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The Count: Sheila Dixon

August 7, 2007
By

Incumbent mayors run for re-election in Baltimore the same way they do everywhere else: by using friends’ money and resources to try to make magic happen. And it usually works. William Donald Schaefer in the 1970s and ’80s had an unstoppable electoral machine, and it propelled him to the governor’s office in 1986. Kurt L. Schmoke’s campaign committee was also legendary, getting him re-elected twice before he stepped down in 1999. Martin O’Malley claimed the open-seat mayoral race that year, using a lean, mean outfit that has since grown into an enormous combine that reaches far across the state and beyond, as he, too, ascended to become governor in last year’s state elections. He left then-City Council President Sheila Dixon to replace him as a interim mayor.

Now Dixon is running as an incumbent in a nine-way Democratic primary in which she started out with the most money, but it still amounts to peanuts compared to her predecessors. Friends for Sheila Dixon’s bank balance in January was $284,383.79, whereas O’Malley’s 2003 re-election campaign started that year with a $1,078,540 balance, and when the year ended he’d spent $2,083,415.21 and raised an additional $1,863,092.17. That was for a race in which O’Malley didn’t even have to break a sweat to beat his main opponent, Andrey Bundley, who’s a mayoral challenger this year, too, and whose finances were covered in the July 25 Count.

The science of winning elections is costly, and in the past Dixon’s ability to pay for it has been sufficient for two successful citywide runs for City Council president, in 1999 and 2003. This time, as a tenuously incumbent mayor, she’s facing at least a few challengers who are good for thousands of votes each, so Dixon has her work cut out for her to pay for something akin to O’Malley’s comfortable 2003 campaign. When Dixon’s campaign revenues and expenditures for this year are reported (the deadline is Aug. 14), the data will show how she measured up. In the meantime, it’s worth a peek to see what it took for her to come this far.

All told, Friends for Sheila Dixon raised $1,125,216.01 and spent $903,845.57 between August 1999 and January of this year. Businesses gave just over half of the total, with individuals donating a little more than a third, though the two categories often overlap. The top individual donor, for instance–Robert Deponte of Little Falls, N.J., who gave $7,000–is vice president of utility contractor Metra Industries, also of Little Falls, which gave $3,500. And sometimes separate businesses and individuals have common interests, such as developer/contractor Ronald H. Lipscomb, who along with his wife and companies gave a total of $14,400, and Kenneth Banks, who also joined with his wife and building company, giving a combined $8,100.

Lipscomb’s and Banks’ concerns often team up for publicly subsidized projects, and both used electrical subcontractor Utech, a company The Sun discovered was employing Dixon’s sister. The coverage touched off a criminal investigation last year, and Utech’s principal, Mildred Boyer, is currently under indictment for fraud and theft. The company itself forfeited its minority-contracting status rather than try to prove that it actually did any of the work it was contracted to do. Dixon, Lipscomb, and Banks have not gotten into trouble as a result of the probe, except from a public-relations standpoint.

Other builders and developers top Dixon’s individual donor list. Jay T. French, his wife, and his company gave a total of $9,000; $5,000 came from Pierce J. Flanigan and his company; and Phipps Construction Contractors and Randy Phipps together chipped in $4,850. A parking-garage operator, Nashville’s Monroe Carell of Central Parking Corp., gave $5,000.

As for strictly business donations, a Carell rival–Parking Management Services–gave the most: $6,550. A bevy of Block business interests comes next. PP&G, which operates Norma Jean’s Nite Club at 10 Custom House, gave $5,550, and another $4,600 came in from PGA, trading as Crazy John’s, a video arcade and fast-food joint at 410 E. Baltimore St. Two companies tied to Jack Gresser, who owns the Gayety Theater building where the Hustler Club operates, together gave $5,000. Dixon’s other top business donations include $5,450 from computer network installer Plexus Communications Group, $4,550 from developer Selvin Passen’s marina business Baltimore Marine Center, and $4,500 from bus company Greyhound Lines.

Political allies also helped. The most came from Friends of Martin O’Malley ($6,000), which is double the support Kweisi Mfume’s campaign offered ($3,000); $1,750 came in from Schaefer and $1,000 from Friends of Pete Rawlings, the late state delegate’s campaign account.

Unions representing city police ($5,600), firefighters ($4,000), and teachers ($2,850) are some of Dixon’s major political action committee (PAC) donors. The local International Union of Operating Engineers gave $5,500. PACs representing realtors ($3,720), bankers ($3,700), and Constellation Energy Group ($3,000) also stand out as high rollers.

The upcoming campaign-finance reports will tell whether Dixon’s past top donors also are her main rainmakers in this year’s mayoral contest. On the spending side, the reports will reveal whether Dixon’s highest-paid hired help since 1999 is still on the payroll, and for how much.

The outfit paid by far the most by Friends for Sheila Dixon was Rice Consulting, which got $137,274.99, amounting to 15 percent of all the money Dixon has spent since 1999. The Bel Air-based firm also has Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith as a client, and it handles the campaigns of numerous local legislators. Next up, earning $75,000 from the Dixon campaign, is consultant Arthur Murphy’s now-closed firm, Politicom Creative, which provided direct-mail services and printing. The Leffler Agency ($45,127.08) and TCI Media Services ($32,896) handled media. Pretty much all of the newspapers in town other than The Sun got paid, including City Paper ($1,230), and the Afro-American made the most money from the campaign ($4,234.11). The bulk of the catering costs were split between Class Act Café and Catering ($12,523.75) and Lillies on the Harbor ($12,651.25), and the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel got $24,000 for hosting a fundraiser.

Dixon’s inner circle is also represented on the payroll. Two of her top aides earned their keep on her campaign staff: Chief of Staff Otis Rolley III got $15,542.28, and deputy transportation director Jamie Kendrick got $9,043.45 in pay. Two more of her top aides have campaign committees of their own, and they top the list of campaigns supported by Dixon: Deputy Mayor Salima Siler Marriott ($2,750), a former state delegate, and assistant chief of staff Antonio Hayes ($3,270), who twice ran unsuccessfully in the 40th state legislative district while he served as her legislative director when Dixon was City Council president. The campaigns of politicians who have backed Dixon the most, O’Malley and Mfume, received less in return: $1,500 and $1,200, respectively.

Some of the Dixon campaign’s accounting is a bit hazy. Nineteen 2006 contributions amounting to $19,500–10 percent of that year’s total take–weren’t attributed to any named donors. From 2002 to ’04, the campaign cut 25 voided checks, and in 2003 it counted $25,000 for “opening of new bank account” as a campaign expense, though putting money in the bank isn’t usually considered spending. Nonetheless, the Dixon campaign reports make it clear who her heavy hitters are, and they are the ones who helped make her what she is today.

Next week’s Count will pick through the past campaign accounting of one last mayoral candidate: City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell Jr.

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