Third in a series on D.C. mayoral candidates.

As a girl, Sharon Pratt Dixon wanted to be a major league pitcher. "It was no joke to her," said Marilyn Robinson, a childhood friend. "Her sister and I stood on that playground for days on end. She would pitch and we would swing. We couldn't go home until she got it over the plate -- and then we had to come back after dinner."

An aunt remembers Dixon complaining that there was too much talk about Superman. She would ask, what about Superwoman?

Dixon was reared largely by her grandmother, Hazel Drew Pratt, an imposing woman of regal bearing and common sense, who built character in others by bellowing such commands as: "Speak up! Are you a woman or a mouse?"

When Dixon was 4, her mother died of breast cancer, so many of her notions of womanhood were formed by her father, Carlisle E. Pratt, a retired D.C. Superior Court judge.

"He really felt that the most attractive women were very intelligent, strong-willed women -- the fiery type," Dixon said.

"I would have lost respect in the family had I not been outspoken, had I not stood up for what I thought was right."

Throughout a career as a lawyer, teacher, utility company executive and high-ranking Democratic Party official, Dixon, 46, a third-generation Washingtonian, has charmed and galvanized friends and colleagues with her outspokenness, wit and passionate rhetoric.

Dixon hopes that her gutsy, confrontational style -- along with a call for fresh blood in District politics -- will somehow overcome her lackluster showing in the polls and anemic fund-raising and propel her to victory in the Sept. 11 D.C. Democratic mayoral primary.

"This is about the gut-level issues of a town and its quality of life," Dixon said. "These are serious times, serious concerns. Don't try to figure out what the in-crowd is doing. Try to figure out what you think ought to be happening."

Although she has been involved in local and national politics for more than 20 years, Dixon has sought to cast herself as a political outsider and "fresh face." She dimisses the three Democratic D.C. Council members seeking the nomination as the "three blind mice" who saw nothing, said nothing and did nothing. She also reminds audiences that she was the first candidate to call for Mayor Marion Barry's resignation after his drug arrest in January.

Dixon, a former vice president of the Potomac Electric and Power Co., said she left a successful and financially rewarding career to run for mayor after becoming distressed by what had become of the city under the Barry administration. Downtown was developed and new businesses came to town, but few of the city's residents benefited, she said.

"There is a desperate need to focus on economic disparity in the city, and I don't think that will happen unless we have someone who comes from the private sector who also understands the political process," Dixon said.

"I'm not doing it because I want a political career," she added. "I don't think politics should be a lifetime career. When I finish {as mayor} I will go back to something else. I'm not asking to live off taxpayers forever and ever."

Although she has never before sought government office, Dixon was elected four times by her party as the D.C. Democratic national committeewoman. She rose to the upper ranks of the national party and became the first woman and black to be chosen party treasurer. She also climbed the corporate ladder at Pepco, where she became the first female vice president.

She helped her then-husband, Arrington L. Dixon, win election first as a member and then chairman of the D.C. Council, and she managed an unsuccessful mayoral campaign for Patricia Roberts Harris in 1982.

When she stumps for herself, Dixon often delights crowds with witty tales of government decline. Other times, people say she rubs them the wrong way with a seemingly self-righteous delivery fit for a crusade.

Some political observers question whether Dixon offers voters enough specifics of her proposals for streamlining government and dealing with the fiscal crisis to enlist their support.

"She's a real wild card because she doesn't have a track record" in public office, said Sam Smith, a political activist and editor.

Dixon joined Pepco in 1976 as an associate counsel. In 1979, she created and ran a department of community affairs that, among other things, established satellite offices, provided discounts to low-income clients and printed bills in large type for the visually impaired.

In 1983, she was promoted to vice president of consumer affairs. When she became vice president of public policy in 1986, her responsibilities widened to include lobbying and regulatory affairs.

Zoe Bush, a rate lawyer who worked with Dixon at Pepco, recalls that Dixon was "an excellent role model for women and minorities."

Businessman John Hechinger, who has served on the Democratic National Committee with Dixon for 12 years, said she showed a talent for assembling national political coalitions, particularly around issues related to women, minorities and economic development.

