Dixon, Sharon Pratt 1944—
Sharon Pratt Dixon 1944—
Mayor of the District of Columbia
In November of 1990 Sharon Pratt Dixon of Washington, D.C., a lawyer and public utility executive, became the first black woman to be elected mayor of a major American city. Dixon’s mayoral victory was virtually assured two months earlier in the Democratic primary, in which she not only upset four better-known candidates, but overcame the race’s smallest campaign staff and budget and lowest standing in the polls. Dixon pulled off her stunning win on a campaign theme of promising to “clean house—with a shovel, not a broom,” referring to the troubled administration of former Washington mayor Marion S. Barry. In a city beset by spiraling crime and deficit problems, Washington voters turned out in record numbers to voice the message that they wanted a major turn-around in city government. B. Drummond Ayres, Jr., commenting in the Ne tu York Times, wrote that Dixon’s victory “provided the strongest reading yet on how deeply troubled Washington residents are by the city’s fiscal, administrative, racial, ethical and law-and-order problems, many of which emerged in the latter years of Mr. Barry’s 12-year tenure. “Barry himself was quoted as saying in Time after the election: “Sharon Pratt Dixon represented drastic change.”
Although all the candidates in the primary stressed new leadership to restore Washington’s tarnished image, Dixon was the only one to openly attack Barry as responsible for many of the city’s problems. She was also the only candidate to directly call for his resignation in light of his 1990 arrest for cocaine possession. “I am not prejudging the innocence or guilt of the mayor,” Dixon was quoted as saying in a March, 1990, article in the Washington Post. “However, if he is to responsibly defend himself against criminal charges and at the same time responsibly come to grips with his admitted chemical substance abuse problem, he cannot give time, energy and attention to the serious problems plaguing our city.” Columnist Judy Mann wrote in the Washington Post that “Dixon, who was the first candidate to announce for mayor, showed extraordinary courage from the outset. She was willing to go up against an incumbent who had a political machine and would be a formidable fund-raiser. When Barry, shortly before his trial, announced he would not seek reelection … she was in an open race.”
Dixon’s stance as a reform-minded outsider—in a city famous for its powerful political circles—distinguished
Born January 30, 1944, in Washington, DC; daughter of Carlisle Edward (a District of Columbia Superior Court judge) and Mildred (Petticord) Pratt; married Arrington Dixon (former District of Columbia Council chairman), divorced; children: Aimee, Drew (daughters). Education: Howard University, B.A., 1965, j.D., 1968. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Episcopalian.
Joint Center for Political Studies, house counsel, 1970-71 ; Pratt and Queen, associate, beginning 1971 ; Antioch School of Law, attorney and professor, 1972-76; Potomac Electric Power Co., associate general counsel, 1976-79, director of office of consumer affairs, 1979-83, vice president, 1983-86, vice president of public policy, 1986-89; mayor of Washington, DC, 1991—. Democratic National Committeewoman, beginning 1971; Democratic committee, Washington DC, acting general counsel, 1976-77; Democratic National Convention, co-chair of Rules Committee, member of Ad Hoc Credentials Committee, and member of Judicial Council, all 1980; Eastern Regional Caucus, chair, 1981; Democratic National Committee, treasurer, 1985-89.
Awards: Falk Fellowship, Howard University, 1962-65; Harvard University Cooperative Scholarship, 1964.
Member: American Bar Association, National Women’s Political Caucus, Unified Bar of the District of Columbia, District of Columbia Women’s Bar Association, District of Columbia Democratic State Committee (national committeewoman), District of Columbia Law Revision Committee (vice-chair, 1977-83), Democratic National Committee (former treasurer), National Political Science Honor Society, Pi Sigma Alpha.
Addresses: Office —District Building, Washington, DC 20004.
her from the field of candidates. Political analyst Mark Plotkin noted in Time that Dixon “was the only candidate who created a perception that she was different and that the other candidates were part of the problem and she was the one to solve it.” In response to the city’s financial crisis she promised to cut 2,000 city workers in an effort “to get the city’s bureaucracy under control,” as reported by the Washington Post. Dixon also emphasized throughout her campaign the priority of better assisting working women, students, and families as a way to prevent the social ills of homelessness and drugs. The day after her election she began initiating her primary campaign pledge to “clean house” when she called for the immediate resignation of 177 of Barry’s top city appointees. “We said it in the campaign and I meant it,” she said in the Washington Post. “We’re going to have a new team all the way around.”
Although she ran as an outsider, Dixon brings valuable “inside” experience to being mayor. In addition to her work as a lawyer and in business, she has been a prominent leader in the Democratic National Committee for years and previously served as its national treasurer. A number of political observers praised Dixon’s qualifications for mayor. Ronald H. Brown, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told Ayres that Dixon was “one of the most persistent, tenacious, focused people I have ever known.” Plotkin similarly commented to Ayres: “She’s been around a good long time—I think of her as the insider running as an outsider—and you don’t ever want to forget how persistent she can be.” District of Columbia Council member H. R. Crawford in the Washington Post called Dixon “an articulate, outstanding role model [with] professionally impeccable character.” Looking back to Dixon’s experience as a corporate executive, Crawford stated that the District of Columbia was “fortunate to have a businesswoman with proven ability.”
New York Times, September 12, 1990; September 16, 1990.
Time, September 24, 1990; November 19, 1990.
U.S. News & World Report, September 24, 1990.
Washingtonian, June 1990.
Washington Post, March 6, 1990; March 30, 1990; April 20, 1990; June 28, 1990; August 7, 1990; September 13, 1990; September 14, 1990; September 16, 1990; September 17, 1990.
—Michael E. Mueller
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