Baltimore's Dem Mayor on Trial for Embezzlement: Times Lends Moral Support

Ian Urbina focused not on the charges against Democratic Mayor Sheila Dixon, but the fact that they "cast a cloud over [her] administration despite her best efforts to keep the focus on running the city. Urbina also focused on the local NAACP's fears of a white person running the city after a Dixon conviction.

Ian Urbina reported from Baltimore on Tuesday on the opening of the trial of city mayor Sheila Dixon: "Theft and Embezzlement Trial Begins for Mayor of Baltimore."

Dixon is a Democrat, but you'd be hard-pressed to prove it with the Times, which didn't identify her party until halfway into the story, paragraph 14 of 24.

Urbina painted the trial as a distraction for Dixon:

Mayor Sheila Dixon went on trial on corruption charges on Monday, the result of a state inquiry started in 2006 that has cast a cloud over Ms. Dixon's administration despite her best efforts to keep the focus on running the city.

The case involves seven counts of theft and embezzlement stemming from accusations that Ms. Dixon used $1,500 worth of gift cards intended for needy families while she was City Council president and mayor.

Ms. Dixon is also likely to face a second trial on two perjury counts in the coming months. Those charges stem from an accusation that Ms. Dixon failed to report gifts on city ethics forms - cash, travel and clothes - from Ronald H. Lipscomb, whom Ms. Dixon dated in 2003 and 2004. During those years, Mr. Lipscomb's company received millions of dollars' worth of city tax credits for its development projects.

Urbina seemed less concerned about the embezzlement charges against Dixon than the possibility the city might soon be run by (horrors!) a white or a Republican.

The potential for a conviction has left some important organizations in the city worried.

Leaders of the Maryland N.A.A.C.P. have said they are concerned that a criminal conviction could result in the appointment of a white or Republican leader who may not fully represent the majority black and Democratic city. As a result, the organization has asked state lawmakers to strip the governor of the authority to appoint a successor.

Daniel A. Friedman, an assistant attorney general who is counsel to the General Assembly, said, however, that the governor does not have the authority to make an appointment, a point reiterated by Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat.

Urbina points to Dixon's "major accomplishments," including such awe-inspiring works as a "single-stream recycling program."

Despite the distractions, Ms. Dixon can claim some major accomplishments. The city hit a 20-year low in 2008 in shootings and homicides and is on pace to beat that record this year. She put in place a single-stream recycling program in 2008 that increased recycling 23 percent.

"Just Friday morning, the mayor stepped out of her car on a dead-end street in my district, and the neighbors spontaneously applauded," said Mary Pat Clarke, a City Council member and an ally of the mayor. "She has successfully guided the city through the impact of major state funding cuts to the city, minimizing layoffs, maintaining basic services intact and preparing us for the inevitable next round in February 2010."

Ms. Clarke said she believed that the prosecutor, who is a Republican, was politically motivated in his investigation.