If there was one moment of surprise during her inaugural address yesterday, it may have been when newly sworn-in Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon jokingly asked, "Where's John?" and left the rostrum to embrace John A. Wilson, the new chairman of the D.C. Council.

Dixon's unexpected gesture was both a humorous allusion to her sometimes prickly relations with Wilson and a public demonstration of her commitment to a "true partnership" with the council, as she put it in her speech.

It was also a reminder of one of Dixon's major goals in her inaugural address: reaching out to competing constituencies and institutions with which she must work to solve the massive financial and social problems facing the District.

"I thought that was a marvelous gesture," Wilson said of Dixon's hug. "She's absolutely correct. We're going to have to work with each other. It is absolutely essential."

"It was a speech of inclusiveness, not exclusiveness," Calvin W. Rolark, a publisher and Southeast Washington community activist, said of Dixon's address. "It showed the type of cooperation she's desirous of when she left the podium and embraced Wilson."

In her speech, Dixon seemed to extend an open hand to a variety of interests, from the gay and Hispanic communities to providers for the homeless and other nonprofit groups.

Although she sought to make peace with some institutions she derided during her long-shot mayoral bid, such as the city's civil service, she did not step back from her campaign's central message of change.

"We have too few people in the right jobs and too many people in jobs that shouldn't even exist," Dixon said.

Mauro Montoya, one of the city's leading gay rights activists, praised one passage of Dixon's speech in which she cited the Gay Men's Chorus as an example of the city's diversity.

"She was very inclusive," Montoya said. "It acknowledges to us that she's not going to back down, that she's going to include everyone in the city."

When Dixon referred at one point to the House of Ruth in her speech, cheers went up from about 40 people watching her on television at the shelter for women. "I was pleased to know she mentioned us," Executive Director Ellen Rocks said. "She's at least aware, and I think that's a good sign."

"I thought she was setting the tone for a new beginning," said Kurt Vorndran, a Democratic activist from Ward 3 who was one of hundreds of people crowding the fifth floor of the District Building for a post-inauguration reception. "The general election campaign pulled together the political activists. The speech reached beyond that to the general public."

Dixon also reached out to Congress for help in rebuilding the city, coolly reminding legislators of their responsibility to pay their "fair share" of the city's costs.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), a member of the House Democratic leadership and one of several area legislators in attendance, said Dixon's call for more federal aid was "expected and appropriate . . . . I think we're going to be working on doing it."

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) said, "If Sharon and the District demonstrate that they are really shaping themselves up, that will be met by a positive response from Congress.

"People want Sharon to succeed, they really do," Sarbanes said. "There's a lot of warmth and affection for the District, and I think she can do the job. I think it was a terrific speech."

Dixon's message of "Yes We Will" also drew positive reactions.

"I think {the speech} was very forward-looking," said Vivian Cunningham, a D.C. lottery board employee and a former aide to former D.C. Council chairman Arrington Dixon, Sharon Pratt Dixon's ex-husband. "The theme was not to define the city by its problems, but by its potential."

"I told her quite sincerely that it was one of the best speeches I've heard in quite a while," said Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening. "It was exactly what the District of Columbia and the region needs: a real uplifting, positive vision that we can do it.

"Her role is to lead. Her role is not to get into the details of every agency and budget. That was clearly a leadership speech," Glendening said.

Not everyone shared Dixon's optimism. Lozzie York, a 62-year-old community activist near 14th and U streets NW and a longtime supporter of former mayor Marion Barry, expressed some doubts about Dixon's lofty aims.

"I don't feel all the things she is saying she can live up to," York said. Referring to the pace of Dixon's transition, York added, "I thought she would have been ready and had all her staff together by now."

Despite Dixon's continued tough rhetoric about the city's work force, several city workers at the reception yesterday expressed admiration for the speech and for the new mayor.

"I could very well be one of the ones she eliminates," Vernita Jefferson, a D.C. school counselor, said with a laugh. "But if anything, I think she will embrace the system and work to make it one of the premier ones in the nation."

"I thought it was wonderful," said Catherine Blue, a worker at the Department of Human Services. "She said it very succinctly: It is time we get back to basics . . . . We needed a new thing, and we got it. We are very optimistic."

"It was inspirational," said D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), who finished behind Dixon and John Ray in the Democratic mayoral primary.

"I think she was trying to evoke memories of a Washington of values, and try to put away the '80s narcissism."