A year ago, when Michelle Darden joined the campaign staff of Sharon Pratt Dixon, no one recognized her new boss's name.
"People would ask me who I worked for," said Darden. "At first, they said, 'Who?' Then it was, 'That's nice.' Then we got into whispered 'I hope she wins.' And after the primary, 'You're working for Sharon Pratt Dixon? That's so good.' "
Last night, as supporters in the packed ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel celebrated Dixon's overwhelming victory, Darden, 24, was on the podium alongside the new mayor. The 14-hour days, a few missed paychecks -- all was forgotten when the numbers flashed on the screen: Dixon, 86 percent.
"They have said it is time ... to ... clean ... house," Dixon said, pausing between words as the crowd of nearly 2,000 joyously echoed her campaign slogan. Those close to the podium could see the tiny gold shovel on her lapel. "D.C., I want you to know, I'm not going to let you down."
It was a happy but low-key crowd. While victory was a foregone conclusion, the size of the win surprised even the Dixon camp, which had been praying for big numbers. Staffers said Dixon needed a decisive win to send a clear message.
That mandate was especially sweet for Darden, who spent the past year trying to get voters to hear what Dixon had to say.
Darden joined Dixon's campaign in October 1989, after she walked into a store where drug dealers were operating openly in front of small children, she said. "I walked outside and five policemen were handing out jaywalking tickets. I said to myself 'Something is wrong with this picture.' "
A week later she met Dixon at the Midtown Youth Academy on 14th Street NW and the political science major was impressed with her ideas for the city. She agreed to work for her campaign, Darden's first real taste of politics. A month later she was offered the job of Dixon's scheduler.
"Scheduling a year ago meant that anyone who would listen to Sharon was good," she said. "I would call people and say, 'Can she come to your meeting?' Now I have enough invitations to make five different schedules every day," she laughed.
"Girl, you scheduled us right into the mayor's office," cried Stephanie Clark, a Dixon staffer who grabbed Darden at one of the victory parties that turned the Shoreham into a floating celebration after the ballroom cleared out. All along the halls, Darden was hugged and congratulated by old and new faces. ("We have lots of new well-wishers," she confided.)
When she finally made it to her room at the hotel, she opened the door and was greeted by a round of applause from "old friends I haven't seen for a year."
But even this party didn't last too long. She had to be at the office at 8 this morning.
"I'm exhausted," she said, kicking off her shoes. "And the day after is the busiest day."