Sharon Pratt Kelly

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"Sharon Dixon" redirects here. For the former Democratic alderman from Chicago, see Sharon Denise Dixon.
Sharon Pratt Kelly
Pratt at a Barack Obama presidential campaign event in 2008
3rd Mayor of the District of Columbia
In office
January 2, 1991 – January 2, 1995
Preceded by Marion Barry
Succeeded by Marion Barry
Treasurer of the Democratic National Committee
In office
February 2, 1985 – February 10, 1989
Preceded by Paul G. Kirk
Personal details
Born Sharon Pratt
(1944-01-30) January 30, 1944 (age 70)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Arrington Dixon (1967–82) (divorced)
James R. Kelly (Dec 7, 1991–1999) (divorced)[1]
Children daughters:
Aimee Arrington Dixon (November 27, 1968)
Drew Arrington Dixon (November 8, 1970)
Alma mater Howard University
B.A. 1965 political science
J.D. 1968
Occupation Business executive
Profession lawyer
Religion Episcopalian
Height 5 feet 2 inches (157 cm)
Website Pratt Consulting, LLC
[2][3][4]

Sharon Pratt Kelly (born January 30, 1944), formerly Sharon Pratt Dixon and now known as Sharon Pratt, was the third mayor of the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1995. Pratt was the first black woman to serve as mayor of a major American city. She is also to date the only woman to have served as mayor of Washington D.C.

Though she campaigned and was elected and inaugurated mayor as Sharon Pratt Dixon, on December 7, 1991, she married James R. Kelly III, a New York businessman, and changed her name to Sharon Pratt Kelly.[1] After their 1999 divorce, she resumed her maiden name, Sharon Pratt.

Personal life[edit]

She was born to D.C. Superior Court judge Carlisle Edward Pratt and Mildred "Peggy" (Petticord) Pratt. Three years later, a sister, Benaree, was born. After she lost her mother to breast cancer at an early age, her grandmother, Hazel Pratt, and aunt, Aimee Elizabeth Pratt, helped raise the girls.

Pratt attended D.C. Public Schools Gage ES, Rudolph ES, MacFarland Junior High School, and Roosevelt HS (1961, with honors). She excelled at baseball but deemphasized that in adolescence. At Howard University she joined Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority (1964), and earned a B.A. in political science (1965). She received J.D. degree from the Howard University School of Law in 1968. She met and dated her future husband there.[2]

She married Arrington Dixon (1966) and bore daughters in 1968 and 1970. They divorced after sixteen years.[2][4]

Career[edit]

Initially her political energies were drawn to national rather than local politics. She was a member of the Democratic National Committee from the District of Columbia (1977–1990), the first female to hold that position. She was DNC Treasurer (1985–1989).

At the 1980 Democratic National Convention, she was a member of the Ad Hoc Credentials Committee, member of the Judicial Council, and co-chairman of the Rules Committee.[3]

In 1983, she was made Vice President of Community Relations at Pepco, the D.C. electric utility. She became the first woman and first African American to serve in that role. The same year, she won the Presidential Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

1990 Mayoral Election[edit]

Upset with the decline of her hometown, Pratt announced at the 1988 Democratic National Convention that she would challenge incumbent mayor Marion Barry in the 1990 election. Pratt was the only candidate to have officially announced her plans to run for mayor when Barry was arrested on drug charges and dropped out of the race in early 1990. Shortly thereafter, the race was joined by longtime councilmembers John Ray, Charlene Drew Jarvis and David Clarke. Pratt criticized her three main opponents, referring to them as the "three blind mice" who "saw nothing, said nothing and did nothing as the city rapidly decayed." She was the only candidate who called on Barry to resign from office, and ran specifically as an outsider to his political machine with the campaign slogan of "Clean House."

Following a series of televised debates during the last few weeks of the campaign, Pratt received the endorsement of The Washington Post.[5] The day the endorsement appeared, her poll numbers skyrocketed, with many political observers attributing the rise specifically to the Post's backing.[6] On the eve of the election, polls showed Councilmember John Ray holding the lead, but Pratt gaining ground fast and a large margin of undecided voters remaining.[7] However, even with the smallest campaign staff and least money, Pratt won the election, defeating second-place Ray by 10%.[8] As Washington is a heavily Democratic, majority-black city, her victory over Republican former police chief Maurice T. Turner, Jr., in the November 6 general election was a foregone conclusion. She was sworn in as mayor of Washington on January 2, 1991.

