Robert White (Washington, D.C. politician)

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Robert White
RW-Swearing-In-Resize (cropped).jpg
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 byVincent Orange
Personal details
Born1982 (age 36–37)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Christy White
EducationSt. 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[edit]

Robert White was born in Washington, D.C.,[1] 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,[2] and a deacon in the Catholic Church.[3] His parents divorced when he was young,[1] and his mother died from breast cancer in September 1990 when he was eight years old.[3][4] A month after her death,[3] 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.[5] He suffered a severe skull fracture, and underwent several operations before making a full recovery.[3]

White attended the private Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., where he began playing lacrosse his senior year.[6] After graduation,[7] he attended St. Mary's College of Maryland in St. Mary's City, Maryland. He graduated in 2004[8] with a bachelor's degree[3][9] in political science and philosophy.[1] He is the first member of his family to graduate from college.[7]

White enrolled in law school at American University in Washington, D.C., graduating with a Juris Doctor in 2007 from the Washington College of Law.[9][10]


From 2007 to 2008, White was a law clerk for the Maryland District Court for Montgomery County, Maryland,[1][9] and at the law firm of Webster, Fredrickson, Correia & Puth.[3][9] In July 2008, White took a position as legislative counsel to Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.[11] He specialized in economic development, environmental protection, and home rule legislation.[7]

In January 2013, White was a co-founder of the Brightwood Park Citizens Association,[12] and was elected its founding president.[13]

2014 Council candidacy[edit]

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).[7] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[15][17]

White's fundraising efforts dried up as donors began sending money to other candidates.[18] White raised another $35,000 by mid-August,[19] 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.[19]

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.[20] White was also backed by the AFSCME District Council 20,[11] two locals of the Service Employees International Union,[21] the D.C. Association of Realtors, the D.C. Hotel Association, and the Sierra Club.[11] The endorsements helped, as White raised $70,000 from mid-August to mid-October, more than any other candidate.[22] On October 27, the editorial board of The Washington Post endorsed him as well.[23]

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.[24][25] White later said his all-volunteer campaign staff lacked the time and expertise to run the get out the vote effort he needed.[26] 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.[27]

2016 Council candidacy[edit]

Primary election[edit]

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.[10][28] The job paid $95,000 a year.[29]

In October 2015, White supporters formed a committee to explore another run at an at-large seat on the council, challenging incumbent Vincent Orange.[26][30] White hired the campaign consulting firm Apollo Political, led by Sean Rankin, to run his campaign.[29] 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.[29] The exploratory committee shut down, after having raised roughly $15,000.[31]

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.[31] In mid-January 2016, White resigned from the Attorney General's office and formally entered the race.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34]

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.[35] In May, Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh endorsed White, and helped him fundraise.[36] The editorial board of The Washington Post endorsed Orange's candidacy, praising him for his legislative skills and focus on economic development.[37] 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.[38]

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.[39] 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.[2]

During the campaign, White emphasized the two ethics fines Orange had incurred in the past four years,[36] condemned Orange for raising donations from corporations with business coming before his council committee, and attacked Orange for being "too cozy" with city contractors.[2] He also attacked Orange's ideas for economic development as kooky and ineffective,[32] and called his tenure as the council's workforce development overseer lackluster.[36] White also criticized David Garber, widely considered Orange's top challenger, for ignoring African American and poor neighborhoods.[36] 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,[2] and support legislation to force employers to provide 12 weeks of paid sick leave.[38]

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.[40] 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.[38] 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.[41] 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.[41]

Interim council appointment[edit]

On July 28, 2016, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce announced that it had selected Vincent Orange to be the organization's next president.[42] Orange's colleagues on the council claimed this created a strong conflict of interest,[43] and Orange resigned from the council effective August 15, 2016 (the same day on which his Chamber of Commerce position began).[44]

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.[45] There was one abstention.[46] 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.[46] White was sworn in on September 16, 2016.[47]

General election[edit]

White speaking at a protest against President Donald Trump's proposed immigration bans in January 2017

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.[48]

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. [49][50]

Council term[edit]

White was sworn into office for a full four-year council term at noon on January 2, 2017.[51]

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.[52] 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.[53]

Personal life[edit]

White met his future wife, Christy, in law school.[3] She is a lawyer for the SEC.[54] The couple's first child, a daughter, was born in July 2016.[45]

White lived in Southwest DC and Brightwood Park.[2] He moved to Shepherd Park to find a larger house and one that would allow his children to attend a quality public school.[55]

Electoral history[edit]


