WASHINGTON -- Sharon Pratt Dixon, a former utilities corporation executive and Democratic Party activist making her first bid for public office, won an upset Democratic primary victory last night that, in all probability, will anoint her as successor to Marion S. Barry Jr. as mayor of Washington.
Mrs. Dixon -- who had demanded that Mr. Barry resign before he went on trial on drug possession and perjury charges and had promised that she would "use a shovel instead of a broom" to clean out Washington's city hall after 12 years of Barry rule -- won decisively over her closest rival, John Ray, a City Council member making his third bid to become mayor.
In the final tally of the balloting to be the Democratic candidate for mayor in November, Mrs. Dixon garnered 42,194 votes, or 35 percent of the total. Mr. Ray obtained 31,134 votes, or 25 percent of the total.
"It looks wonderful," Mrs. Dixon told her supporters after partial returns gave her a 7,000-vote margin over her nearest challenger. At that point she refused to claim victory, saying: "We're going to wait until we get the final returns -- we don't count it until we have it. That's exactly how we're going to run the government."
Minutes later, the final returns were in, and Mrs. Dixon, who had received the endorsement of the Washington Post, had gained the plurality of votes she needed to win the Democratic nomination in the primary's winner-take-all voting.
Minutes after that, Mr. Ray offered Mrs. Dixon his congratulations, saying that she "should be a great lesson to every youngster" because she "never gave up." He said Mrs. Dixon had won "against great odds" because she "stuck with it."
Mayor Barry, appearing on a local television program following Mrs. Dixon's victory, called it a signal that Washington is ready for "radical change."
In heavily Democratic Washington, winning the Democratic nomination for any post virtually guarantees winning election in November. Of the city's 260,000 registered voters, 231,000 are Democrats.
Meanwhile, the contest to become the Democratic nominee for the post of district delegate to Congress turned into a down-to-the-wire horse race in yesterday's voting. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Georgetown University law professor, won 46,620 votes, or 39 percent of the total, beating her main competitor, Betty Ann Kane, a longtime City Council member, who received 39,426 votes, or 33 percent of the total.
But Mrs. Norton's victory came only after Mrs. Kane led in the voting for much of the day. Before the primary vote, Mrs. Norton had been the favorite to win the nomination -- until it was disclosed last week that she had failed to file district income-tax returns from 1982 to 1989. The disclosure ignited a fire that Mrs. Norton was busy trying to put out right up until she finally won yesterday's vote.
In a day of voting that analysts said might well change the city's entire political structure, Washingtonians picked party candidates to run in the November election not only for mayor and the district's delegate to Congress, but also for the chairmanship of and six seats on the 12-seat City Council and for a new "shadow" delegation of two "senators" and one "representative" who will lobby Congress to grant statehood to the district.
The day's first clear winner was the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who sought and won the Democratic candidacy for one of the shadow senator posts.
In the polls, Mr. Ray had led all the way in the mayoral context, but his lead steadily shrank. He was preferred by 24 percent of those surveyed earlier this month, down 9 percentage points from his support in late August.
Running well behind Mrs. Dixon and Mr. Ray in the final returns were Charlene Drew Jarvis, another veteran City Council member, City Council Chairman David A. Clarke and the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy.
On the Republican side, Maurice T. Turner Jr., formerly Washington's police chief, who was running unopposed, won the task of opposing Mrs. Dixon in November.
The final vote showed Mrs. Dixon led with 35 percent (42,194 votes), followed by Mr. Ray with 25 percent (31,134), Mrs. Jarvis with 21 percent (26,263), Mr. Clarke with 11 percent (13,136) and Mr. Fauntroy with 7 percent (8,979), according to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.