “Jack” Young has been so impressive as the incumbent mayor that a recent poll of the six serious mayoral contenders showed him running last.
So this gets us back to Dixon and the man on the front stoop calling her “THE best mayor we ever had.”
That rumbling you just heard was William Donald Schaefer, spinning in his grave.
Or Kurt Schmoke, who was years ahead of his time on how to handle drug trafficking.
Or Martin O’Malley, who was named by both Time and Esquire magazines as one of the nation’s top mayors.
Dixon left office in disgrace because she was caught stealing gift cards that were intended for poor children. What astonishes us is not the largeness of the crime, but the pettiness.
Who does such a thing?
But she paid the price for her crime, and she let time do its healing. We believe in human redemption. When she announced she was running in the current election, Dixon said, “I am sorry for the mistakes I made that brought my term to an end.”
She said she would do “whatever it takes to gain the trust” of voters.
And then she opens her TV ad campaign with the remarkable claim that she was “THE best mayor we ever had.”
You can’t ask for trust, and then build a TV ad campaign around a blatant lie.
As everyone knows, politics is the art of behaving as though no one has any memory. But this brand of bending the truth, about a former mayor with this embarrassing history, does not bode well for the future.
Dixon wasn’t a bad mayor, just a flawed human being, as are we all. But it’s not just her redemption that’s at stake here, it’s Baltimore’s.
Bringing back a mayor with her history would remind the whole country of a troubled city that can’t seem to get out of its own way.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, including “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).
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