What a grand day many of us awakened to in the nation's capital yesterday. The only missing ingredient in the mix of sunshine and bright blue sky was a stronger wind. For it would have perfectly symbolized the fresh breeze many felt with the triumph of Sharon Pratt Dixon and Eleanor Holmes Norton in the Democratic primary Tuesday.

After all of the pontification by the pundits and projections by the media, the voters of the District finally spoke in a way that restored the faith of many in their wisdom. For at least one day, cynicism seems to have abated under the prospect of new, untainted leadership.

The daylong sense of excitement Tuesday at polling places, candidate countdown sessions and victory parties foreshadowed the monumental change. By yesterday morning's coffee klatches, even those for whom Dixon might not have been a first choice seemed comfortable with the prospect of "living" with her for the next four years if she wins in November.

After a dozen years of an old order that had stifled and embarrassed the city before suffering a slow and painful death, a new era has dawned. The people in the city have opted for sweeping change, and are getting from this quarter a hearty "right on" and a raised fist.

It would be a shame not to give Sharon Pratt Dixon full credit for her stunning upset victory by casting hers as only an anti-Marion Barry vote. Although there is some truth to the idea that without a Barry we wouldn't have a Dixon, her victory means much more than rejection of the establishment.

It was an incredible vote of confidence from black and white voters in this city for a woman who turned out to be made for the media and the moment.

The moment was a wounded city

faced with five old faces and one new face. The moment was a platform that

not only promised sweeping change but a humane vision within fiscal

realities.

Dixon made a strong showing in television debates, where she

effectively communicated her ideas. The public was able to get a look at

her energy, believability and authenticity unadulterated, not

through the distortion of advertising campaigns or the lens of news

reporting.

The Washington Post's early endorsement of Dixon did a lot to defuse the suspicion in the community concerning the newspaper, and doing so helped to lower the temperature on the simmering pot of race relations.

But if the selection of Dixon and Eleanor Holmes Norton heralds a welcome, fresh breeze blowing in the stifling old atmosphere of D.C. politics, it also announces a new generation of voters.

Since July 31, 1989, 50,413 new voters have registered in the city -- enough to make a significant difference and apparently so unbound by any allegiances to the crop of politicians who came into office in the 1970s that they were willing to turn to two persons without previous electoral experience.

"People seemed to be saying, 'We don't care about lack of experience; we are going to vote on the basis of the fact that they were not part of the Barry era and are not culpable,' " said Ronald Walters, Howard University political science professor.

"The defeat of . . . the council members and Harold Brazil's unexpected win over {Ward 6 council member} Nadine Winter was a signal of rejection of the old guard. A lot of this seemed driven by pure emotion."

In the case of Norton, her hard-core supporters had to weigh a lifetime of credibility and competence against disturbing revelations that the Norton family had failed to file District tax returns for 1983 through 1989.

While Norton still will have questions to answer as to her finances and tax irregularities, the plausibility of the reasons given by Norton and her husband, Edward, plus a great deal of healthy suspicion as to how and why this last-minute disclosure occurred, limited the damage.

As John Ray said in his concession speech last night, "Sharon Pratt Dixon is a model to young people not to give up." He might have added: She is a model to all of us.

For in choosing Dixon and Norton, the voters served notice on those who had given up on the city that their pessimism was premature and unfounded.