Disgraced Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon Announces Resignation

Embattled Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon announced her resignation Tuesday in a televised address to city residents. Dixon — the first black woman elected to lead the city — will leave office February 4th amid perjury allegations stemming from charges that she received thousands of dollars in cash, fur coats and other gifts from a prominent developer who received tax breaks from the city. Host Michel Martin speaks with Donna Marie Owens, a reporter for NPR member station WYPR-FM in Baltimore. Owens was there when Dixon announced her resignation. She offers analysis of the case and explains the challenges that lie ahead for Baltimore's City Hall.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Just ahead, there are something like 12 to 20 million people believed to be living in the U.S. without proper authorization. So are they illegal or undocumented? And what difference does it make? Two distinguished commentators square off. That's just ahead.

But first, an update on a story we've been following out of Baltimore. Mayor Sheila Dixon announced her resignation yesterday as part of a plea deal with prosecutors that brings a year-long corruption investigation to a close. She'd faced two separate criminal trials. In the first, which began in November, she was found guilty of one charge of embezzling gift cards intended for needy families. Her trial on two counts of perjury was scheduled for March. She now entered a so-called Alford Plea with prosecutors, and she will resign her office effective February 4th.

Donna Marie Owens, reporter for NPR member station WYPR in Baltimore, was there when the agreement was announced and she's with us now. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

DONNA MARIE OWENS: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Just to clarify, Mayor Dixon entered an Alford Plea. That means she acknowledged that there was enough evidence to convict her, but she didn't typically plead guilty. Do I have that right?

OWENS: Absolutely. According to what was stated in the courtroom yesterday, the Alford Plea just essentially says that the prosecutors had enough evidence to convict the mayor, but that she was not admitting any wrongdoing. And so essentially, this is sort of a way of saying, yes, you may have me but no, I'm not going to say or admit that you do.

MARTIN: And why did she do that? Did she offer an explanation or did her lawyers offer an explanation about why she chose to do that?

OWENS: Well, Michel, throughout this trial, the mayor has been rather discreet in terms of what she said. She's often cited legal issues and that she can't really talk about the case. And yesterday was not any exception. Basically, what she said in the courtroom was all based on the pre-crafted agreement that her lawyers and the prosecutors had reached beforehand.

And essentially what they're saying is that she'll have four years of unsupervised probation. She'll have to do 500 hours of community service. She'll have to pay a $45,000 donation to a Baltimore charity. And she can't run for office anytime soon. Also, her legal fees will not be paid by the citizens of Baltimore.

MARTIN: And, you know, you've talked about the fact that - you've reported on the fact that she's maintained this kind of really cheerful, stoic demeanor throughout. But that kind of...

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...cracked yesterday. I just want to play a short clip. Here it is.

OWENS: Okay.

Mayor SHEILA DIXON (Baltimore): And I'm sad not because of the decision I made, but because I have a great staff who work hard. And I love them for not being...

(Soundbite of applause)

Mayor DIXON: And I love the city and I love the people of this city.

MARTIN: So what was the atmosphere like there? Was it - did it feel -how - what was it like?

OWENS: It was an interesting atmosphere, Michel. The mayor - that was a rare show of emotion for the mayor. As you and I have discussed in previous shows, the mayor is a sort of interesting woman. She's got this black belt in martial arts. She's sort of a tough chick and she, you know, doesn't really - she doesn't suffer fools gladly. So for her to, you know, stand at a podium at city hall yesterday, announce her resignation and then cry, it was a rare sight indeed.

And I think it engendered sympathy for those who, of course, were her supporters. But for those who, you know, have said all along that the mayor was wrong to do what she did, then, you know, perhaps it was just for them an emotionless display that they really felt for them didn't in any way change their minds about what's happened.

MARTIN: When there was never any admission of any kind of any...

OWENS: No, yesterday there were a few questions that the mayor took from reporters and someone asked her about an apology. And she sort of became defiant again and she did not apologize. She did say, however, that she had disappointed - she acknowledged that she disappointed herself, citizens and her staff.

MARTIN: And very, very briefly, I know some people are disappointed at the fact that she will likely be able to keep her pension, her $83,000 a year pension which no doubt was part of the plea deal.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: But now attention shifts to city council president, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, under the same charter. She becomes the next mayor. How is that being viewed by the citizens as briefly as you can?

OWENS: Well, quickly, Michel, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is a young woman, 39 years old who has come up through the ranks. She's the daughter of a very prominent late elected official. And she's an attorney. She's well-prepared to take this office. And I think people are looking forward to the next chapter in Baltimore. This has been a very long and drawn out trial for the citizens. And I think people are ready for the next step.

MARTIN: Donna Marie Owens is a reporter from member station WYPR in Baltimore. She's been following this case closely, and we appreciate your coming back in to tell us about it. Thank you, Donna Marie.

OWENS: Thank you.

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