"Almost immediately, she was very much an activist," said Hechinger, the D.C. Democratic national committeeman. "She would not have been elected treasurer had she not . . . demonstrated to everyone on this national committee, made up of people from 50 states, that she is a clear thinker and a really eloquent speaker -- and always very thoughtful and cooperative."

Her face was contorted and the veins in her neck looked about ready to pop. She was, by turn, thrusting her arms out toward the roomful of people, then drawing them back and clenching her fists.

Dixon was driving home one of her favorite themes. "This city is in trouble," she told members of the 14th and U Streets Coalition, who had gathered at the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center to hear the D.C. mayoral candidates. "We've got to shift priorities . . . and we cannot do it with any part of the status quo. It is time to clean house."

While many in the crowd went wild with applause, a woman who sported a campaign button for mayoral candidate Charlene Drew Jarvis shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

"She preaches to you, she tells you what to do, she's so hysterical," the woman said of Dixon. "She's still running against Marion Barry, and he ain't even in it."

Dixon has tried to turn her governmental inexperience to advantage. She repeatedly informs voters that unlike rivals David A. Clarke, John Ray and Jarvis, all members of the council, she had no hand in creating the $90 million budget deficit the city is facing. Nor did she sit back on the council, she tells voters, while drugs and violence took over the streets and eroded ethics.

Jarvis, riled by Dixon's "three blind mice" line, fired back last weekend, calling Dixon "Little Miss Muffet who sat on her tuffet while the rest of us were working away."

Dixon upset many people, especially government employees, by saying her first order of business as mayor would be to fire 2,000 upper-level city employees to save the cash-strapped city up to $100 million. Next, Dixon said, she would call upon the friends she has made on Capitol Hill while serving on the DNC to increase the federal payment to the District by more than $100 million.

Dixon said she intends to use her corporate connections to attract businesses to the city that will hire District residents. She also has proposed launching a $100 million capital growth fund to seed minority ventures in disadvantaged parts of town.

As for the public school system, she said she would pressure administrators to concentrate on preparing youngsters for employment in private industry, rather than government.

While many say they admire her conviction and the force with which she challenges the status quo, others are not sure what to make of her.

Shirley Pate, a federal employee who met Dixon at a fund-raiser in Southwest, said it took a while to get beyond Dixon's stridence, but that eventually "I found her much more personable."

"She has a lot of anger about what Barry has done to the city," she said. "An angry woman bothers a lot of people. It makes most people feel uneasy. It's unfortunate. The anger is very evident in her. I don't think Sharon Pratt Dixon ever calmly addresses people."

Even some of Dixon's staunchest supporters admit that as a candidate, she has image problems. They praise her integrity and intelligence. Yet they recognize that she impresses some as elitist and aloof. She is considered by many to be old guard socially and an upstart politically.

"Clearly, Sharon is not a politician," said Amy Goldson, a lawyer and former student of Dixon's who has assisted the campaign. "But that takes time . . . . She's the fresh, new face that we all need."

Lottie Shackelford, a former mayor of Little Rock, Ark., and a vice chairman of the DNC, said she has told Dixon to "relax a little, warm up to the people a little."

Dixon dismisses the elitist charges by pointing out that her father and his sister were the first in the family to graduate from college.

"We came from hard-working people," she said. Life in the Pratt family "was about character and developing your mind. It was never about any particular social organization," she said.

Like her longtime friend, the late Pat Harris, who served in the Carter Cabinet, Dixon said she has a tendency to "achieve a certain measure of detachment in terms of analyzing things." But unlike Harris, Dixon said, she is "really driven by a gut sense of things."

No events were scheduled on a recent Saturday morning, and so Dixon was joyfully dressed in an old T-shirt, shorts and slippers. Her daughters -- Aimee, 21, who just graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, and Drew, 19, a junior at Stanford University -- were taking a break from their jobs as full-time campaign volunteers and sleeping late.

As Dixon settled down in the living room of her graceful five-bedroom home in the upper reaches of Ward 4, the frown that she says signals her thought process began to creep across her face.

"I think about it now, about what does drive me," she said. "Some of it is the odds. The world is full of people who write people off, and that's why I always admire a fighter, someone who beats the odds."

"Maybe having a death {in her family} at a certain age, appreciating how brief life can be, I just wouldn't want to deal with the fact that I had ideas, I could see how something could happen and I sat on the sidelines," she said. "I don't have a lot of patience with people who sit on the sidelines."

