Mayor of the District of Columbia

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Mayor of the District of Columbia
Seal of the District of Columbia.svg
Flag of the District of Columbia.svg
Muriel Bowser
Muriel Bowser

since January 2, 2015
AppointerDirect election by residents
Term lengthFour years, renewable
Inaugural holderWalter E. Washington

The mayor of the District of Columbia is the head of the executive branch of the government of the District of Columbia, in the United States. The mayor has the duty to enforce district laws, and the power to either approve or veto bills passed by the Council of the District of Columbia, in the United States. In addition, the mayor oversees all district services, public property, police and fire protection, most public agencies, and the public school system within the District of Columbia.[1] The mayor's office oversees an annual district budget of $8.8 billion.[2] The mayor's executive office is located in the John A. Wilson Building in downtown Washington, D.C. The mayor appoints several officers, including the deputy mayors for Education and Planning & Economic Development, the district administrator, the chancellor of the district's public schools, the Office of Latino Affairs, and the department heads of the district agencies.

History of governance[edit]

At its official formation in 1801 by Act of Congress, the district consisted of five political sub-divisions: three cities with their own municipal governments, and two rural counties. The City of Washington was one of those three cities. Newly chartered shortly after the district, in 1802, the City of Washington had its own list of mayors from 1802 through 1871. From 1802 to 1812, the mayor was appointed by the President of the United States; the City of Washington's first mayor was Robert Brent, appointed in 1802 by Thomas Jefferson.[3] Between 1812 and 1820, the city's mayors were then selected by executive council. From 1820 to 1871 the mayor was popularly elected.

The district as a whole had no governor or any other executive position in that period.

In 1871, with the District of Columbia Organic Act, the three remaining subdivisions within the district[4] were unified into a single government, whose chief executive was a territorial governor. The district was overseen by governors, then by a three-member board of commissioners, until 1967.

In 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson created a more modern government headed by a single commissioner, popularly known as "mayor-commissioner," and a nine-member district council, all appointed by the president. Walter E. Washington was named to the post, and was retained by Johnson's successor, Richard Nixon. Washington was the only occupant of that position.

Creation of mayorship[edit]

In 1973, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, providing for an elected mayor and 13-member district council, with the first elections to take place the following year.[5] Incumbent mayor-commissioner Walter Washington was elected the first home-rule Mayor of the District of Columbia on November 5, 1974.[6] He took office on January 2, 1975, heading the district's first popularly-elected government in over a century.

The local government, particularly during the mayoralty of Washington's successor, Marion Barry (1979–1991), was criticized for mismanagement and waste.[7] Barry defeated Mayor Washington in the 1978 Democratic Party primary. Barry was then elected mayor, serving three successive four-year terms. During his administration in 1989, The Washington Monthly magazine claimed that the district had "the worst city government in America".[8] After being imprisoned for six months on misdemeanor drug charges in 1990, Barry did not run for reelection.[9] In 1991, Sharon Pratt Kelly became the first woman to lead the district.[10]

Barry was elected again in 1994, and by the next year the district had become nearly insolvent.[9] In 1995, Congress created the District of Columbia Financial Control Board to oversee all municipal spending and rehabilitate the district government.[11] Mayor Anthony Williams won election in 1998. His administration oversaw a period of greater prosperity, urban renewal, and budget surpluses.[12] The district regained control over its finances in 2001 and the oversight board's operations were suspended.[13]

Williams did not seek reelection in 2006. Councilmember Adrian Fenty defeated Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp in that year's Democratic primary race to succeed Williams as mayor and started his term in 2007. Shortly upon taking office, Fenty won approval from the district council to directly manage and overhaul the district's under-performing public school system.[14] However, Fenty lost a Democratic Party primary to former Council Chair Vincent Gray in August 2010. Mayor Gray won the general election and assumed office in January 2011 with a pledge to bring economic opportunities to more of the district's residents and under-served areas.[15] Gray in turn lost the subsequent Democratic Party primary in 2014 to Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who went on to win the general election and was then reelected in 2018. Two-thirds of the DC residents expect Bowser to run for a third term in 2022.[16]

Currently, the mayor of the District of Columbia is popularly elected to a four-year term with no term limits. Even though District of Columbia is not a state, the district government also has certain state-level responsibilities, making some of the mayor's duties analogous to those of United States governors.

