Walter E. Washington, 88, first D.C. mayor in 104 years
WASHINGTON -- Walter Edward Washington, the great-grandson of a slave who became the first elected mayor of the nation's capital since the Civil War, died Monday in Howard University Hospital. He was 88.
Mr. Washington had been appointed mayor-commissioner of the District of Columbia by President Johnson in late 1967. Five months later, the city exploded in violence after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Mr. Washington later recalled that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover urged him to have looters shot, but the mayor instead imposed a "don't shoot the looter" policy and spoke to angry young people. "I walked by myself through the city and urged them to go home and help the recovery of people who had been burned out," Mr. Washington told The Washington Post in 1999. He was widely credited with preventing major riots in the district.
"Few men can boast that they received a burning city and left it on its way to recovery," H. Carl Moultrie, chief judge of the District of Columbia Superior Court, said in 1979.
When the Justice Department refused to allow an anti-Vietnam War march on Pennsylvania Avenue and a violent backlash was rumored, Mr. Washington went to the White House and asked President Nixon to grant a permit. The demonstration was allowed, and 250,000 people marched peacefully.
Nixon reappointed Mr. Washington twice. When Congress approved home rule for the District, he ran for mayor in the 1974 election and defeated Clifford Alexander to become the city's first elected mayor in 104 years.
Born in Dawson, Ga., and raised in Jamestown, N.Y., Mr. Washington first came to the nation's capital to attend Howard University, earning a bachelor's degree in 1938 and a law degree in 1948.
He started as an intern at the National Capital Housing Authority, but left in 1966 to serve as director of the New York City Housing Authority. He returned to Washington a year later to accept Johnson's appointment.
His moderate style helped ease the city's transition from federal control to limited autonomy. When he left office, the District had a $40 million surplus.
"I brought the city forward," he said after losing his 1978 reelection bid to fellow Democrat Marion Barry in a primary. In an interview that year, Mr. Washington told The Washington Post, "What I would like to be remembered for is that Walter Washington changed the spirit of the people of this city."
After leaving office, Mr. Washington practiced law. In the 1980s he helped get the National Museum of African Art placed on the National Mall, and he later worked to establish the City Museum of Washington, D.C., which opened in 2003.
Mr. Washington married Bennetta Bullock in 1941, and the couple had one daughter. Bennetta Washington died in 1991, and in 1994 Mr. Washington married Mary Burke while he was ill at Howard University Hospital.
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