Dixon said she had a "checkered academic career" until she realized teachers were writing her off. She won honors at Howard University, as well as the backing and affection of Harris, who was then dean of women and who later became a mentor and a mother figure to her. Losing Harris in 1985 to the same kind of cancer that had claimed her mother was a major blow, she said.

In high school and college, while many of her friends dated heavily, Dixon always seemed to have a steady. "I knew there was a quality in me that could really have a very good time, and maybe I gravitated as quickly as possible to someone who could keep me on track," she said.

She married Arrington Dixon in 1967 and divorced him in 1982, the same year Arrington Dixon lost in his bid for reelection as council chairman. Arrington Dixon currently runs a computer and communications consulting firm. He has remained neutral in the mayoral race, but sometimes shows up at campaign events to see his daughters in action.

Speaking of his ex-wife, Dixon said, "I think she's been very bold and has taken some very tough stands, and I think that's to her credit."

Sharon Pratt Dixon describes herself as a "late bloomer" when it came to the radical politics of social change that swept the country in the 1960s. While some of her contemporaries were staging demonstrations and riding freedom buses, she had her nose in the books.

"I was torn, always torn," she said. "A part of it was expressed later when I became a part of Antioch Law School . . . . It was a revolutionary approach to the ultimate status quo discipline."

Yet, she said, "There's a part of me that is clearly an institutional player." From Antioch, a progressive law school that emphasized community service, Dixon said she made "what you call a real jump, a major leap" to the comparatively conservative Pepco.

Dixon said she turned to politics because "I believe in application, and the law tends to be a little removed." She said that becoming mayor of the District would be a "mixed blessing," and running for the office is often a thankless task.

However, she said, "If you give it all you've got and do it with as much grace and dignity as you can muster, you can't lose."


Age: 46

Birthplace: Washington, D.C.

Education: D.C. Public Schools; Howard University, B.A., Political Science, 1965 (member of Honors Program, Pi Sigma Alpha national political science honor society, Falk Fellow in political science); Howard University Law School, Juris Doctor, 1968.

Major Employment: Lawyer, Pratt & Queen, 1971 to 1976; professor of law, Antioch Law School, 1972 to 1976; general counsel to Potomac Electric Power Co.,1976 to 1979; Director, Pepco Office of Consumer Affairs, 1979 to 1983;Pepco vice president for consumer affairs, 1983 to 1986; Pepco vice president for public policy,1986 to April 1989. Lawyer (of counsel) Sidley and Austin, September 1989 to present.

Political Activities: Elected to four terms as Democratic National Committeewoman from the District of Columbia, 1977 to 1990; Democratic National Committee Eastern Regional Caucus chairwoman, 1980 to 1984; Democratic National Committee treasurer, 1985 to February 1989.

Church Affiliation: Episcopal

Marital Status: Divorced, 1982, from former D.C. Council chairman Arrington Dixon. Two children.

Major Civic and Professional Associations: Vice chairwoman of the D.C. Law Revision Commission. Board of Trustees, Howard University; President's Council, St. Mary's College of Maryland; Board of Directors, WETA; Board of Directors, Women's Research and Education Institute; Board of Directors, Maryland-District of Columbia Utilities Association; member, D.C. Unified Bar.

Honors: One of the first inductees to the D.C. Commission on the Status of Women's Hall of Fame; NAACP President's Award, 1983; United Negro College Fund Award; National Association of Black Women Attorneys Award; Indira Gandhi Award.

Favorite Book: "The Prophet," by Khalil Gibran STAND ON KEY ISSUES

Rent Control: Supports current law.

Taxes: Opposed to raising taxes.

Drugs and Crime: Says biggest problem is lack of economic opportunity for residents. Would pressure public schools to better prepare students for jobs and step up efforts to attract businesses to stimulate employment in black communities.

Work force: Would eliminate 2,000 jobs of non-tenured supervisors and managers.

Worker's Compensation: Opposes any changes that would enable workers to sue their employers in addition to pursuing worker's compensation benefits.

Public Schools: Would pressure the school system to reduce wasteful spending to free more money for classroom programs. Thinks the school system has become too politicized.