She's the stealth mayor-elect, says one pundit. A sleuth in search of administrators who will work for salaries that are well below those offered in surrounding jurisdictions and other big cities.
Sharon Pratt Dixon has kept a relatively low profile during the six weeks since she was elected D.C. mayor, leaving some questioning whether she can put together an effective government in the two weeks remaining before her inauguration and others speculating wildly about her personnel choices.
Meanwhile, the city's mid-level managers are nervously waiting to see which of them will fall under her cost-cutting ax, and financial experts are scratching their heads over how she can come up with a revised spending plan for the remainder of the fiscal year that would erase a massive deficit. Barry administration officials have projected the deficit at $200 million, but some Dixon aides say it could go as high as $250 million.
Nothing has been announced, but here is what appears to be certain: Dixon campaign manager David Byrd will play a central advisory role in the new administration; very few department heads from the Barry administration will be kept, even on an interim basis; Deputy Mayor for Finance Robert Pohlman is definitely out; and Dixon is relying heavily on Franklin D. Raines, a partner in the investment firm Lazard Freres, to guide her through the budget thicket.
Dixon said she still is debating how to structure her personal staff.
The transition team committee that was assigned to make recommendations for the mayor's office gave her several models to study: one with a strong chief of staff who plays a role similar to White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu; another with a strong general assistant who would advise Dixon, much as Ivanhoe Donaldson served Mayor Marion Barry; and a version of Ronald Reagan's first-term triumvirate of Edwin Meese III, Michael Deaver and James A. Baker III who would concentrate on constituents, image and "bottom lines," respectively.
The only structural decision Dixon appears to have made is to rely on a strong city administrator who would oversee all government operations with three exceptions. The chief financial officer, the corporation counsel and the inspector general would report directly to the mayor. It is a setup that is common in the corporate world and is "frankly my own bias," Dixon said.
The mayor-elect has reneged on a promise to hold weekly news conferences. Byrd, transition chief Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and transition staff director Gretchen Wharton "decided there is no point in having them if she has nothing to report," an aide said.
"She should put her office in Langley, Virginia," the home of the Central Intelligence Agency, quipped WAMU-FM (88.5) commentator Mark Plotkin. "It's like she has William Colby and Richard Helms on retainer . . . . It's like, Welcome to Albania!"
Dixon, frustrated by those who press her for details of her plans, said two weeks ago, just before addressing students at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, "I'm going to be honest about it: I need time, and all I'm asking for is what the law allows, between now and Jan. 2."
Dixon added that she is aware of the expectations raised by her upset victory that, by necessity, have been left hanging while she and her top advisers rush to assemble a new administration.
By night, she is still very much the candidate, shuttling from one fund-raising event to another, trying to offset the $500,000 her Jan. 2 inauguration will cost.
By day, she is closeted in meetings with transition team committees. She has appeared in public fewer than 20 times since being elected, including ceremonial occasions when she lighted Christmas trees and presented sewer covers to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Occasionally, Dixon receives candidates for her cabinet. By the end of last week, she had interviewed five people for three positions -- city administrator, corporation counsel and chief financial officer -- but had made no decisions. She has announced plans to name her personal staff and three key cabinet appointments this week. But some say she won't be able to reach that goal easily.
"It's a money problem," one transition team member said. "They are struggling to recruit top-notch people. You're just not going to get much for less than $100,000."
The average salary for administrators in 15 large cities, including Richmond, Norfolk, Los Angeles, Miami and Austin, Tex., is $118,000, compared with $83,600 in the District, Dixon aides said.
Money has "certainly limited to some extent the number of people who are willing" to come to work for the D.C. government, Dixon said. "But I want to be very clear, in spite of that, so far we have had some really quality people who are prepared to make that sacrifice."
Joan N. Baggett, a lobbyist for the Democratic National Committee who is co-chairman of the search committee, said her crew has interviewed about 50 people for 12 positions so far. Apparently, only a handful of those people have been lined up for a subsequent interview with Dixon.
Also serving on the search committee are: co-chairman John Dixon, who is general manager of the downtown J.W. Marriott hotel and is no relation to the mayor-elect; lawyer Mari Carmen Aponte; Tom Goodwin, manager of an executive search firm; Eugene Kinlow, an at-large member of the D.C. Board of Education; lawyer Karen Tramontano; and Patricia Worthy, head of the Public Service Commission.
An example of the type of candidates the search team is interviewing is Gerald Seals, 37, city manager of Corvallis, Ore. He is paid about $80,000 a year to manage a budget of about $85 million that provides services for about 45,000 people.
Once city managers and budget experts cross into the private sector, it is virtually impossible for municipalities to lure them back, said Sharon Gilliam, a former D.C. budget official who now is vice president of Unison, a financial management consulting firm in Chicago. "If you're dealing with a billion-dollar budget in the private sector, you are going to make well over $100,000, plus perks, plus profit-sharing, plus bonuses, expense accounts and all that," she said. The District's budget approaches $4 billion.
In the absence of hard information about Dixon's plans, rumors abound. There hasn't been a meeting of the entire staff since the election, one aide said, leading to tales being told even inside the Dixon camp.
High-ranking aides Janette Hoston Harris and Stephanie Greene are said by some insiders to be fighting over who lands the job of secretary to the District of Columbia. Dixon said both women are being considered for different positions.
Johnny Barnes, a former congressional aide and Dixon campaign staff member, is said to have a good shot at heading the mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Relations.
Asked about Barnes, Dixon said, "All those who were there for me before Sept. 11, to the extent they have an interest and there is a match with their own experience, clearly they will be considered."
Barnes joined the Dixon campaign after an unsuccessful bid for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council in the Democratic primary.
Mary Eva Candon, a longtime Dixon adviser who runs the Legal Aid Society, is a candidate for the corporation counsel office, according to some Dixon aides. Dixon said Candon is being considered for several positions, and would confirm only that the top candidates for corporation counsel are local residents.
Several people near Dixon say Worthy is a shoo-in for city administrator, but Dixon has repeatedly knocked down that rumor, saying Worthy is "very happy where she is."