2014 General Election, Council of the District of Columbia, At-Large Seats[24]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Anita Bonds 85,575 24
Independent Elissa Silverman 41,300 12
Independent Michael D. Brown 28,614 8
Independent Robert White 22,198 6
Independent Courtney R. Snowden 19,551 5
D.C. Statehood Green Eugene Puryear 12,525 4
Independent Graylan Scott Hagler 10,539 3
Independent Khalid Pitts 10,392 3
Republican Marc Morgan 9,947 3
Independent Brian Hart 8,933 3
Independent Kishan Putta 6,135 2
Independent Calvin Gurley 4,553 1
Independent Eric J. Jones 4,405 1
Libertarian Frederick Steiner 3,766 1
Independent Wendell Felder 2,964 1
  write-in 1,472 0


2016 Council of the District of Columbia, At Large, Democratic Party primary election[56]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Robert White 38,805 40
Democratic Vincent Orange 37,009 38
Democratic David Garber 14,237 14
Democratic write-in 787 1
2016 Council of the District of Columbia, At Large, General Election[50]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Robert White 217,834 38
Independent David Grosso 102,544 18
D.C. Statehood Green G. Lee Aikin 27,685 5
Republican Carolina Celnik 26,530 5
Independent John C. Cheeks 23,698 4
Libertarian Matthew Klokel 13,460 2
Write-in 3,331 1


  1. ^ 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.[16]
  2. ^ 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.[38]


