The throw-the-rascals-out sentiment which produced several minor tremors in Maryland primary contests Tuesday resulted in a seismic upheaval in Washington, D.C., where Sharon Pratt Dixon, a lawyer and former utility company official with no previous experience in government, pulled off a stunning upset among a crowded field vying to replace embattled Mayor Marion Barry.
Dixon, who campaigned almost entirely on a pledge to clean house in a D.C. government that had grown inefficient and corrupt after 12 years of Barry's stewardship, began as a long-shot who barely registered in polls. She promised to heal the city's racial wounds, eliminate 2,000 jobs from its bloated bureaucracy and restore integrity to City Hall, but many questioned whether she had the experience and savvy to pull off so ambitious an agenda. A late shot in the arm from a Washington Post endorsement last week, however, produced a surge in the polls with enough momentum to carry her over the top.
The quarter of the electorate that remained undecided until the final week apparently broke for Dixon after deciding that the city needed a new broom to sweep away the accumulated malfeasances and failures of the previous administration. Dixon, who would become the city's first woman mayor if elected, still faces a general election against former police chief Maurice Turner, who, if elected, would become the city's first Republican mayor. Either way, it seems clear that after more than a decade of rule by a man once described as "mayor for life," Washington voters are determined to make a fresh start in a new direction.