Spotlight on Baltimore
Tuesday, February 19, 2008; 1:00 PM
Sheila Dixon, the first woman to be elected mayor in Baltimore history, was online Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the revitalization of the city's neighborhoods, participation with other U.S. mayors in a bi-partisan coalition against illegal guns and efforts to improve conditions for women, youth and minorities.
A transcript follows.
Mayor Sheila Dixon: Good afternoon. Great to be here. I look forward to having a good conversation about Baltimore City.
I want to thank the Washington Post and readers for taking the time to discuss the city and its future with me.
Baltimore, Md.: The number of homicides was down in Baltimore last month. Did you have anything to do with it, or was it just luck or a coincidence?
Mayor Sheila Dixon: I believe that I had a lot to do with the reduction in homicides. Part of this has to do with our new approach, focusing on our most violent offenders, community engagements, and strong partnerships created in the last year. Also during my administration, we have created a gun registry, a gun task force, and increased our focus on getting illegal guns off our streets.
Commissioner Bealefeld, whom I appointed, has proved to be a tremendous asset. He thoroughly understands the department, and he is committed to my crime strategy.
For these reasons and others, we had the lowest number of homicides in January in 30 years.
For the last six months, we have the lowest homicide rate of any six-month period in 20 years.
Silver Spring, Md.: Are you related at all to former D.C. mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon?
Mayor Sheila Dixon: There is no relation. Although I did have the good fortune to meet her when i was a memeber of the Baltimore City Council.
Suing the Lenders: Madame Mayor,
I saw a news report about a month ago that you are bringing suits against mortgage lenders for "taking advantage" of borrowers.
If you were to win and collect the millions you seek: where would the money go? Would it just be another grab of private assets by your government?
Mayor Sheila Dixon: The money will go back into the communities harmed by this predatory practice.
We have a number of intiatives designed to strengthen our neighborhoods.
For more details, visit the city's Web site and review our master plan.
Baltimore, Md.: I am concerned about the pollution effects of cars in urban areas. What will you do to reduce Baltimore's reliance on cars?
Mayor Sheila Dixon: We're doing a number of things. As you know, one of my top priorities is to make Baltimore a cleaner and greener city.
To this end, we're working hard to advance the creation of the Red Line transit project, a 12-mile system that will run from Woodlawn through Downtown all the way to Bayview.
This will connect thousands to job and entertainment opportunities, all without having to get into cars.
We're also working with the MTA to make busses more accessible. And we're encouraging transportation-related development.
Last but not least, we are encouraging people to get out of their cars and onto their bicycles.
Ridley Park, Pa.: How will you as mayor balance the city budget without raisings taxes or cutting services to the city ?
Mayor Sheila Dixon: Among other things, we're working hard to make city government more effective and efficient.
Due to the economy's struggles, we must do more with less. So for example, we're consolidating work responsibilities in city government. For example, we're redeployed sanitiation inspectors.
We've also frozen city hiring. City workers must and will do more with less.
Bethesda, Md.: You were reportedly the basis for the character Naresse Campbell on HBO's "The Wire." Campbell plays a shrewd, calculating politician intent on winning the mayoral seat. Have you seen the show and, if so, what are your thoughts on the character you inspired?
Mayor Sheila Dixon: First of all, I do watch and enjoy The Wire. The fictional City Council President and I have very little in common. One: I'm very focused on results. I'm much less concerned with political ramifications. Two: I don't curse in meetings and while discussing issues.
However, we do have a similar fashion sense. And we are alike in being no-nonsense elected officials.
Silver Spring, Md,: Good afternoon Mrs. Dixon. Just wanted to know if you knew of any new exciting projects going on in Baltimore that you think people in this area might find of interest off the top of your head.
Mayor Sheila Dixon: I'm strongly encouraging professionals to come and volunteer at our Code Blue Shelter, the facility set up to accommodate our homeless.
We could also use help executing our ten-year plan to end homelessness.
Fairfax, Va.: Congratulations on becoming the first woman mayor of the city! I sincerely hope for a prosperous and effective tenure for you. You're an inspiration!
Baltimore (Bmore!) is known as an extremely violent and ghetto city outside of the lovely Harbor area. What are your plans to overcome that unbecoming reputation?
Mayor Sheila Dixon: Thanks for the well wishes.
Baltimore is a city of many jewels. Diversity is among our many strengths. What we need to do is market the city in a way that enables people to see our many jewels beyond the Inner Harbor. We have hundreds of neighborhoods and world-class amenities that visitors and neighbors alike can enjoy.
We also have a master plan that will build on and strengthen our many neighborhoods. Among them, the East Baltimore and the Pimilico neighborhoods.