Mayor of the District of Columbia[edit]

Once in office, Pratt's grassroots, reform posture met resistance. She made good on her promises to clean house, requesting the resignations of all Barry appointees the day after her election; however, as she began to slash the city employment payroll, her political support began to weaken. She angered labor leaders who claimed she had promised not to fire union employees, and began mandating unpaid furloughs and wage freezes citywide.[9] After removing Barry's political cronies from her administration, she suffered from high staff turnover: three city administrators, two chiefs of staff, three deputy mayors for economic development, and two Department of Finance chiefs had passed through her cabinet by the end of her term.[10]

Kelly was at odds with several D.C. Council members with her proposal to temporarily move the city government to the building at One Judiciary Square, ten blocks away from Washington's incumbent city hall, the District Building, while the latter underwent renovations. When Kelly moved her office and administration departments to One Judiciary Square in 1992, the Council refused to leave the District Building, although they had approved the proposal that spring. In February 1993, after accusing Kelly of deliberately neglecting maintenance in order to force them out, they voted to take full and exclusive control of the District Building.[11][12][13]

According to the Washington City Paper, Kelly "was never able to get control of a city government still loyal to Barry, and she often mistrusted the advice she got from aides."[14] In the spring of 1992, just over a year into her term, Barry loyalists mounted a recall campaign, which, although unsuccessful, weakened her administration and forced Kelly to tread more carefully with the public, backing away from her reform efforts.[14]

Kelly faced some racial opposition because she is a light-skinned black,[4] often cited as a hallmark of elite African Americans in the District, thus distancing her from poor and working-class blacks in the city.[10]

Statehood[edit]

Kelly's drive to achieve D.C. statehood in order to improve the District's financial and political standing created fierce opposition from Republican members of Congress, who unleashed a barrage of attacks on the District as a "national disgrace" of "one-party rule...massive dependency, hellish crime...and unrelenting scandal."[15] The attacks brought unwelcome negative press to DC, and the ultimate failure in the House of Representatives of DC statehood legislation weakened her political capital. She lost standing with the DC Council when she supported Council member Linda Cropp to serve as acting Chair after the suicide of John A. Wilson in May 1993; instead, the Council chose John L. Ray.[16]

Redskins stadium controversy[edit]

Kelly was blamed for the Redskins moving out of the city. Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke attempted to pressure the city to build a new stadium for the team, instead of the aging RFK Stadium where they then played, with the threat of moving the team to nearby Alexandria, Virginia. After negotiations stalled and Cooke was publicly courted by Virginia's governor, Kelly denounced Cooke vocally, saying that "I will not allow our good community to be steamrolled by a billionaire bully." She announced that she had offered as much as she was willing to offer the Redskins and would go no further.[17] Although an agreement was ultimately reached, in 1993 Cooke withdrew from negotiations and moved the team to Landover, Maryland, where as of 2014 it still resides.

City finances and re-election campaign[edit]

As fiscal year 1994 began for DC government (in October 1993), DC faced a $500 million budget deficit, with financial experts predicting a cumulative $1 billion deficit by 1999.[10] Kelly had begun her term having extremely good relations with Congress, successfully lobbying them to increase federal aid for D.C. by $100 million and to authorize the sale of $300 million in deficit reduction bonds.[10] Later, in early 1994 Kelly admitted that the District could not pay its bills, Congress commissioned a federal audit of the city finances by the GAO.[10]

In February 1994, in the face of a ballooning deficit, Kelly faced heavy criticism when the Washington Post reported that she regularly spent taxpayer funds on makeup for cable television appearances. Kelly was reported to have set aside $14,000 of city money to pay her makeup artist.[18] In the weeks following, Kelly came under fire for other inappropriate uses of city funds, including the addition of bulletproof glass and a marble fireplace in her office and a series of 1993 televised town hall meetings that she had promised would be paid for with private financing.[19] The stories were seized by her opponents in that year's mayoral race, particularly the comeback campaign of Marion Barry.

The GAO's report on DC finances was published on June 22, 1994, and estimated that the city would run out of money in two years and "may be forced to borrow from the U.S. Treasury by fiscal year 1995."[20][21] The report specifically singled out Kelly's administration for gross mismanagement of city funds and agencies, and accused her of concealing the city's perilous fiscal condition from Congress for two years, "using gimmicks and violating the federal anti-deficiency act, which prohibits over-spending of a federally approved budget."[14][10] The report, coupled with Congress' subsequent assertion of power over DC's budget (including deep cuts and new requirements for mayoral compliance), provided political ammunition for her challengers and effectively destroyed Kelly's reelection campaign.[10][22]

The Washington Post, which endorsed Kelly in 1990, instead in 1994 endorsed Councilman John Ray. In its endorsement, the Post reflected that Kelly "has not been a coalition builder, which a mayor - and perhaps particularly the mayor of a city under enormous financial and social stress - needs to be...the most aggressive members of the city council, those most sympathetic to her cost-cutting message, are not with her. Nor are key elements in the business community. She has lost them and with them, we believe, her chance to enact the measures she has stood for."[23]

In the Democratic primary that September, Kelly finished a distant third, with only 14% of the vote. Barry won the primary and would go on to win the general election in November.

