In Arrington Dixon's version of his life, he has been trying for years to live up to the image of his older brother.Jimmy Dixon died in an Air Force crash in the Philippines in 1963. Now, Dixon is trying to establish his own image as he campaigns for city council chairman.
Jimmy Dixon had been president of the McKinley High School student government before Arrington became president. Jimmy Dixon had been in the ROTC and drilled Arrington in marching and handling a rifle on the sidewalk outside their home on Shannon Place SE. And Jimmy Dixon had been in the Episcopal Diocesan Youth Council, paving the way for Arrington later to become the group's president.
"The word on the Dixon brothers," said Vivien Cunningham, who grew up with them in Southeast Washington and is now Arrington's campaign manager, "was they would make something of themselves: they'd amount to something.
"You saw them together all the time," Cunningham said. "(Jimmy) Dixon was more the leader. He was an extraordinary person, very smart and fearless in a way. He wasn't afraid to do new things. He never felt inferior to anyone . . . I'm sure he would have been a politician. I'm not sure Arrington would have been."
When he goes past the Washington Cathedral, Arrington Dixon proudly points to it and mentions that he arranged for his brother to be one of the first blacks to have a Washington Cathedral funeral. And he still wears his brother's college ring from Penn State University.
"The only things left after the crash were metal," Arrington Dixon said, toying with the ring on his finger, "a few coins and the ring."
Arrington Dixon has taken his brother's ring through three political campaigns and in all but one the younger brother was an unknown, lacking identity and seeking to build a name.
He lost a race for school board in 1963 but in 1974 and 1976 he won back-to-back victories to become Ward 4's city councilman.
When he won the 74 Democratic primary for Ward 4's council seat, the woman who finished second said she was "in a state of shock. I expected anyone but him to be my competition in the election," she said.
"He's like a 60-day wonder," Helen H. Mitchell, the runnerup, added, "No one knows where he came from," she said, explaining that Dixon was not active in the community or in Ward 4 politics.
This year Dixon has the same problem - how to make a name for himself in the mind of the voters as he campaigns against council member Douglas E. Moore. This time he has to accomplish the feat citywide. Although he has been on the council. Dixon is not well known and his best-known piece of legislation in his four years has been an unpopular bill to rise rents in the city.
Dixon's opponents call him an "opportunist" who is taking advantage of anti-Moore sentiment to get ahead in city politics. His supporters call him the only city politician who is "standing up" to Moore.
Dixon's public record shows little major legislation among thee bills that he has sponsored and that have been enacted into law. The bill he most often cites before audiences as proof of his work is the bill to have voters register by postcard. Other laws sponsored by Dixon include one that created the D.C. Commission on Aging, a police force for Metro, a modernized divorce bill and reorganization of the Board of Elections and Ethics.
Dixon's private record shows an arrest in 1970 on 14th Street for soliciting sex from a policewoman posing as a prostitute. Dixon's arrest occurred during a police campaign against against prostitution. The charges were never prosecuted.
"First of all, I'm not sure about the relevancy of the question (about the arrest) at this time," Dixon said yesterday afternoon after a speech at Metropolitan Baptist Church in which he avoided a question about legalization of prostitution that had been asked of all the candidates before the forum began.
"This happaned almost a decade ago, eight years ago," said Dixon, who has been married for 12 years and has two children. "I was not in office and it has nothing to do with my public service or my record as a public official . . . The case was no-papered (not prosecuted) so it must have been an error or a mistake."
This year's campaign has brought out more of Dixon's personality than ever before. Moore attacks Dixon as "a zero that don't even need to be commented about," and a politician who has sold out to the business community. Dixon portrays himself as a responsible man, a concerned man who can deal with businessmen as well as poor persons.
"I'm not trying to say anything heavy," Dixon said one night, "but everyone knows we all make concessions. That is different from selling out. And I think people understand when they see us making concessions as long as we don't forget who we are and our commitment to black people."
To watch Dixon campaign is to see something of who he might really be.
After an early evening campaign stop, Dixon draped his seersucker jacket over the velvet-covered seat in his Buick Regal. He had just come out of his elementary school. Birney, at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Sumner Road SE.He had attended a Metrorail hearing in the school auditorium coming in a half-hour late, dancing up the aisle, smiling and shaking hands before taking a front row seat to well-known Ward 8 politicians Wilhelmina and Calvin Roark.
Dixon, 35, asked two questions in a serious and intense voice before leaving 15 minutes after he had arrived for another campaign stop.
As he drove away from the school with his wife and his campaign manager in the back seat and a reporter by his side, Dixon decided to ride around the corner and then down the street he grew up on, Shannon Place SE.
On the left was the former St. Philip's Episcopal Church, where Dixon had served as an acolyte. Dixon pointed through his car's glass roof to the cross atop the church.
"My brother and I put that cross up there," he said. Then he stepped on the gas lightly to move up the street slowly. "I used to live right about here," he said. The Savoy Elementary School now occupies the site.
Dixon swung the car around the corner, pulling up next to a group of men drinking beer and taking shots from a pint in a brown paper bag. He got out of the car, carrying leaflets, and walked over to them.
There were choruses of "Amen" to this in the Southern Baptist congregation which was enthusiastic throughout toward the mayor.
"How's it going, Paul?" he said to Paul Gordon, his hand extended. "I've known Paul since I knew myself," he said to a reporter.
"Any of the old gang around? Who's in the alley?" he said, turning back to Gordon.
Dixon crossed the street and walked into an alley. Seconds later, out came the shout "Get the hell out of here," Dixon came out of the alley back-pedaling and looking around self-consciously.
"He's still smiling and waving," said Gordon and he watched Dixon walk up to the corner liquor store to hand out more leaflets. "He was always like that - a church boy, kinda goofy."
Dixon describes himself as a man molded by three older men. One was his brother. Another was his uncle, who would come to visit from his travels around the world as an Air Force officer. The other was Father Charles Walden, who took Dixon and his brother around Washington and got them involved in community activities.
Another major force molding Dixon, according to many political observers, is Dixon's wife Sharon, the daughter of D.C. Superior Court Judge Carlisle E. Pratt. Dixon wife is reputed to be the mastermind behind Dixon's campaign.
When Dixon recently changed campaign managers the reason was reported to be a split between the ousted campaign manager and Dixon's wife. Occasionally during interviews with Dixon, his wife, will offer and answer to a reporter's question, as he remains silent.
After getting a congressional appointment to the Air Force Academy from former Rep. Adam Clayton Powell in 1963, Dixon developed an intense interest in computers. He dropped out of the academy in 1965 due to academic problems caused in part, he said, by his brother's death. He graduated from Howard University with a bachelor's degree in economic statistics.
Dixon joined the faculty of Washington Technical Institute in 1968 as a professor of computer science after running his own computer firm. He completed his education at the same time at George Washington University Law School, graduating in 1972.
Dixon said he agreed to teach at WTI because he loved getting to know people, a trait he learned from Walden. It was the same interest in people he said, that got him to run for the school board in 1968 and to help with the "Get Out The Vote," campaign in the city's fight for homerule. But Dixon remains a personality most people in Washington cannot get a handle on. His fame is as Douglas Moore's opponent.
"Arrington is a savior," said one businessman. "If Arrington didn't run Doug would have taken the city back to 1968, race riots and ghettos. At least Arrington is standing up to him. No one else is."