  1. ^ a b c d Barras, Jonetta Rose (June 4, 2016). "The At-Large Race". Mid-City DC News. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e Nirappil, Fenit (June 8, 2016). "Fewer oranges, more minimum-wage talk in Vincent Orange's 11th D.C. campaign". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g White, Robert (February 3, 2016). "Reconstituting the Role of Service in a New Time". The Washington Times. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  4. ^ "Obituary: White, Tamara Leigh". The Washington Post. September 19, 1990. p. D6.
  5. ^ "7 Hurt When Tractor-Trailer Hits Car". The Washington Post. October 25, 1990. p. C9.
  6. ^ Evans, Judith (March 21, 2000). "Lacrosse Is Catching in City". The Washington Post. p. D8.
  7. ^ a b c d DeBonis, Mike (September 20, 2013). "Beverley Wheeler, Robert White seek D.C. Council seats". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  8. ^ Burch, Chris (April 19, 2011). "Gov. Schaefer – A Great Friend of St. Mary's College". Newsroom. St. Mary's College of Maryland. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d "Attorney General Racine Names Experienced District Leader Robert White to Head Community Outreach". Office of the Attorney General. Government of the District of Columbia. February 18, 2015. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  10. ^ a b Nirappil, Fenit (June 8, 2016). "Five questions for D.C. at-large candidates". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  11. ^ a b c DeBonis, Mike (October 23, 2014). "Meet an at-large D.C. Council candidate: Robert White". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  12. ^ Reinink, Amy (February 7, 2014). "Neighborhood profile: Brightwood Park, balancing history with a boomlet". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  13. ^ Sommer, Will (July 9, 2014). "Kenyan McDuffie Endorses Robert White in At-Large Race". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  14. ^ DeBonis, Mike; Davis, Aaron C. (March 11, 2014). "Vincent Gray has largest mayoral bankroll in final weeks before Democratic primary". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  15. ^ a b DeBonis, Mike (April 9, 2014). "Yvette Alexander, Tommy Wells among those exploring at-large D.C. Council bids". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  16. ^ "Potential candidates for a D.C. Council at-large seat are playing the party game". The Washington Post. April 14, 2014. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  17. ^ DeBonis, Mike (May 20, 2014). "Elissa Silverman in, Tommy Wells out of D.C. Council at-large race". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016; DeBonis, Mike (June 6, 2014). "Charles Matthew Hudson won't seek at-large D.C. Council seat". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  18. ^ DeBonis, Mike (June 12, 2014). "Muriel Bowser outraises David Catania in developing race for D.C. mayor". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  19. ^ a b DeBonis, Mike (August 26, 2014). "D.C. Council candidate Robert White's reform plan: Ban campaign contributions altogether". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  20. ^ DeBonis, Mike (September 8, 2014). "David Grosso spurns Silverman, endorses White in at-large D.C. Council race". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  21. ^ DeBonis, Mike (September 27, 2014). "DCision '14 potpourri: Catania targeted in labor mailer". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  22. ^ DeBonis, Mike (October 12, 2014). "Muriel Bowser has $1 million to spend in final weeks of D.C. mayoral race". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  23. ^ "Races that deserve attention". The Washington Post. October 27, 2014. p. A16.
  24. ^ a b "General Election Certified Results". District of Columbia Board of Elections. December 3, 2014.
  25. ^ DeBonis, Mike (November 5, 2014). "D.C. Council gets three new members; Elissa Silverman will succeed David Catania". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016; Rausnitz, Zach (November 5, 2014). "Ex-Reporter Elissa Silverman Heads to the D.C. Council". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  26. ^ a b Wright, James (October 28, 2015). "White Ponders Run for D.C. Council". The Afro-American. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  27. ^ Sommer, Will (November 6, 2014). "What's Up With Michael Brown's Third Place At-Large D.C. Council Finish?". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  28. ^ Sommer, Will (June 15, 2015). "Karl Racine Hires Another Former Council Candidate". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  29. ^ a b c Sommer, Will (November 20, 2015). "The Ethics Board Has Bad News for Robert White". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  30. ^ Sommer, Will (October 20, 2015). "Robert White Makes At-Large Run Official, Sort Of". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  31. ^ a b Sommer, Will (December 11, 2015). "Campaign Finance Round-Up: Orange, Garber Lead At-Large Race Totals". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  32. ^ a b Sommer, Will (January 15, 2016). "New at-large race entrant Robert White". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  33. ^ Sommer, Will (February 3, 2016). "Campaign Finance Round-Up: Orange Leads At-Large Race Fundraising". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  34. ^ Rausnitz, Zach (March 11, 2016). "Charts: Which D.C. Council Candidates Have Raised the Most Money?". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  35. ^ Sommer, Will (April 18, 2016). "Lefty Group Endorses Green Team Foes". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  36. ^ a b c d "Cheh Backs Orange Challenger in the At-Large Race". Washington City Paper. May 4, 2016. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  37. ^ "For D.C. Council". The Washington Post. May 28, 2016. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  38. ^ a b c d Nirappil, Fenit (June 15, 2016). "How a D.C. political novice unseated longtime council member Vincent Orange". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  39. ^ Davis, Aaron C. (June 11, 2016). "When it comes to money, Vincent Gray is ahead in D.C. Ward 7 race". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  40. ^ Sommer, Will (June 15, 2016). "Analysis: The Biggest Loser on Election Night Was Muriel Bowser". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  41. ^ a b Sommer, Will (June 23, 2016). "Muriel Bowser's Green Team Considers Its Primary-Night Drubbing". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 23, 2016.
  42. ^ Medici, Andy (July 28, 2016). "D.C. Chamber of Commerce picks Vincent Orange as next president". Washington Business Journal. Retrieved August 5, 2016.
  43. ^ Davis, Aaron C.; Nirappil, Fenit (July 29, 2015). "After a quiet couple of years, D.C. Council roiled by apparent conflict of interest". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 5, 2016.
  44. ^ Nirappil, Fenit (August 5, 2016). "Vincent Orange to resign from D.C. Council after fury over Chamber of Commerce job". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 5, 2016; Nirappil, Fenit (August 15, 2016). "Vincent Orange makes resignation from D.C. Council official". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 15, 2016.
  45. ^ a b Nirappil, Fenit (September 16, 2016). "White is the new Orange: Robert White appointed to D.C. Council vacancy". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  46. ^ a b Sommer, Will (September 15, 2016). "Dems Pick Robert White to Fill Vacant At-Large Seat". Washington City paper. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  47. ^ Nuckols, Ben (September 16, 2016). "Robert White sworn in to vacant DC Council seat". Associated Press. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  48. ^ Sommer, Will (June 21, 2016). "Council Lame Ducks Help Block Mendelson's Finance Reform". Washington City Paper. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  49. ^ Davis, Aaron C. (November 8, 2016). "District voters overwhelmingly approve referendum to make D.C. the 51st state". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  50. ^ a b "General Election 2016 - Unofficial Results". D.C. Board of Elections. November 9, 2016. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  51. ^ "New members sworn into 2017 DC Council". WUSA-9. January 2, 2017. Retrieved January 2, 2017.
  52. ^ Nirappil, Fenit (9 July 2019). "D.C. Council approves no-bid sports gambling contract". Washington Post. Washington DC. Retrieved 9 July 2019.
  53. ^ Ryals, Mitch (9 July 2019). "Robert White Flips, Supports Sole Source Sports Gambling Contract". Washington City Paper. Washington DC. Retrieved 9 July 2019.
  54. ^ Fallows, James (June 14, 2016). "Good Political News From D.C." The Atlantic. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  55. ^ "HTC, Round 4: Robert White". 21 May 2019. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  56. ^ "Primary Election - Unofficial Results". District of Columbia Board of Elections. June 21, 2016.
Council of the District of Columbia
Preceded by
Vincent Orange
Member of the Council of the District of Columbia