AS THE PRIMARY race for mayor draws to a close, we sum up the reasons for our enthusiastic support of Sharon Pratt Dixon. Mrs. Dixon has guts, intelligence, relevant experience and the drive to do the job right. When we bring up the areas in which she was first to speak out -- in particular, her willingness to take on Mayor Barry -- we are not praising an abstract or academic virtue. What Mrs. Dixon early on did and what she has continued to stand for reflect a larger value: she is the candidate who does not represent business as usual. Those who were much more discreet, to the point of virtual silence, about the moral slide at city hall with a view to gaining the support of the mayor and/or his voters, enjoy much more financial support than Mrs. Dixon does now and also the political backing of figures notable for their contentment with the way things were and are going. Those who are not contented with the city's condition should vote for Mrs. Dixon.

We have said before that this year's crop of candidates for mayor is a collection of able people. But if you have followed any of the debates or dropped in on the candidate forums that have been held around the city, you will have seen that Mrs. Dixon is the candidate who seems unafraid of directly and unequivocally taking on the toughest and most sapping problems the District faces, and that she is also very clear in her ability to identify them and decide which have priority. The city is now in a deep financial hole; the next mayor's first task will be the unpopular one of retrenchment. The city has been equally threatened by the moral tone that Mr. Barry and some of his colleagues have set in recent years, and by their desperate resort to race-baiting when under attack and without another defense. The next mayor must make important repairs in these areas, too.

Mrs. Dixon's considerable background in politics, business, civic affairs and the life of the city as a whole is impressive and qualifying. Her views on reforms for the schools, unclogging of the arteries of government, revitalization of the neighborhoods, getting a piece of the economic action for those deprived of it now and massive help for those with least who suffer most from the marauding of drugs and crime in our city make sense. Mayor Barry has said the city government couldn't work with the kinds of cuts in high-level, politically appointed jobs Mrs. Dixon has vowed she will make. We say it won't be able to work precisely until those wasteful and interfering and efficiency-deadening jobs have been cut. We also observe that the next mayor's urgent task of going up to the Hill to get the larger federal payment so badly needed won't have a prayer unless such cuts have been made. The likely new council chairman, John Wilson, by the way, is a budget expert who has been calling for such a step for years.

The city's problems will not disappear, whoever is mayor. In part they reflect the same deep-seated problems that all big cities suffer; they yield slowly to governmental solutions. But they do yield. It takes the right spirit and tone and values, it takes intellectual energy and imagination to get that to happen. And we think, hands down, Mrs. Dixon is the candidate who can do the job. She hasn't been part of the problem. She has the best chance of being part of the solution.