Robert White (Washington, D.C. politician)
White (left) being sworn in be Eleanor Holmes Norton
|Member of the Council of the District of Columbia at-large|
|Assumed office |
September 16, 2016
|Preceded by||Vincent Orange|
|Born||1982 (age 36–37)|
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Education||St. Mary's College, Maryland (BA)|
American University (JD)
Robert C. White Jr. (born 1982) is an American attorney and politician from Washington, D.C., the United States capital. From 2008 to 2014, he was legislative counsel in the office of Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's Delegate to the United States House of Representatives. In 2014, he was an unsuccessful candidate for an at-large seat on the Council of the District of Columbia, placing fourth out of 16. He won the Democratic primary for the at-large seat in 2016, defeating 12-year incumbent Vincent Orange. After Orange resigned his seat, White was appointed to Orange's complete term, and sworn in on September 16, 2016. He won election to his seat in November 2016 with 217,834 votes, which counted for 38% of the total votes.
Early life and education
Robert White was born in Washington, D.C., in 1982 to Robert "Bobby" White, Sr. and his wife, Tamara (née Richards). Robert is one of five children. His father is a fourth-generation Washingtonian, and a deacon in the Catholic Church. His parents divorced when he was young, and his mother died from breast cancer in September 1990 when he was eight years old. A month after her death, he was critically injured when a semi-trailer truck side-swiped a passenger vehicle in which he was riding on New Hampshire Avenue in Montgomery County, Maryland. The automobile spun, flipped over, struck the median, flipped into the air, and landed on the hood of another car in the opposite lane. He suffered a severe skull fracture, and underwent several operations before making a full recovery.
White attended the private Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., where he began playing lacrosse his senior year. After graduation, he attended St. Mary's College of Maryland in St. Mary's City, Maryland. He graduated in 2004 with a bachelor's degree in political science and philosophy. He is the first member of his family to graduate from college.
From 2007 to 2008, White was a law clerk for the Maryland District Court for Montgomery County, Maryland, and at the law firm of Webster, Fredrickson, Correia & Puth. In July 2008, White took a position as legislative counsel to Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. He specialized in economic development, environmental protection, and home rule legislation.
2014 Council candidacy
White resigned from Norton's office in September 2013, switched his political affiliation to independent, and he filed as a candidate for an at-large seat on the Council of the District of Columbia, seeking to defeat one of the two incumbents (David Catania and Anita Bonds). As the primary season neared its conclusion in April 2014, White reported raising $34,000 in donations. In comparison, Bonds had raised $59,000, and realtor and banker John F. Settles II had raised $28,000. The general election field was a crowded one. After the primary, Catania announced he would run for Mayor of the District of Columbia as an independent. Instead of one open at-large seat, voters now needed to fill two slots. A number of candidates registered as independents to run for the at-large seat,[a] while others saw their chances for winning a seat increase. White faced independent candidates Wendell Felder, Brian Hart, Eric J. Jones, Khalid Pitts, Kishan Putta, and Kevin Valentine Jr.; Democrat-turned-independent candidates Elissa Silverman and Rev. Graylan S. Hagler; Republican candidate Marc Morgan; D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate Eugene Puryear; Libertarian candidate Frederick Steiner; and Democratic Party candidate Anita Bonds.
White's fundraising efforts dried up as donors began sending money to other candidates. White raised another $35,000 by mid-August, During the election campaign, White advocated banning all corporate and private political donations and using public financing for all campaigns for D.C. government office.
White's candidacy was endorsed by at-large Council member David Grosso, Ward 7 Council member Yvette Alexander, and Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie. White was also backed by the AFSCME District Council 20, two locals of the Service Employees International Union, the D.C. Association of Realtors, the D.C. Hotel Association, and the Sierra Club. The endorsements helped, as White raised $70,000 from mid-August to mid-October, more than any other candidate. On October 27, the editorial board of The Washington Post endorsed him as well.
