Sharon Pratt Dixon, a daughter of the District of Columbia whose roots are deep in the black middle class, was sworn in yesterday as the District's third mayor, saying, "I am here to tell you that nothing is beyond our reach."
Beneath a cloudless blue sky and a District Building banner proclaiming her inaugural theme of "Yes We Will!" Dixon took the oath of office minutes after noon from U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, whom Dixon described as a "superachiever" committed to excellence.
Dixon, 46, the first native Washingtonian to lead the city, delivered an inaugural address that wove a rich tapestry of optimistic themes. In a clear, strong voice, she called for a return to traditional family values and urged D.C. residents to join to create a "city of hope, humanity and excellence."
"We begin a new time," she said, "a new season of coming together . . . . We must cease to define our city by her problems. We must begin to define our city by her potential. 'Yes We Will!' is an affirmation of our striving; an assertion that every intractable problem, however stubborn, can yield to a solution."
In an impromptu gesture that drew whistles and cheers, Dixon departed from her text, climbed down from the podium and hugged new D.C. Council Chairman John A. Wilson to underscore the need for improved relations between the mayor and the council.
"I extend my hand to him and to every member of the council," said Dixon, who was miffed by recent council action to assert more authority over city leases and contracts. "Let us build a true partnership to make this city work again."
Many who attended the ceremony praised Dixon's speech for reaching out to all segments of the city and the political community.
The former utility company vice president repeated her campaign battle cry for a "clean house," and with outgoing Mayor Marion Barry only a few seats away, she said, "What the people of Washington want most is an honest deal."
Barry, who dominated District politics for much of his 12 years as mayor until he was convicted last summer of one count of cocaine possession, is appealing a six-month prison sentence.
"On a personal note," Barry told Dixon as he presented her with the city's seal, "you face awesome responsibilities, great challenges ahead. But I know you will turn those stumbling blocks into stepping stones. You have my personal prayers and my personal support."
Walter E. Washington, the District's first mayor, who also attended the inaugural ceremony, said, "We must let the past be past . . . . We are starting a new era of greatness. Sharon Dixon brings a new brush, a clean one . . . . She has the capacity. If we can get everyone, black and white, rich and poor, to work together, we can succeed."
Speaking from a platform erected on the north side of the District Building facing Freedom Plaza, Dixon was surrounded by family members and a raft of current and former officials, including Gen. Colin L. Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Louis W. Sullivan, secretary of health and human services; Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder; Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.); Rep.-Elect James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.); Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.); and outgoing Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.).
Wilder said he attended Dixon's inauguration "to wish the mayor well and to continue the cooperation our state has with the District of Columbia . . . . We've always had good relations, and we expect them to continue."
Wilson and six others who were reelected or elected to their first term on the council were sworn in during a ceremony two hours earlier. They include Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1), Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3), Harry Thomas Sr. (D-Ward 5), Harold Brazil (D-Ward 6), Hilda H.M. Mason (Statehood-At Large) and Linda Cropp (D-At Large).
Late yesterday afternoon, Democrats Jesse L. Jackson and Florence Pendleton were sworn in as shadow senators and Democrat Charles J. Moreland was sworn in as a shadow representative to lobby Congress for D.C. statehood.
The crowds that Dixon drew to her inauguration and to a prayer breakfast at Ballou High School in Southeast bore little resemblance to the political gatherings of Barry's 12-year tenure.
"It's a whole new cross-section of the city, a whole new crew," said one former Barry administration official. The same components were there -- Advisory Neighborhood Commission members, school board members, teachers, students, clerics and the elderly -- but the faces were different.
They also responded much differently. Dixon's speech was "lyrical and had moments of magic," said WAMU-FM commentator Mark Plotkin, but the crowd response was flat. "The crowd was too civil, too proper, unless hers is going to be a cerebral administration . . . . She doesn't have any professional cheerleaders. She has to work on choreographing hysteria . . . . She has to learn that politics is theater. All that Marion Barry had in the end was theater."
Others offered less-complex reasons for the crowd's inertia: In the shadow of the District Building, it felt a lot colder than the official temperature of 55 degrees, the crowd was situated too far away from the platform to effectively exchange emotions with the speakers and security was so tight that many found it inhibiting.
