Early in his administration, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams shared his vision for a vibrant economy downtown and in all of the city's neighborhoods, an ambitious but worthy goal.

Upon announcing his appointment of Eric Price as the new deputy mayor for planning and economic development last week, Williams asserted that economic development is "integral to everything we'll be doing in the next three years" of his administration.

Price's goal, the mayor added, will be to "make the planning process sensitive and appropriate for neighborhoods while coordinating the various government agencies to attract new development."

If only the job were that simple.

For starters, economic development involves a good deal more than neighborhood planning and attracting new development. But the biggest challenge for Price will be changing the culture in which economic development in the District has floundered these many years.

Price first has to sell the District's bureaucracy on the idea that supporting economic development is a basic function of every department and agency.

But he must also be tough enough to say no to special interest groups and power brokers when their goals conflict with District government policy or with what is in the best interest of taxpayers.

Price will almost certainly be tested by the usual manipulators: those who continue to influence policy from downtown office buildings, a network of cronies who use old government ties to milk funds from the system, and wealthy subsidy-seekers promising to generate millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Meanwhile, just sorting through and making sense of the many economic development proposals that District officials have embraced in recent years will be a challenge in itself.

Williams says Price will be responsible for implementing the mayor's economic development initiatives. But there continues to be a strong lobby for virtually every plan that's come down the pike over the past three years.

The District has yet to put in place what many consider the city's principal development vehicle, the National Capital Revitalization Corp., which Congress approved last year. Even at this late date, however, some District officials aren't sure how the corporation will work.

Meanwhile, Price has inherited the so-called Strategic Economic Development Plan, the Interactive Downtown Task Force Plan and a work in progress called the New York Avenue Gateway Plan.

Reconciling all of those plans with the economic development initiatives alluded to by Williams will be no mean task.

But Price comes highly recommended for the job. And some of his biggest supporters, including D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis, chairman of the council's committee on economic development, believe Williams made an excellent choice in appointing Price.

The 38-year-old Price brings strong credentials to the position, to be sure. He was most recently chief investment officer for the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, where he directed all aspects of HUD's community investment demonstration program. Prior to that he was employed at Shore Bank Development Corp., where, as development officer, he was in charge of the company's affordable multi-family housing development program in Chicago neighborhoods.

Although Price obviously has a tough job ahead, chances are the transition for him will be a little easier than it was for his predecessors because of several factors that have come into play recently.

First, he and Andrew Altman, the District's new director of planning, will be starting from virtually the same point as a professional team with no baggage and a fresh perspective on planning.

Moreover, as interim deputy director of planning and economic development, the recently departed Douglas Patton gave the office a sense of direction it lacked, providing a solid foundation on which Price can build.

Meanwhile, the fiscal crisis that exploded four years ago is no longer a concern. Better management systems have been put in place, leading, in many instances, to greater efficiency and improvement in the delivery of services.

People's perceptions of the District as a place to live and do business appear to be changing as a result. Not only has the debilitating population drain slowed but there apparently is renewed interest in investing in the District.

Momentum clearly is swinging in the District's favor, making it possible to rebuild part of the economic wealth that has been lost to the suburbs over a 30-year span.

It won't be easy rebuilding that wealth but, as the District's new economic development czar, Price has momentum going for him, if nothing else.