"To the point that I am skillful, I may change some attitudes," Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.) said yesterday. But so far, he said, "the only change (on the House District Appropriations Subcommittee) is the chairman."
Amid congratulatory calls and visits by friends yesterday, the freshman member of Congress settled into that new job, vacated Tuesday by Rep. Charles Wilson of Texas.
The 45-year-old District of Columbia native moved quickly to squash any suggestion that his chairmanship of the House panel that controls Washington's budget would bring any easy resolution to the city's current financial crisis. "The principles and philosophies of the returning members [of the subcommittee] are still the same."
Wilson, who is one of those returning members noted, "It's a little premature to celebrate" an end to the city's ever-growing budget deficit.
"I don't think Julian Dixon's going to give away the store," he said. "If I were him, I would tend to be irritated by assumptions that just because he is black, he's going to bail out the District."
Dixon, whose parents and maternal grandparents also were born in the District of Columbia, said he is sympathetic to the city's needs.
"However," he said between puffs on a cigarette, "That is based simply on facts and personal background, my involvement in its school system (he attended Monroe Elementary through the sixth grade), the years I spent growing up here and the District's needs as an urban area. Any other reasons are speculation."
Unlike Wilson, Dixon is committed to helping the city achieve full budget autonomy, but he said yesterday, "That isn't to say we should move toward it tomorrow."
Dixon believes that "ultimately, this subcommittee should go out of business, but the first priority is to rectify the deficit." To that end, Dixon has set up a meeting with Mayor Marion Barry at the District Building tomorrow.
Dixon already has demonstrated his political acumen by winning a subcommittee chairmanship, albeit not a very contested one, in his first term in Congress.
The big trick was getting appointed last year to the parent Appropriations Committee, something Dixon acknowledged "couldn't have happened before the reform of the (congressional) seniority system."
Dixon said he won a seat on the full committee "using three hats," which he listed, "not necessarily in order of importance," as filling the congressional seat of someone who had been on the committee [former Rep. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke], having experience with appropriations on the ways and means committee of the California legislature, and "being a minority."
Dixon was one of five members of the California legislature who moved up to Congress in 1978. One of the others, Republican Jerry Lewis, said yesterday that he is sure Dixon will "be responsive" to the city's needs while also "dealing fairly" with congressional concerns.
"He's a brilliant guy," Lewis said. "He's sensitive to human needs, and has the ability to translate them into concrete actions."
Dixon moved from Washington to Los Angeles when he was 11, after his mother remarried. His father remained here, and retired from the U.S. Postal Service about five years ago.
The soft-spoken Dixon went directly from law school into politics, working five years in Los Angeles and Sacramento as administrative assistant to then-State Sen. [and later lieutenant governor] Merwyn Diamond. In 1972, when Burke gave up her seat in the legislature to run for Congress, Dixon sought it and won.
In Sacramento, Dixon attracted the eye of the Los Angeles political machine of then-Assemblyman Henry A. Waxman (now also a member of Congress) and Howard Berman, who helped Dixon become the first freshman to chair the Democratic caucus in the Assembly.
A reporter who covers the Assembly said that job "isn't much more than standing up and moving to table" pending business, but Dixon made the most of it. At the end of six years in the legislature, the reporter said, Dixon was regarded as "a good representative and nice guy, who did not make too much noise legislatively."
When Rep. Burke vacated her Congressional seat to run unsuccessfully for attorney general of California, Dixon again took over her job, after winning a tough four-way Democratic primary race.
Having defeated his best-known opponents two years ago, Dixon sees his district as a "safe seat" that will allow him to take a chairmanship not directly related to the needs of his constituents back home. He also thinks that the folks in Los Angeles will benefit from his work on District of Columbia health problems and other urban needs.
"My people aren't parochial. They have expanded horizons," he said yesterday.