Official residence controversy[edit]

The mayor of the District of Columbia has no official residence, although the establishment of one has been proposed several times in the years since the office was established in 1974. In 2000, Mayor Anthony A. Williams appointed, with the District of Columbia Council's approval, a commission to study the possibilities of acquiring property and a building to be used as the official residence of the District of Columbia's mayor.[17] The commission examined several possibilities, including the Old Naval Hospital on Capitol Hill, the warden's house at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, and several former embassies and chanceries before issuing a final report recommending a plan proposed by the Eugene B. Casey Foundation to privately finance the construction of a residence in District of Columbia's Foxhall neighborhood and donate it to the district under the name of The Casey Mansion.

The council approved the plan in 2001. However, residents objected to the plan on the grounds that it aggrandized and insulated the mayor from his constituents;[18] that the location, rather than symbolizing District of Columbia's economic and ethnic diversity, would place the mayor in one of the district's whitest, wealthiest, and most exclusive communities; and, especially, that the Casey Foundation's plan required the acquisition of four acres of national park land to be used as private grounds for the mansion.[19] After several months of delays caused by these political entanglements, the project began movement in October, 2003; that December, however, the Casey Foundation suddenly announced that it was abandoning plans for a mayoral residence and donating the land to the Salvation Army.[20] Plans for an official residence have remained inactive ever since.


The mayor serves a four-year term and can be re-elected without term limits. Candidates must live and be registered to vote in the District of Columbia for one year prior to the date of the election. Elections take place in the same year as the midterm Congressional elections on election day in November.[21] However, since the electorate of the district is overwhelmingly Democratic (over 80 percent), in practice the mayor is almost always determined in the Democratic primary election, held on the second Tuesday in September.

The mayor is sworn in on January 2 following the election,[21] taking the following oath:

I, (mayor's name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the laws of the United States of America and of the District of Columbia, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of Mayor of the District of Columbia, which I am about to enter.[22]


If the mayor dies in office, resigns, or is unable to carry out his/her duties and he/she did not designate an Acting Mayor, the chairman of the District of Columbia Council becomes acting mayor until a special election can be held and certified by the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics. At least 114 days must pass between the mayoral vacancy and the special election, which is held on the first Tuesday thereafter.[21] As of January 2021, no such vacancy has ever occurred.

Duties and powers[edit]

The mayor has the responsibility to enforce all district law; administer and coordinate district departments, including the appointment of a District Administrator and heads of the departments (subject to confirmation by the council); to set forth policies and agendas to the council, and prepare and submit the district budget at the end of each fiscal year. The mayor has the powers to either approve or veto bills passed by the District of Columbia Council; to submit drafts of legislation to the council; and to propose federal legislation or action directly to the president and/or Congress of the United States. As head of the district's executive branch, the mayor has the power to draft and enact executive orders relative to the departments and officials under their jurisdiction and to reorganize any entities within the executive branch (except in the case of formal disapproval by the council). Additionally, the mayor reserves the right to be heard by the council or any of its committees.[1]

List of mayors[edit]

Although the structures and constituencies of the executive branches in the district have varied in its 200-year history, the office of Mayor of the District of Columbia (as opposed to the earlier, separate offices of Mayor of Alexandria, Georgetown, and the City of Washington) has remained in place since its establishment in 1975. There have been seven mayors of the District of Columbia:

Mayoralty Mayor Prior office Party Term
1 January 2, 1975

January 2, 1979
Walterwashington.jpg Walter Washington Mayor-Commissioner
of the
District of Columbia

Democratic 1
2 January 2, 1979

January 2, 1991
Crop of Marion Barry Vincent Gray.jpg Marion Barry D.C. Councilor

Democratic 2
3 January 2, 1991

January 2, 1995
Mayor Sharon Pratt.jpg Sharon Pratt Kelly
Treasurer of the
Democratic National

