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Former Baltimore mayor Dixon wants to regain office

WASHINGTON — Former Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon, who resigned in 2010 amid a scandal over embezzled gift cards, will seek to regain the office next year as the city struggles with the aftermath of riots following a death in police custody.

Dixon, a 61-year-old Democrat, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday that she plans to run. She also announced her campaign on Facebook and launched a campaign website. Dixon said she was on her way to a meeting and declined to comment further.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, also a Democrat, plans to seek re-election. Dixon is among those who have criticized Rawlings-Blake over her handling of riots that broke out after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Six officers have been charged in Gray’s death, and the Justice Department has opened a civil-rights investigation into Baltimore police practices.

On her website, Dixon pledged to “reclaim, revive (and) rebuild Baltimore.”

Dixon, a former schoolteacher who grew up in a middle-class west Baltimore family, remains popular, especially in majority-black sections of the city. She attended Gray’s funeral and received a rousing ovation from the crowd.

However, she will have to win over voters who recall her past misconduct. A jury found her guilty of embezzling about $500 in gift cards that she had been solicited from developers as gifts for poor children. She also admitted failing to disclose thousands of dollars in gifts from her then-boyfriend, a developer who received tax breaks from the city.

As part of a plea agreement, she agreed to resign and received probation before judgment. She was ordered to perform 500 hours of community service and contribute $45,000 to charities, but she kept a lifetime pension worth $83,000 a year. After she made the required contributions, her probation was terminated and she was free to seek office again.

In a statement Wednesday that did not mention Dixon by name, Rawlings-Blake said she was best positioned to lead the city into the future.

“I look forward to running an aggressive campaign that clearly lays out the choice between where Baltimore was when I took office, and how far we have come under my leadership,” Rawlings-Blake said.

Dixon succeeded Martin O’Malley, now a presidential candidate, as mayor. She was credited with bringing stability to police leadership, and during her tenure, police arrested fewer people while homicides declined. Long one of the nation’s most violent cities, Baltimore has experienced a spike in homicides and nonfatal shootings since Gray’s death.

In an interview with AP in May, Dixon said Rawlings-Blake did not adequately communicate the city’s response to the unrest, during which businesses were burned and looted. Gov. Larry Hogan called in the National Guard to help restore order.

“I’m assuming that she’s doing her best. I just think the lines of communication needed to happen a lot sooner,” Dixon said. “They could have moved a lot quicker and been more prepared.”