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In the Democratic primary for Baltimore mayor, incumbent Brandon Scott is facing off against former mayor Sheila Dixon.

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BALTIMORE (AP) — The 2024 Baltimore mayor’s race includes familiar faces and corruption allegations — two common themes in the city’s long history of political scandals.

In the Democratic primary on Tuesday, incumbent Brandon Scott is facing off against former Mayor Sheila Dixon, whose tenure was cut short in 2010 after she took a plea deal for misappropriating gift cards meant for poor families. Both candidates also ran in 2020, with Scott ultimately beating Dixon by a narrow margin.

The winner of the primary will be considered the prohibitive favorite in the November general election in the heavily Democratic city.

Public safety became a central issue in the 2020 campaign and it remains a key point of contention this time around. Baltimore consistently ranks among the nation’s most violent cities, but its homicide rate has fallen significantly over the past several months. Scott cites those reductions as evidence his anti-violence strategies are working, while Dixon emphasizes the importance of policing “quality of life” crimes such as loitering, public urination and drug possession. She points to a rise in car thefts that’s reflected across the country.

Scott, 40, brought a youthful energy to the office four years ago. In recent weeks, he’s been the face of Baltimore in the aftermath of the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which left six people dead and closed most maritime traffic through the city’s busy port. It remains to be seen whether that time in the spotlight will help his campaign.

“I'm running to finish the work that we started,” he said in an interview Thursday.

Dixon, 70, says she has a long track record of helping Baltimore’s city government work for its most vulnerable residents. The city’s homicide rate also dropped during her tenure.

Many of their debates leading up to the primary have focused on whether Baltimoreans currently feel safe in their neighborhoods. The city’s vacancy crisis is another top issue. Both candidates have presented plans to revitalize neighborhoods still suffering from the impacts of historically racist housing policies.

“People have to take pride in their communities,” Dixon said during a candidate forum last week.

Baltimore homicides fell below 300 last year for the first time in nearly a decade, marking a 20% annual decrease and ending a surge that began in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray, which sparked civil unrest and prompted widespread calls for police reform. That positive trend has continued during the first several months of 2024.

“When I came into office, I said that we were going to look at crime and violence as a public health issue,” Scott said during the forum. He said his administration has prioritized investing in community organizations that are “not just preventing acts of violence but actually getting these young brothers and sisters into jobs and training.”

Scott strengthened an existing program that deploys violence interrupters in some of Baltimore’s most dangerous neighborhoods. He also launched the city’s Group Violence Reduction Strategy, which targets potential shooters and victims by offering them social services where possible, in lieu of law enforcement action.

Dixon has expressed support of similar strategies, but she argues more should be done to address nonviolent crimes that are causing Baltimore residents to move elsewhere.

State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, the city’s elected prosecutor, has presented a parallel position. He recently endorsed Dixon.

After becoming Baltimore’s first female mayor, Dixon was convicted of embezzling donated gift cards, spending about $500 at Target and Best Buy to purchase things for her family and staff. She resigned as part of a 2010 plea agreement.

In 2016, she ran again and lost narrowly to Catherine Pugh, who also left office amid a corruption scandal involving fraudulent sales of her self-published children’s book. Pugh pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges and was sentenced to three years in federal prison.

In announcing her latest candidacy last fall, Dixon penned an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun apologizing for her digressions: “I hope the people realize that my love for the future of Baltimore outweighs the mistakes of my past,” she wrote.

Another Democratic candidate, Thiru Vignarajah, dropped out of the mayor’s race last week and endorsed Dixon. A former federal prosecutor, Vignarajah has run unsuccessfully for both mayor and state’s attorney in the past.

“We’ve all stumbled,” he said during a news conference announcing the endorsement. “It’s how you respond to those stumbles that defines you.”

In response to questions about whether Vignarajah made a deal with Dixon in exchange for his support, Dixon released a statement denying that she promised him a job.

Bob Wallace, a Baltimore businessman, also remains a candidate in the Democratic primary. He ran in 2020 as an Independent.

Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore has said he won’t be endorsing any of the candidates, but he appeared alongside Scott last week for a community walk in east Baltimore and praised the mayor’s efforts to improve public safety. The two Democratic leaders have often appeared together publicly since the March 26 bridge collapse.

During his first term, which coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Scott has received criticism for turnover within his administration, COVID-19 restrictions that some considered too stringent and other minor complaints. He drew ire from other city officials last year over a deal he arranged with the city’s main utility provider regarding maintenance of its underground conduit system.

Both Scott and Dixon grew up in Baltimore and served on City Council before running for mayor.

Dixon said one of her first acts in office would be to require city employees to return to the office after years of hybrid work schedules. She said it will help Baltimore’s struggling downtown and make city government run more efficiently.