(No prior elected office)
Democratic 5
4 January 2, 1995

January 2, 1999
Crop of Marion Barry Vincent Gray.jpg Marion Barry D.C. Councilor
from Ward 8
Democratic 6
5 January 2, 1999

January 2, 2007
Mayor Williams Anthony.jpg Anthony A. Williams chief financial officer
of the
District of Columbia
(No prior elected office)
Democratic 7
6 January 2, 2007

January 2, 2011
Fenty1.jpg Adrian Fenty D.C. Councilor
from Ward 4
Democratic 9
7 January 2, 2011

January 2, 2015
Vincent Gray official portrait.jpg Vincent C. Gray Chair of the
Council of the
District of Columbia

Democratic 10
8 January 2, 2015

Muriel Bowser official photo.jpg Muriel Bowser D.C. Councilor
from Ward 4
Democratic 11

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "District of Columbia Home Rule Charter, Sec. 422". U.S. Congress. 1973-12-24. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  2. ^ "District of Columbia Approved Fiscal Year 2010 – Executive Summary". Government of the District of Columbia. 2009-09-28. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-04-07. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  3. ^ Jefferson, Thomas (June 3, 1802). "Jefferson to Robert Brent". Archived from the original on September 25, 2004. Retrieved October 10, 2010.
  4. ^ The City of Alexandria and the rural Alexandria County had been returned to the commonwealth of Virginia in the retrocession of 1846
  5. ^ "District of Columbia Home Rule Act". U.S. Congress. 1973-12-24. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  6. ^ Mathews, Jay; Bowman, LaBarbara (November 6, 1974). "Washington Winner in Mayoral Election: Washington Wins Mayoral Election". The Washington Post. p. A1. ProQuest 146114074.
  7. ^ Powell, Michael (July 20, 2007). "Poor Management, Federal Rule, Undermine Services". The Washington Post. p. A01. Retrieved June 10, 2008.
  8. ^ DeParle, Jason (January 1, 1989). "The worst city government in America". The Washington Monthly. Retrieved June 6, 2009.
  9. ^ a b "Marion Barry". WETA Public Broadcasting. 2001. Archived from the original on March 24, 2005. Retrieved September 25, 2008.
  10. ^ "Sharon Pratt Kelly". WETA Public Broadcasting. 2001. Archived from the original on April 27, 2006. Retrieved September 25, 2008.
  11. ^ Janofsky, Michael (April 8, 1995). "Congress creates board to oversee Washington, D.C." The New York Times. Retrieved May 27, 2008.
  12. ^ "District Government Achieves Balanced Budget and Clean Audit Opinion for FY 2003". District of Columbia Office of the Chief Financial Officer. January 30, 2004. Archived from the original on May 8, 2009. Retrieved June 23, 2008.
  13. ^ DeBonis, Mike (January 30, 2011). "After 10 years, District of Columbia control board is gone but not forgotten". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
  14. ^ Nakamura, David (April 20, 2007). "Fenty's School Takeover Approved". Washington Post. Retrieved December 2, 2008.
  15. ^ Stewart, Nikita (January 2, 2011). "Vincent Gray inaugurated as District of Columbia mayor". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 2, 2011.
  16. ^ Nirappil and Clement, Fenit and Scott (November 21, 2019). "D.C. Mayor Bowser has high approval rating, with 52 percent saying she should seek a third term, Post poll finds". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  17. ^ "Mayors Official Residence Commission, final report, April 24, 2001". Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  18. ^ "Gary Imhoff, Futile testimony on the Mayor's mansion, April 17, 2001". Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  19. ^ "Mayor Anthony Williams, security rationale for adding parkland to mayoral mansion area, September 24, 2003". Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  20. ^ Nakamura, David (2003-12-13). "District's Mayoral Mansion Scuttled: Casey Foundation Donates NW Site To Salvation Army". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2 January 2011.
  21. ^ a b c "District of Columbia Home Rule Charter, Sec. 421". U.S. Congress. 1973-12-24. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  22. ^ District of Columbia Official Code, § 1–604.08.
  23. ^ Elected as "Sharon Pratt Dixon," but remarried in December 1991.

External links[edit]