Sharon Pratt

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Sharon Pratt
Mayor Sharon Pratt.jpg
Mayor of the District of Columbia
In office
January 2, 1991 – January 2, 1995
Preceded byMarion Barry
Succeeded byMarion Barry
Treasurer of the Democratic National Committee
In office
February 1, 1985 – February 10, 1989
Preceded byPaul Kirk
Succeeded byRobert Farmer
Personal details
Sharon Pratt

(1944-01-30) January 30, 1944 (age 79)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Arrington Dixon (1967–1982)
James Kelly (1991–1999)
EducationHoward University (BA, JD)

Sharon Pratt (born January 30, 1944), formerly Sharon Pratt Dixon and Sharon Pratt Kelly, is an American attorney and politician who was the mayor of the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1995, the first mayor born in the District of Columbia since Richard Wallach who took office in 1861 and the first woman in that position.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Sharon Pratt was born to D.C. Superior Court judge Carlisle Edward Pratt and Mildred "Peggy" (Petticord) Pratt. After her mother died of breast cancer, her grandmother, Hazel Pratt, and aunt, Aimee Elizabeth Pratt, helped to raise Sharon and her younger sister.[5]

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 did not pursue the sport in adolescence. At Howard University she joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority (1964), and earned a B.A. in political science (1965). She received a J.D. degree from the Howard University School of Law in 1968.[1] She married Arrington Dixon in 1966 and has two daughters with him;[6] they divorced after sixteen years.[1][3]

She campaigned and was elected and inaugurated mayor of DC as Sharon Pratt Dixon, but when she married James R. Kelly III, a New York businessman, on December 7, 1991, she changed her name to Sharon Pratt Kelly.[7] After their 1999 divorce, she resumed her maiden name, Sharon Pratt.[8]

Pratt is a member of The Links.[9]: 105 


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 woman to hold that position. She was DNC Treasurer from 1985 to 1989.[10][11][12]

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.[2] In 1982, she ran Patricia Roberts Harris' mayoral campaign in the D.C. election.[13][14]

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).[15]

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.[16]

Following a series of televised debates during the last few weeks of the campaign, Pratt received the endorsement of The Washington Post.[17] The day the endorsement appeared, her poll numbers skyrocketed, with many political observers attributing the rise specifically to the Post's backing.[18] 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.[19] However, even with the smallest campaign staff and least money, Pratt won the election, defeating second-place Ray by 10%.[20] As Washington is a heavily Democratic city, her victory over the Republican candidate, 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.[21]

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.[22] She took great pains to remove all of Barry's political cronies, even though these layoffs hurt her administration as well.[23] Kelly faced criticism due to accusations of being elitist,[3] thus distancing her from poor and working-class blacks in the city.[23] 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.[24][25][26]

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."[27] 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.[27]


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."[28] The attacks brought unwelcome negative press to the District, and the ultimate failure in the House of Representatives of DC statehood legislation weakened her political capital. She lost standing with the D.C. 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.[29]

Redskins stadium[edit]

Kelly was blamed for the Washington Redskins moving out of the city. Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke attempted to pressure the city to build a new stadium to replace aging RFK Stadium, with the threat of moving the team to nearby Alexandria, Virginia.[30] 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.[31] Although an agreement was ultimately reached, in 1993 Cooke withdrew from negotiations and moved the team to what is now FedExField in Landover, Maryland.[32]

City finances and re-election campaign[edit]

Kelly began her term having extremely good relations with Congress, including 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. As fiscal year 1994 began for DC government (in October 1993), DC faced a $500 million budget deficit, with financial experts predicting that the city's debt would reach $1 billion by 1999; the US Congress commissioned a federal audit of the city finances by the GAO.[23]

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.[33] 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.[34]

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."[35][36] 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."[27][23] 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.[37]

The Washington Post, which had 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."[38]

In the Democratic primary that September, Kelly finished a distant third, with only about 13% of the vote. Barry won the primary and would go on to win the general election in November against an unusually strong Republican opponent, Carol Schwartz.[39]

Post-mayoral activities[edit]


In 2003, Pratt was awarded a $235,000 contract from the District of Columbia's Department of Health to be the city's main contact with federal homeland security agencies. The contract also calls for her to investigate improved communications and technology to protect the district from bioterrorism. Pratt was required to meet with senior federal officials and write a report on potential opportunities, especially resource-sharing agreements. She was also required to look for additional funding sources. Pratt's firm, Pratt Consulting, does management consulting and works with federal, state, and local agencies and non-profit groups.[40]



