Dixon Sets a New Tone for D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C., got a potent breath of hope and optimism last week at the inauguration of its new mayor, Sharon Pratt Dixon. The city needed that. Its agonies under former mayor Marion Barry, who faces six months in jail for cocaine possession, have been legion: a municipal deficit that could approach $300 million this year, deteriorating public services, a soaring homicide rate (483 killed in 1990), and a drug culture that undermines civil order. Ms. Dixon won office on a pledge to thoroughly overhaul the capital's local government. She has fearlessly vowed to take on such ingrained D.C. interests as the local bureaucracy, which she criticizes as bloated and inefficient. ``We have too few people in the right jobs and too many people in jobs that shouldn't even exist,'' said the new mayor.

Efforts to trim the city's payroll and move the budget back toward balance will require tremendous teamwork. Dixon made it clear she intends to work with the district council, which is leery of mayoral activism, instead of at odds with it. She also has called for a new, more cooperative relationship with Congress, which controls federal aid going to the city. Congress's response to the new mayor ought to be be positive.

Dixon's toughest challenge - shared with big-city mayors all over the country - is to address the tangled problems of endemic poverty and drug-related crime. The Bush administration's antidrug program had earlier held up Washington as the place to begin proving that the murderous cocaine trade can be effectively combated. With a new mayor committed to strengthening families, schools, and social services, that goal should be revived. Leadership in this area will go furthest to restore the capital's luster for all Americans.

The mayor's immediate task is to bring aboard a city management corps that shares her priorities and optimism. ``Cleaning house'' was her phrase for the changes needed to root out cronyism and corruption. Her long-term task is to maintain her optimism and instill it in others in the face of mountainous difficulties. Ms. Dixon's honesty, energy, and her native's love for the city provide a foundation for tough decisionmaking ahead.

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