Sharon Pratt Dixon is to Washington what Corazon Aquino was to the Philippines. She may have no political experience to speak of, but she, like Aquino, has something infinitely more important: the trust of a place worn out with her predecessor's political and personal corruption.
At her swearing-in, the small, sharp former utility executive repeated what she had said in the campaign she wasn't supposed to win. She talked about the values she grew up with in the pastoral Washington of yesterday. She talked of a bureaucracy in need of a trim. She promised "a city of hope, humanity and excellence."
It's a tall order, but she kept saying, "Yes we will," which was emblazoned on a banner hung on the District Building, an edifice dedicated to the proposition of "No we won't." That was certainly Marion Barry's slogan. The former mayor, who was convicted of cocaine possession in August, was sentenced to six months in jail by a judge who said he had "given aid and encouragement to the drug culture at large and contributed to the anguish that illegal drugs have inflicted on this city."
Dixon distinguished herself in the campaign by demanding that the mayor resign, while her rivals hung around him, looking for his endorsement. She did not, at her inaugural, detail his scandalous shortcomings. He was, after all, on the stand with her -- and her father, her grandmother, the aunt who brought her up and her two daughters -- and turned over the mayor's seal to her. He is appealing his jail term.
The bureaucracy, which was so deeply imbued with Barry's negative spirit, is doubtless massing to give her a taste of the unresponsiveness and delay it doles out to the city's taxpayers. It is the country's largest per capita work force, 48,500 strong, and its specialty is to mirror Barry's notion that a government job is a right and that public service is an oxymoron.
Dixon will have to have it out with the "No we won't" gang early on. A few firings, the elimination of swollen bureaus, will make her point that "we have too many people in jobs that shouldn't even exist."
Another group that seems to want to give her a hard time is the D.C. City Council. Although it stood by during the Barry years and never took him on about his indicted intimates or his bizarre lifestyle, the council has come to and decided that it should keep a tight rein on Dixon.
That gave the new mayor an inaugural opportunity to demonstrate most welcome finesse. She obviously wanted to shake up the situation before it hardened into a junior Congress-White House impasse. So she extended her hand to Chairman John A. Wilson and called for a "true partnership . . . to make this city great." She put aside her text and called out in a strong alto, "Now where's John?" Spotting him, she hurried over to give him a hug and a kiss.
Are we, at last, to have charm in the District Building? Will she win over Congress as easily?
It was inevitable that as Dixon spoke, the wail of an ambulance momentarily drowned out her words. Shortly before she took the oath, the District became again the most homicidal city in the nation. The 1990 toll was 483. Gunfire requires a great deal of ambulance service. The District's service epitomized Barry's bottomless indifference to his responsibilities. In the case of the homeless, whom he fought with a sullen rage so he could pay back the city for voting mandatory shelter, he was aggressively destructive. In the case of people needing to get to the hospital in a hurry, he did what he did best: He blamed the victims. They call for an ambulance "like a taxi," he whined.
D.C. ambulances couldn't find streets, lost calls and lost lives. One woman has alleged she was sexually assaulted by ambulance personnel on her way to the emergency room.
If Sharon Pratt Dixon were to announce that her first order of business would be to reform this basic, fundamental public service and that anyone who couldn't deliver patients with the speed of, say, Domino's Pizza -- The Post's Bob Asher points out it can get anywhere in the District in 20 minutes -- would be fired on the spot, the most skeptical and case-hardened local citizen would be convinced of a new day.
Marion Barry was not Ferdinand Marcos -- he had only a city, not a country, to pillage -- but he is being succeeded by a slight, sincere, believable woman, as Marcos was. And that is why Washington, which hardly ever hopes and doesn't dare to dream, is doing both. The Federal City is deep in debt and awash in drugs and guns, but at last it has a mayor who is a third-generation Washingtonian and cares about the city, not just having its biggest job.