While the bulk of Baltimore’s political class dined at the Maryland Democratic Party’s annual gala on Thursday night, former Mayor Sheila Dixon was a few miles across town in radically different territory at the television studios of WBFF Fox45, discussing a potential mayoral run in an hourlong interview with a Republican commentator.

Though the station, owned and operated by the conservative Sinclair Inc., ran a chyron midway through the interview saying she had officially declared her candidacy, Dixon herself is more reserved. In an interview Friday afternoon, the Democrat said she is mulling a run and waiting on a few more puzzle pieces to fall into place before she would enter the race, including a few key meetings and conversations that have yet to take place.

“I’ve been praying on it. My family is mixed on it for a number of good reasons,” she said, adding that she’ll run a poll and analyze the results before she makes a final decision. But one thing is for certain: It’s now or never. “This is the time to do it if I’m going to do it. I’m beyond waiting another cycle,” the 69-year-old said.

So far, no major candidates have stepped up to challenge incumbent Mayor Brandon Scott in next May’s Democratic primary. Scott and Dixon would be able to run viable campaigns: Both of them benefit from name recognition and City Hall experience.

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Scott’s campaign declined to comment.

As of January, the most recent date that campaign finance reports are available, Dixon has less than $5,000 on hand. Scott reported having more than 90 times that on hand, along with the advantage of incumbency. But Baltimore’s veteran political aides and analysts of all leanings have a refrain when it comes to the former mayor — never underestimate the Sheila base.

Polls conducted by campaigns and third-parties alike have long showed that Dixon has maintained a fiercely loyal voter base over the years, consisting mostly of older Black voters. Her supporters point to her track record of results, particularly around lowering crime rates and improving city services. “The guiding piece for me is really trying to get the city back in the position where it’s providing the quality services we deserve,” Dixon said.

That base has given Dixon sturdy returns in two recent runs for mayor, despite resigning from City Hall’s top office in 2010 as part of a plea deal on state perjury and embezzlement charges. After spending several years out of politics, Dixon again ran for mayor in 2016, losing the Democratic primary by less than 2 percentage points to Catherine Pugh, who later left office amid a corruption scandal of her own.

Some analysts have speculated that this time around, Dixon would specifically target residents who voted for Mary Miller in the 2020 Democratic primary. Scott narrowly eked out a win with less than 30% that summer, beating Dixon by just a few thousand votes in a city of more than half a million. Dixon netted 27.5% of the turnout, while Miller earned 15.6% and Thiru Vignarajah earned 11.5%.

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Dixon appeared side-by-side with Miller last year in an advertisement the former U.S. Treasury official funded for Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates during his primary election.

During her conversation with Armstrong Williams, the conservative commentator couched most of his questions in praise for Dixon and criticism of current elected officials, frequently pointing to her track record in reducing crime as mayor and love for Baltimore. At one point, Williams asked Dixon to look into the camera “to tell the voters of Baltimore, why Sheila Dixon should be elected mayor, again, if given the opportunity.”

Was the hourlong appearance on a network that is eager to criticize most city officials a strategic way to reach former Miller voters?

“You want to recruit anybody who wasn’t supportive of you or who didn’t know you or who had a false perception of you,” Dixon said, also acknowledging that Williams has shown her support in the past. “I know I have a base. And people die off, I’ve been going to a lot of funerals.”

Neither Miller nor Vignarajah, who has become a perennial candidate, have commented on their 2024 plans. They were largely popular with white voters, and unlike Dixon, Scott’s turnout showed double-digit support from white voters.

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And an hourlong Fox45 appearance isn’t an unwise place to compete for voters who chose another candidate in 2020.

emily.sullivan@thebaltimorebanner.com

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news. 

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