Baltimore, Md.: Does the freeze in city hiring extend to the police department?
Mayor Sheila Dixon: No it doesn't, but we've asked the Police Department to manage their budget carefully in other areas.
The City that reads: As a born and raised Baltimorean, I have watched with dismay the erosion of my beloved hometown. From my perspective the great challenge for Baltimore is that as industry dies, our solidly blue collar city doesn't have the ability to transition to more white collar jobs. The only solution is a massive overhaul of the public education system that enables those to help to increase the ability of the citizens to adapt to a changing economy. It pains me to hear outsiders badmouth Baltimore's educational system, because I do know of plenty of schools that are doing well in the city. Having said that, many more are doing very poorly. Obviously there are deep- seated issues that effect a child's ability to succeed, but I would very much like to hear your perspective on this issue. As I wrote above, I think this is the primary challenge for the people of Baltimore.
Mayor Sheila Dixon: We are working hard to ensure that every young person and every teacher in every neighborhood has a clean, modern, and safe facility in which to learn and teach.
With our new CEO, Dr. Alonso, we will have the consistency that we lacked in previous years. Dr. Alonso has agreed to lead the school system for four years, and he is already producing positive results.
Baltimore, Md.: Mayor,
What are you going to do to help the city rebuild all the vancant housing in the city?
Investors want to buy these vancant properties, but the city has so much red tape involved with it's SCOPE program.
Mayor Sheila Dixon: The General Assembly is currently considering legislation that will enable Baltimore City to create a Land Bank authority or a quasi-nonprofit that will report to Housing and Community Development. The creation of the Land Bank is one of my top priorities.
Land Bank will help us to return the 10,000 vacant lots and properties to development in a more streamlined fashion versus relying on the many agencies that touch real estate now, slowing down the process.
Baltimore-Washington: I am one of those who has chosen to live in Baltimore and work in Washington. Unfortunately, commuting between the two cities is dismal. The MARC train is either packed to the gills (Penn Line) or exceedingly slow (1 hour 20 minutes from Camden Yard to Union Station on the Camden Line). Public transportation between the two cities seems like a potential weak point for growth of both. How are you addressing this?
Mayor Sheila Dixon: What we're trying to do as part of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council is advocating for the addition of more MARC trains. We also are pushing for the creation of additional lines.
Baltimore, Md.: Is there a website or phone number for folks interested in volunteering at the Code Blue shelter?
Mayor Sheila Dixon: Thanks for your interest.
Please contact Greg Sileo at Baltimore Homeless Services at 410-545-3016.
Washington, D.C.: Madam Mayor,
As a alumni of Towson University, I thought I saw your photo in a recent newsletter. Are you an alum? Thanks. Keep up the good work!
Mayor Sheila Dixon: Yes I am. I earned an undergraduate degree at Towson and a master's degree at Johns Hopkins.
Baltimore, Md.: Madame Mayor,
I am interested in your longer term plans -- do you have aspirations to hold high office?
Mayor Sheila Dixon: Right now, I take one day at a time. As Mayor, I have first-hand contact with citizens and a great opportunity to make a difference. I have no aspirations beyond being the Mayor of Baltimore and making our city cleaner, greener, healthier, safer and smarter.
Chapel Hill, N.C.: Baltimore is a unique American city. How do you view the city's current fiscal health and it's potential to attract businesses and families that will help it grow?
Mayor Sheila Dixon: We recognize that our property tax rate, the highest in the state of Maryland, is a deterrent to moving into the City.
I established a Blue-ribbon committee that devised a wide range of possible solutions. Right now, we're collecting public input on the committee's many proposals. Please visit the city's Web site to review the plan and make comments.
Annapolis, Md.: Mayor Dixon,
What is your administration trying to do in order to spur growth and development outside of the Inner Harbor and places like Federal Hill and Caton to the hard hit areas on the East and West side?
Mayor Sheila Dixon: We are absolutely focused on neighborhoods beyond the Inner Harbor, neighborhoods that have sometimes been overlooked during the last 20 years.
Our master plan targets neighborhoods such as Park Heights, Oliver, Poppleton, and Uplands.
We've also increased funding for our Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative.
I want to thank everybody for your contributions and time.
I also want to invite everyone to visit Baltimore. Ours is a great city, and we're less than an hour away from Washington.
Have a great day.
Mayor Sheila Dixon: Thanks for the opportunity to "talk" with Post's readership.
And thanks to everyone who took the time to share thoughts and questions.
Finally, be sure to visit Baltimore City. We're a great city, and we're only an hour away from Washington.
Have a great day, everyone.
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