BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Rising violence has led to harsh criticism of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Her predecessor, Sheila Dixon, wasted no time calling her a failed leader. It’s the latest shot in the battle for City Hall, with a primary still months away.

Investigator Mike Hellgren has more on the unrest that’s impacting the mayor’s political future.

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The mayor said Monday she can’t spend her time on the critics, but some pundits believe she’s in trouble—and violence is now the pivotal issue. Monday, she got a passionate defense from a political ally.

the riot response and surging crime numbers have rivals seizing an opening—and questioning the mayor’s leadership. Chief among them, Sheila Dixon who said in a scathing op-ed, “From the time the riots broke out to the firing of Commissioner Anthony Batts, the mayor has offered us excuses but has failed to explain what exactly her administration will do differently to keep Baltimoreans safe.”

“What I would be doing differently is really engaging our police and our young people especially,” Dixon said. “We’ve got to really be focused on one vision in the police department, going after the bad guys with guns.”

“I am very proud of her,” said Congressman Elijah Cummings.

At a press conference, Congressman Elijah Cummings went off-topic to defend Rawlings-Blake.

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“I’ve been hearing a lot of criticism of the mayor but let me tell you something: I was out there on those streets and if one bullet would have fired, the whole city would have blown up and the mayor took control of the situation. Nobody talks about that piece,” he said.

“Politics, as someone said, is a contact sport and that was a pretty heavy contact made by Dixon against Rawlings-Blake,” said Don Norris, director of the School of Public Policy at UMBC. “The mayor needs to get crime under control, show that she’s in charge and let surrogates handle Sheila Dixon.”

Even though the primary is almost nine months away, crime has already become a central issue for the mayor.

“I’m not in the business of wiping my hands and saying there’s nothing I can do. That’s not what I do. I’m going to work every day—every hour of every day—to improve our city,” Rawlings-Blake said.

But crime is far from her only challenge.

“People are saying if there’s a head-to-head race between Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Sheila Dixon that the mayor is in some trouble,” Norris said. “Will the voters forgive Sheila Dixon? We don’t know and it’s a long time between now and the election in April.”

On crime, Dixon repeated a Bealefeld phrase: going after bad guys with guns. Rawlings-Blake sounded much the same, saying a small number of people are driving the surge and police are coming after them.

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The primary election, which is likely to determine the mayor in this heavily Democratic city, is scheduled for April 26, 2016.