REFORMERS IN politics all live with the same contradiction. The problem is how to marry virtue and relevance, how to stick to lofty principles while playing an earthy game. One of the more 1886547821mayor is that she sensibly left herself room in which to work this out.

Mrs. Dixon ran a moral but not a moralistic campaign. She did not suggest that all politics is dirty; her target was rather a particular administration. She scored her points by denouncing Mayor Barry for letting himself and the District government both go to seed; the simplest way of understanding her victory is as the second Barry verdict.

When a D.C. jury the month before had convicted him of only a single misdemeanor out of 12 drug and perjury charges, the mayor had claimed vindication. There was, to be sure, much legitimate uneasiness over some of the prosecutorial techniques used against Mr. Barry. But the verdict had been taken by him and others to mean that much of the city -- enough at least to hang a jury -- had no quarrel with his behavior. That was a wholly different point. And last Tuesday this libel on the city was blown away. The vote was for what Mrs. Dixon said it was: to clean house.

But to do that effectively requires political skill and engagement. Mrs. Dixon is no longer an outsider, and she is too wise, we expect, to make the mistake common to many reformers who try to maintain that detached status on the inside. She cannot be expected to hold herself above or apart from the normal, not always pretty political processes of minor and major alliance-building, horse-trading, compromise and all of that. On the contrary, using the size of her stunning victory for all the leverage she can, if elected in November as expected she must roll up her sleeves and heartily engage in those processes, put them to her electorally validated purposes. In the rituals of healing since the primary, this smart woman has indicated she understands this. It's a different process from the one in which she has engaged thus far, and those who want her to succeed as mayor should wish her well at it.