Post-mayoral activities[edit]

Pratt is now involved in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness planning through her privately held company, Pratt Consulting.

Awards[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Weil, Martin (1991-12-08). "Now She's Mayor Kelly: Dixon Gets Married, Changes Her Name" (Fee.). The Washington Post. p. A1. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  2. ^ a b c "Sharon Pratt Dixon." Notable Black American Women, Book 1. Gale Research, 1992. Updated: 12/20/1992 Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale, 2009. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC, Document Number: K1623000108. Fee, via Fairfax County Public Library 2009-04-10.
  3. ^ a b "Sharon Pratt Dixon." Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 1. Gale Research, 1992. Updated: 07/07/1992. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC Document Number: K1606001025. Fee, via Fairfax County Public Library 2009-04-10.
  4. ^ a b c Randolph, Laura B. (Feb 1992). "Her marriage … her mission and … her mid-life transformation - Sharon Pratt Kelley". Ebony magazine (Johnson Publishing Company). Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  5. ^ "Clean House-Dixon for Mayor". The Washington Post. 1990-08-30. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  6. ^ Kurtz, Howard (90-09-13). "Post Plays Down Impact of Endorsement; Not Everyone Agrees". The Washington Post. 
  7. ^ Ayres, B. Drummond Jr. (1990-09-11). "Undecided Vote Makes Race in Capital Too Tight to Call". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-26. 
  8. ^ Ayres, B. Drummond Jr. (September 16, 1990). "In Insiders' City, Dixon Clings to Outsider Image". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-09. "Sharon Pratt Dixon, who won the Democratic mayoral primary in Washington last week despite having the smallest campaign staff, the smallest campaign war chest and the lowest standing in the polls." 
  9. ^ James Ragland (January 15, 1992). "Kelly's Absence Riles Union Leaders". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Barras, Jonetta Rose (1998). The Last of the Black Emperors : The Hollow Comeback of Marion Barry in a New Age of Black Leaders. Bancroft Press. ISBN 0-9631246-6-8. 
  11. ^ Rene Sanchez (January 16, 1992). "A Movable Feud". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  12. ^ Henderson, Nell; Molly Sinclair (April 23, 1992). "After Move, Kelly Might Not Look Back". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-11-26. 
  13. ^ Sanchez, Rene (February 3, 1993). "Council Seizes City Hall; Building Is a Pawn In Spat With Mayor". The Washington Post. 
  14. ^ a b c >Loose Lips (October 16, 2002). "Sharon Pratt Kelly Biography". Washington City Paper. Archived from the original on 2002-10-16. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  15. ^ Martin Weil (August 12, 1992). "GOP Calls the District Hotbed of Scandal, Crime". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  16. ^ Ragland, James (1993-05-26). "The Price of a Power Play Gone Awry; Attempt to Secure Interim Council Post for Cropp Puts Mayor in Awkward Position". The Washington Post. p. D01. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  17. ^ James Ragland (July 23, 1992). "Kelly Says D.C. Won't Bow To `Billionaire Bully' Cooke; Mayor Rules Out More Concessions to Keep Redskins". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  18. ^ Yolanda Woodlee (February 24, 1994). "Kelly Spends City Money On Makeup; Mayor Is Criticized For $65-an-Hour Professional Services". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  19. ^ James Ragland (March 3, 1994). "Kelly Mayor Used Public Money For `Town Meeting' Shows; Aides Said Private Funds Would Pay Costs". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  20. ^ David A. Vise & Nell Henderson (May 25, 1994). "D.C. Told to Face Up To Financial `Crisis'; GAO Sees Money Running Out Within 2 Years". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-11-14. 
  21. ^ Martha Canan (June 24, 1994). "GAO says that D.C. may have to borrow from U.S. Treasury; District CFO says no.". The Bond Buyer. Retrieved 2010-11-14. 
  22. ^ Nell Henderson & Yolanda Woodlee (June 30, 1994). "Barry Upstages Campaign Rivals". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-11-14. 
  23. ^ editorial (September 9, 1994). "The Next Mayor.". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Marion Barry
Mayor of the District of Columbia
1991–1995
Succeeded by
Marion Barry