Even though she will not assume office for another seven weeks, now may be a good time to begin taking D.C. Mayor-Elect Sharon Pratt Dixon at her word, especially her promise to "do things a little differently" -- no matter how unsettling that may be to the city's political establishment.
After her breathtakingly lopsided victory over Republican Maurice T. Turner Jr., Dixon named a transition team that was perceived by some as having too few ties to Washington's diverse community.
But, as Dixon reminded reporters when asked about the composition of the team, she was merely following through on a major tenet of her long campaign to become mayor -- a vow to do things in unconventional ways, her way.
Change can be unsettling, and the kind of wholesale change that Dixon envisions in government can be the most unsettling of all. The mayor-elect said herself last week that what she has in mind for the city bureaucracy will no doubt cause some "disquiet" in certain quarters.
There is, though, a consistency to the Dixon message. When she was an underdog candidate in the Democratic mayoral primary, she called for a new attitude in government, new and even untried approaches to the many problems facing the nation's capital. Later, as the Democratic nominee for mayor, her message was the same: Clean house, steer the sometimes unwieldy ship of state in a new direction.
The great strength of Dixon's mandate -- and her record 86 percent of the vote is an undeniable mandate -- is that the electorate took Dixon at her word. Her clear and perhaps overly simplistic pledge to sweep out key elements of Marion Barry's administration touched a nerve with voters, and they flocked to Dixon in astonishing numbers.
Dixon, no outsider to D.C. politics, knows full well that there will be rough spots along the way as she grapples with a deepening financial crisis and a newly emboldened D.C. Council. But to her supporters and detractors alike, she has served ample notice that her way of doing the city's business may ruffle some feathers.
One challenge facing the new mayor will be sustaining that mandate for change against the daunting political and fiscal pressures that will bear down on her starting Jan. 2, Inauguration Day. In building support for her programs, will Dixon reach out to all parts of the community, to her former political rivals and institutions with longstanding ties to Barry and his administration?
In her victory speech, Dixon spoke movingly about her election, repeatedly thanking District voters and calling for a cooperative climate and new opportunities for "everybody in this town."
"We are going to make it happen," Dixon said. "We're going to make it happen together."
In the short term, as she fills in the outline of her "clean house" program, Dixon will be judged in part by the kinds of people she recruits to her Cabinet, the city administrator's job and senior management. The caliber of those individuals and the extent to which they are attuned to issues confronting the District will give city residents clues about what they may anticipate from four years of Dixon at the helm.
Moreover, Dixon herself will be in the spotlight, no doubt dickering with the D.C. Council (which includes Democrats John Ray and Charlene Drew Jarvis, two of her primary election opponents), Congress and an unending stream of interest groups and supplicants. In recent days, Dixon has made some effort to heal any wounds from the primary, appearing at receptions for Walter E. Fauntroy and David A. Clarke, her two other rivals this past summer.
Dixon is sure to enjoy a honeymoon, both with voters and other major players in town, but she is equally certain to encounter some frustrations. Some observers remain skeptical about her promises to reduce the District's staggering homicide rate within six months of taking office and rehabilitate all abandoned public housing in the first 18 months of her term.
Four years may be too short a time to accomplish all that Dixon hopes to do. However, if Dixon is to be taken at her word, she may surprise some people along the way.