On election day, however, voters chose Anita Bonds and Elissa Silverman to represent them in the at-large seats on the council. White came in a distant fourth, with just 6.2 percent of the vote. White later said his all-volunteer campaign staff lacked the time and expertise to run the get out the vote effort he needed. Will Sommer, writer of the influential "Loose Lips" political column at the Washington City Paper, argued that White's low vote totals may have been because voters confused Michael D. Brown, a white politician who was one of the city's shadow senators, with Michael A. Brown, an African American and former at-large council member who was convicted of bribery and sentenced to prison in 2014. Michael D. Brown, whose name recognition among voters barely registered, siphoned significant votes from White, Sommer concluded.
2016 Council candidacy
In February 2015, Karl Racine, the newly elected Attorney General of the District of Columbia, hired White as the first Director of the Office of Community Outreach. The job paid $95,000 a year.
In October 2015, White supporters formed a committee to explore another run at an at-large seat on the council, challenging incumbent Vincent Orange. White hired the campaign consulting firm Apollo Political, led by Sean Rankin, to run his campaign. But in late November, the District of Columbia Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, the agency charged with overseeing enforcement of ethics regulations for the city's government employees, issued a ruling in which it said that the White exploratory committee could not fundraise so long as White remained a city employee. The exploratory committee shut down, after having raised roughly $15,000.
By mid-December 2015, Vincent Orange had declared he would run for renomination for his at-large council seat. Also entering the race was David Garber, a former smart growth blogger for the influential web site Greater Greater Washington and a substitute teacher in the District of Columbia Public Schools. Orange's early entry into the race and his incumbent status allowed him to raise $140,675, while Garber tapped into young, white professionals concerned with smart growth and affordable housing to raise more than $83,000. In mid-January 2016, White resigned from the Attorney General's office and formally entered the race. Over the next two weeks, White raised more than $64,000, a total which surprised political observers. Orange, however, raised just $40,000, while Garber raised more than $23,000. White's fundraising pace slowed in February, the first full month of his campaign. He raised just over $27,000, compared to Orange's total of almost $42,750. Garber, meanwhile, raised about $12,500.
Although Orange had secured most of the major endorsements in the race, White was able to win those endorsements Orange could not. In mid-April, White received 96 percent of the endorsement votes from members of the progressive group D.C. For Democracy. In May, Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh endorsed White, and helped him fundraise. The editorial board of The Washington Post endorsed Orange's candidacy, praising him for his legislative skills and focus on economic development. White also won endorsements from several tenants' rights groups, an LGBT activists' group, a Latino political group, several other progressive political organizations, and Ward 8 city council candidate Trayon White. White's endorsement was particularly important, as he was running for office in Ward 8 east of the Anacostia River—areas where voters usually supported Orange overwhelmingly.
During the last three months of the primary campaign, White raised more than $96,000, surpassing the $61,000 raised by Vincent Orange. By the time of the June 10 election finance report, White had raised a total of $187,000, and had $26,000 for the final week of the campaign. Orange, however, had raised a primary season total of $282,000, and had $49,000 on hand. Most of White's campaign funds were spent paying canvassers to visit homes and purchase a large number of yard signs, both of which were intended to raise his profile citywide.
During the campaign, White emphasized the two ethics fines Orange had incurred in the past four years, condemned Orange for raising donations from corporations with business coming before his council committee, and attacked Orange for being "too cozy" with city contractors. He also attacked Orange's ideas for economic development as kooky and ineffective, and called his tenure as the council's workforce development overseer lackluster. White also criticized David Garber, widely considered Orange's top challenger, for ignoring African American and poor neighborhoods. White said that if he were elected, he would improve oversight of the District of Columbia Department of Transportation and the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, improve access to affordable housing, focus on zoning laws to bring redevelopment to dying retail corridors, and support legislation to force employers to provide 12 weeks of paid sick leave.
