It was a week of celebration and revelation, of hard decisions and beseeching speeches. Even before the hoopla of her inauguration had died down, D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon began to tackle some of the toughest challenges of her administration.

She also took her first steps on a tightrope that many newly elected officials walk: attempting to solve problems without breaking campaign promises. In Dixon's case, she seeks to balance the District's runaway budget without violating her pledge not to raise taxes or to fire front-line workers.

After contending in her campaigning that government employees deliver a poor quality of services, she is now trying to bring them into her fold. Furthermore, many of the department and agency heads she is depending upon in these crucial first days to shape the city's future are the people who were in charge when the government, according to her, went so badly awry.

Left by the wayside is Dixon's plan to save the city from insolvency by excising 2,000 mid-level managers from the payroll. She charged through the long, hot summer campaign, holding that threat aloft like a magical battle standard. The cuts not only would eliminate fat from the government, she said, they would generate $50 million to $100 million of savings in plenty of time to affect this year's budget.

But that was back in the days when the city projected a deficit of $100 million. Last fall, Marion Barry's administration raised its estimate to $200 million, and Dixon's financial advisers cranked it up to $300 million after examining the books.

"I don't think she is under any illusion that the 2,000 jobs are an answer to all ills," Dixon spokesman Paul Costello said last week. "She has been totally briefed on the short-range and the long-range problems and has a deep understanding now of the fiscal crisis the city is in. That is really the difference between the candidate and the mayor and the assumption of leadership."

Dixon still plans to eliminate 2,000 positions, he said, but she will take her time doing so and has asked an outside expert to analyze the D.C. personnel structure and identify possible cuts. Toward that end, Constance B. Newman, director of the federal Office of Personnel Management, is slated to spend the next few weeks surveying the government.

During her first week in office, Dixon ordered her Cabinet members to cut their budgets by a total of $130 million. She met with labor leaders and city workers to ask them to forgo $63 million in pay raises that she previously had endorsed. And she announced plans to increase various user fees to generate $8 million.

Union reaction to her budget plan was mixed. Teamsters Local 1714 President Eddie Kornegay, who served on Dixon's transition team, said, "I'm not going to bear the brunt of a campaign promise that is unrealistic." But Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Washington area AFL-CIO, said Dixon's approach seemed "to spread the pain around."

Even if all of those measures are taken, however, the District would be short $100 million, which Dixon said she will try to get this year from Congress in the form of an additional, emergency appropriation. She met Friday with President Bush, White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, budget director Richard G. Darman, even First Lady Barbara Bush, in an attempt to get to know the federal executive branch and sell those in it on the idea of rescuing the District.

"Basically, I came away feeling there was a sincere commitment, and basically I think there is a desire to forge a better partnership with the District and its leadership," Dixon said. "Just how that will translate, time will tell."

The mayor said that if city workers agree to defer their pay raises and if the president and Congress come up with more cash for the District, she believes she will be able to avoid layoffs and furloughs. Getting congressional cooperation is "a big if," she warned 1,500 D.C. employees who gathered to greet her Friday at the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center.

However, she added, "If there is ever to be any RIF {reduction in force} or furlough, let me tell you it will begin in my office, it will then go to the Cabinet department heads, it will then go to the agency heads. If there is any way possible, it will never get to the front-line workers. The pain will begin in my office and at the top. That will be the philosophy."

Russell Gardner, 38, a caseworker for the Department of Human Services who has worked for the city for 10 years, said after listening to Dixon, "Personally, I feel if it avoids layoffs, then I am willing to forgo a raise. But if there are going to be layoffs anyway, then I want my little 2 percent" raise.

Darnell Henderson, 21, who has one year of service under his belt as a courier and clerk for the offices of human rights and minority business development, said he was comforted to hear Dixon say she aims to protect low-level employees. But he added that higher-ups in his office are "worried about losing their jobs and are talking about revising resumes."

Dixon was generally forceful and confident in her first mayoral address to city workers. But at certain points she seemed awkward and thrown off by a reception that was lukewarm compared with the rousing response she usually got as a candidate. And at times, she seemed very close to pleading for the crowd's support: when she told workers, "Believe me, there is no money" for raises; when she sought to convince them that she understood their frustrations and demoralized spirit; when she asked for their assistance in streamlining the government.

She outlined the possibility of setting up special savings programs for workers, flexible shifts, support systems for offspring and better wages, once the budget is balanced and the bloat is cut from the government.

Dixon got the strongest response from the crowd when she castigated the federal government for not paying its fair share as a D.C. "resident," and when she invited those present to identify co-workers who are not producing. She promised to set up a system to protect informants, "where you do not feel that by being forthright with us you're putting your jobs on the line."

"That's hard to do as long as the people who are your bosses are still there," said Joel Odum, a Ward 3 community activist and city housing worker who also served on Dixon's transition team. He added that the crowd was small and passive compared with those that Barry used to draw when he convened D.C. employees.

"They sort of stood there dumbfounded," he said. "They don't know how to change. It's like the people in Poland. They were used to the Communist system. Now they're saying, 'What's free enterprise?' . . . Most of these people are Barry people, and she's a foreigner, she's the enemy, and it's just going to be very difficult to recondition them."