  1. ^ a b c "Sharon Pratt Dixon." Notable Black American Women, Book 1. Gale Research, 1992. Updated: December 20, 1992 Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale, 2009., Document Number: K1623000108. Fee, via Fairfax County Public Library April 10, 2009.
  2. ^ a b "Sharon Pratt Dixon." Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 1. Gale Research, 1992. Updated: July 7, 1992. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009. Document Number: K1606001025. Fee, via Fairfax County Public Library April 10, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c Randolph, Laura B. (February 1992). "Her marriage … her mission and … her mid-life transformation – Sharon Pratt Kelley". Ebony magazine. Retrieved April 9, 2009.
  4. ^ De Witt, Karen (March 22, 1994). "Capital Mayor Now Faces Voters Uneasy With Her". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Perl, Peter (January 31, 1993). "The Mayor's Mystique". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  6. ^ Britt, Donna (September 17, 1991). "Distinctly The Mayor'S Daughters". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  7. ^ Weil, Martin (December 8, 1991). "Now She's Mayor Kelly: Dixon Gets Married, Changes Her Name". The Washington Post. p. A1. Retrieved April 9, 2009.
  8. ^ "Our Campaigns - Candidate - Sharon Pratt". Our Campaigns. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
  9. ^ Graham, Lawrence Otis (2014). Our kind of people. [Place of publication not identified]: HarperCollins e-Books. ISBN 978-0-06-187081-1. OCLC 877899803.
  10. ^ "Sharon Pratt Kelly". Philadelphia Tribune. February 12, 2020. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  11. ^ Waldman, Myron S. (February 2, 1985). "Democrats Choose a New Chief". Newsday. Vol. 45, no. 150 (Nassau ed.). p. 3 – via
  12. ^ "For Treasurer of DNC". The Victoria Advocate. Vol. 143, no. 245. Associated Press. January 7, 1989. p. 7A – via
  13. ^ Sherwood, Tom (April 20, 1988). "SHARON PRATT DIXON SAID PREPARING TO RUN FOR D.C. MAYOR". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved February 19, 2021.
  14. ^ Weatherford, Doris. Women in American Politics: History and Milestones. United States, SAGE Publications, 2012. p. 314-315
  15. ^ French, Mary Ann (April 29, 1900). "A Campaigner of Strong Convictions". Washington Post. Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  16. ^ Perl, Peter (January 31, 1993). "THE MAYOR'S MYSTIQUE". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved May 25, 2022.
  17. ^ "Clean House-Dixon for Mayor". The Washington Post. August 30, 1990. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved November 25, 2010.
  18. ^ Kurtz, Howard (September 13, 1990). "Post Plays Down Impact of Endorsement; Not Everyone Agrees". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015.
  19. ^ Ayres, B. Drummond Jr. (September 11, 1990). "Undecided Vote Makes Race in Capital Too Tight to Call". The New York Times. Retrieved November 26, 2010.
  20. ^ Ayres, B. Drummond Jr. (September 16, 1990). "In Insiders' City, Dixon Clings to Outsider Image". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2009. 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.
  21. ^ "Washington DC Mayor Inaugural Address, Jan 2 1991 | Video |". Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  22. ^ James Ragland (January 15, 1992). "Kelly's Absence Riles Union Leaders". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  23. ^ a b c d 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. pp. 17, 70. ISBN 0-9631246-6-8.
  24. ^ Rene Sanchez (January 16, 1992). "A Movable Feud". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  25. ^ Henderson, Nell; Molly Sinclair (April 23, 1992). "After Move, Kelly Might Not Look Back". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved November 26, 2010.
  26. ^ Sanchez, Rene (February 3, 1993). "Council Seizes City Hall; Building Is a Pawn in Spat With Mayor". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012.
  27. ^ a b c Loose Lips (October 16, 2002). "Sharon Pratt Kelly Biography". Washington City Paper. Archived from the original on October 16, 2002. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  28. ^ Martin Weil (August 12, 1992). "GOP Calls the District Hotbed of Scandal, Crime". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  29. ^ Ragland, James (May 26, 1993). "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 July 26, 2008.
  30. ^ "FedEx Field". Clio. Retrieved May 25, 2022.
  31. ^ 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. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  32. ^ "Perspective | It's time for D.C. to make its push to seal a Redskins stadium deal". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved May 25, 2022.
  33. ^ Yolanda Woodlee (February 24, 1994). "Kelly Spends City Money On Makeup; Mayor Is Criticized For $65-an-Hour Professional Services". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  34. ^ James Ragland (March 3, 1994). "Kelly Mayor Used Public Money For 'Town Meeting' Shows; Aides Said Private Funds Would Pay Costs". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  35. ^ 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. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  36. ^ 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. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  37. ^ Henderson, Nell; Woodlee, Yolanda (June 30, 1994). "Barry Upstages Campaign Rivals". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  38. ^ editorial (September 9, 1994). "The Next Mayor". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  39. ^ "DC Board of Elections". Retrieved November 27, 2017.
  40. ^ Yol; Woodlee (March 30, 2003). "Ex-Mayor Hired to Help D.C. With Bioterrorism Readiness". Washington Post. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
  41. ^ "Chronicle". The New York Times. June 26, 1991.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Mayor of the District of Columbia
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Mayor of the District of Columbia
Succeeded by