"It was very cold, and people were wearing gloves, which muffled the applause," said Paul Friedman, president of the Ward 6 Democrats. "It was a warm response -- as warm as it could be considering the weather."
Though Dixon may not have made her audience jump up and down, she did bring them to their feet by striking universal chords of pride, hope and renewal.
She reached deep into the black history of her home town to recall the accomplishments of surveyor Benjamin Banneker, poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, musicians Edward "Duke" Ellington and Billy Eckstine, journalist and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston, and educators Sterling Brown and Mordecai W. Johnson.
She celebrated the city's multicultural and multinational traits, saying, "We are rich with many hues and many cultures . . . . We are African American and Latino, Irish American and Italian, Ethiopian and Vietnamese. We hail from San Salvador, Managua, Asmara and Lagos.
"We speak Spanish, Korean, Hebrew and Farsi. We dance the Electric Slide and sing in the Gay Men's Chorus. We worship in synagogues amd storefronts, in great cathedrals of Christianity and mosques dedicated to Allah.
"We are a community reflecting the new diversity that is America. We come from every region of the country and every nation on the globe -- and yet all of us call Washington, D.C., home."
Dixon offered no specific solutions to the troubling problems besetting the District, such as a budget deficit that could reach $300 million this year; she has promised to unveil her financial plans today. She also forcefully restated a campaign pledge to streamline and restructure the city government.
"Our city has changed and continues to change," she said, "but our city government has been left behind. We have a system governing for the '70s striving to serve a city that has already moved into the 1990s. We have too few people in the right jobs and too many people in jobs that shouldn't even exist."
John "Jack" Bond, a Durham County, N.C., official who has been appointed Dixon's deputy mayor and city administrator, said, "We have some distinct challenges ahead, not the least of which is the debt. But we also have some organizational challenges in building a more efficient government."
Bond, a District native who left the city in 1955, said that from the little contact he has had with D.C. workers, he has "a sense that morale is a little low."
"It is time to hug them now, instead of kicking them," he said. "The real challenge is to get them to help us revitalize the District of Columbia."
Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), an unsuccessful candidate for mayor in the September primary, described the new mayor's speech as "inspirational, inclusive and determined."
Jarvis said she thinks that D.C. government politics are going to be "boys versus the women" during the next year. "It's going to be an interesting dynamic," she said. "Some of the boys are apparently threatened by the women."
Roscoe Grant, an employee of the Department of Employment Services and president of Local 631 of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the speech was "very good" but that he was more eager to see how she would follow through on her rhetoric.
"Sometimes you have to listen to what was not said as much as what was," said Grant, who has worked for the city 18 years. "We're in tough times and I don't think she painted it as clearly as it is."
One person in the crowd, dissatisfied with the speech, repeatedly called out, "Say something about the homeless."
Dixon wrote the bulk of her speech, with help from Kevin Sullivan, a former speechwriter for former Texas representative Barbara Jordan.
The festivities continued last night at Union Station, where the inaugural ball was held. The station was jammed with partygoers -- the women in evening gowns, the men in tuxedos -- who celebrated as a variety of musical groups played in the main and east halls, the mezzanine and the lower level.
For Ron Richardson, the head of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union, the event was all the more satisfying because of the food, which -- in a break with past inaugurations -- was catered by a unionized firm. "I think it's indicative of the kind of relationship we are going to have with Mrs. Dixon," Richardson said.
Shortly before 10 p.m., Dixon, with her two daughters, Aimee and Drew, was presented to the cheering crowd in the main hall, and congratulatory telegrams from such luminaries as Elizabeth Taylor, Roberta Flack and Dionne Warwick were read.
About an hour later, Dixon addressed the crowd. "You know and I know we can make Washington, D.C., all it was meant to be," she said.
Among those watching was D.C. Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. "Today's a celebration," he said, "tomorrow's the hard work. But everybody seems happy. There are all kind of people here, and that makes for a good party. We're one Washington."
Dixon began the day by having breakfast and a prayer service with nearly 2,000 exuberant supporters in a heated tent erected on the Ballou High School football field.
"We begin this inaugural day in Anacostia," she said, "a community with a rich and powerful history, not far from the home of the 19th century standard-bearer for freedom, Frederick Douglass. We begin here because we can learn much from the past as we attempt to frame our future."
Staff writers Michael Abramowitz and Christine Spolar contributed to this report.