HOW CAN an "outsider" -- someone with no previous D.C. government service -- trim and motivate a bloated, lumbering, expensive bureaucracy? Even if you believe, as we do, that Sharon Pratt Dixon has a lot of qualifications to be mayor -- including intellect, guts and deep roots in the city -- does she have the right kind of background to deal with a city heading into deep financial trouble sure to challenge the technical as well as political agility of the next mayor? The question has been raised in many people's minds: If there is inspiration in the message of Mrs. Dixon -- that Washington can reestablish the pride, stability and financial strength enjoyed in the earlier years of its elected mayors -- is there the administrative expertise in her background to deliver? Naturally, her opponents -- government officials all -- say no; they place high premiums on their own experience, which they argue is not merely the best but also the only and essential qualification -- a decade or more on the D.C. Council or 19 years on Capitol Hill. Is such experience really a prerequisite to be mayor? Or is it not possible that this is precisely the right occasion for someone not an "insider" to take charge, someone with a better chance of reinvigorating the corps of municipal civil servants who long for the respect -- and results -- that they used to enjoy?
Thoughtful voters in every ward who have come to know something about the four candidate/politicians should want to know what Mrs. Dixon has done as a lawyer, teacher, utility company executive and high-ranking national Democratic Party official that can be applied effectively to the unique stewardship of Washington's city hall. An examination of her career points up pertinent executive strengths:
After several years teaching and in private law practice, Mrs. Dixon joined the Potomac Electric Power Co. in 1976 as an associate counsel. Seven years later, she became the company's first female vice president, in charge of public policy, and her responsibilities widened to include lobbying and regulatory affairs. Management officials at Pepco are lavish in their praise for Mrs. Dixon's ability to develop community outreach programs, to articulate the needs of low-income residents and to execute policy. Even more important, one executive reported, was Mrs. Dixon's strong sense of accountability -- "to plan a budget, live within it creatively and to recommend and carry out additional policies at the same time."
Mrs. Dixon's election four times by her party as D.C. Democratic national committeewoman led to her rise to the upper ranks of the national party to become the first woman and black to be chosen party treasurer. Here as in the private sector, Mrs. Dixon's concerns included a concentration on issues of economic development that would be more inclusive of minorities -- a strong theme in her campaign today.
Many residents of this city's poorer neighborhoods have long felt alienated by city hall, and they are hearing something important in Mrs. Dixon's proposals to improve city management. In addition to allowing the "honest and ambitious civil servant a chance to excel" by paring the number of political appointees at higher levels, Mrs. Dixon proposes to overhaul contract procurement and compliance, to establish more competitive bidding and to split large contracts to increase minority competitiveness. Her focus here is on "economic disparity in the city" -- to open business opportunities in what are mostly white circles of influence in the private sector while expanding economic growth in Trinidad-Ivy City, Anacostia, Shaw, Georgia Avenue and Minnesota Avenue-Benning Road.
Is this a portrait of a distant elitist, insensitive to those who have not been getting the jobs, the business contracts, the retail space or the inclusion they seek in private industry? On the contrary, it indicates someone ready to open doors and speak up for changes in the way business and government develop neighborhoods, create jobs and produce housing. Mrs. Dixon speaks of recruiting financial, business and neighborhood development experts who know something about the delivery of services. She proposes a capital growth fund to provide seed capital, equity and debt financing for economic initiatives and a land bank that could permit the city to manage and leverage some real estate assets into venture capital to support further development.
These are sides to Sharon Pratt Dixon that ought to be known by voters who may not have been that familiar with the "outsider." We think that, far from being hobbled by her particular background, she is qualified by it. It's not just that her experience in the private sector has given her knowledge and skills the others lack or that she does have much more familiarity with the concerns of District voters and the ways of District politics than her opponents concede. Mrs. Dixon is -- importantly -- in the best position to make a necessary difference, the one candidate clear of responsibility for the failings of District government, who has fresh management ideas, a sense of accountability and a genuine determination to do something concrete about the next generation's ability to fill jobs and partake in the dividends of an economically strong city. That's a most compelling set of reasons for residents to vote for Mrs. Dixon.