On June 14, 2016, Robert White defeated Vincent Orange and David Garber to win the Democratic Party nomination for the at-large seat on the city council. His margin of victory was 2 percentage points. The Washington Post said unnamed political observers attributed White's win to White's persistent attacks on Orange's ethics, his use of a paid staff, and an anti-incumbent feeling among voters. The newspaper also noted that White had worked hard to keep other candidates out of the race, allowing the anti-Orange vote to coalesce behind a single candidate.[b] In Ward 3, where voter turnout in the low-turnout election was very high, White's lead was exceptionally large. He also won in Wards 1, 2, and 6, and he won 36 percent of the vote in Orange's home ward of Ward 5. Low voter turnout in Wards 7 and 8 reduced Orange's vote there, where White received 25 percent of the vote. Bill Lightfoot, an advisor to Mayor Muriel Bowser, attributed White's victory to demographic changes, arguing that the city had seen a large influx of young, white voters who found White, not Orange, appealing. Political observer Will Sommer concluded that an anti-Bowser sentiment was also behind White's win. Although not originally a Bowser supporter, Orange had become a fairly reliable supporter of her on the council. But the mayor's political and ethics problems created trouble for all three of her council supporters running for reelection, and helped White knock off Orange, he said.
Interim council appointment
On July 28, 2016, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce announced that it had selected Vincent Orange to be the organization's next president. Orange's colleagues on the council claimed this created a strong conflict of interest, and Orange resigned from the council effective August 15, 2016 (the same day on which his Chamber of Commerce position began).
On September 15, 2016, D.C. Democratic State Committee officials voted 43-to-2 to appoint Robert White to Orange's at-large city council seat. There was one abstention. Since Orange had resigned after the primary, party leaders voted to allow only White's name to be considered for appointment to the vacant seat. This generated dissent from three members of the committee, preventing the appointment vote from being unanimous. White was sworn in on September 16, 2016.
In June 2016, White endorsed a D.C. campaign finance reform proposal to prohibit any person or corporation from receiving a city contract with $100,000 or more if they donate to a city council election. The proposal was one of the strictest of several proposals to address corruption and ethics issues facing the council, several of whose members had been found guilty of ethics and fraud charges in the past several years.
On November 8, 2016, White easily won election to the seat to which he had been temporarily appointed. He received 37.9 percent of all votes cast. Incumbent At-large Councilmember David Grosso also retained his seat, coming in second with 17.84 percent of the vote. Challengers G. Lee Aikin (4.82 percent), Carolina Celnik (4.62 percent), and John C. Cheeks (4.12 percent) rounded out the top vote-getters. 
White was sworn into office for a full four-year council term at noon on January 2, 2017.
In 2019, White was a deciding vote approving the no-bid, single source award of a $215 million dollar, five year contract to start the District's sports betting operations. White initially opposed the deal, expressing reservations about a sole source contract. His position changed after his committee was offered oversight of the transit agency. White claimed that he changed his mind because of benefits the no bid contract would bring to local businesses.
|Independent||Michael D. Brown||28,614||8|
|Independent||Courtney R. Snowden||19,551||5|
|D.C. Statehood Green||Eugene Puryear||12,525||4|
|Independent||Graylan Scott Hagler||10,539||3|
|Independent||Eric J. Jones||4,405||1|
|D.C. Statehood Green||G. Lee Aikin||27,685||5|
|Independent||John C. Cheeks||23,698||4|
- The charter of the District of Columbia reserves three of the council's five at-large seats for individuals who are not affiliated with the political party holding a majority on the council. In 2014, Catania's seat was the only one of these three seats that was up for election. A candidate who wanted to be eligible to win this particular at-large seat could not be affiliated with the Democratic Party.
- In nearly all of Orange's previous campaigns, he had numerous challengers. This fragmented the opposition, allowing him to win races—often with less than 50 percent of the vote.
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|Council of the District of Columbia|
| Member of the Council of the District of Columbia