- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

Walter E. Washington, the District’s first elected mayor and the “father of home rule,” died yesterday morning at Howard University Hospital. He was 88.

When President Nixon swore Mr. Washington in as mayor in 1974, he said, “I think history may record, we can’t write it instantly, but in the future — that he could well have been the best mayor Washington has had, because it will be very hard to exceed his record.”

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, one of several D.C. officials who reflected on the legacy of Mr. Washington, affectionately referred to him as the city’s patriarch.

“Our city has lost a legend. He made me laugh; he shared his wisdom; he gave me good advice; and he encouraged me like a loving father,” said Mr. Williams, the third person to be mayor of the District since Mr. Washington.

What stood out about Mr. Washington’s administration was that such words as scandal or corruption — be it forged nominating petitions, drug addiction, or wasting city money on office renovations — were never associated with his leadership.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, called Mr. Washington’s demise the end of an era.

“The era of home rule ended today with the passing of Walter Washington,” said Mrs. Norton, who is still fighting for her vote on the floor of Congress and full representation for the District in the Senate.

“Mayor Washington simultaneously shaped the office of mayor and the practice of home rule governance for a city that had lived without democracy for a hundred years,” she said.

Julian R. Dugas, city administrator for Mr. Washington, said, “He was the greatest thing for us, because without him, there would be no home rule.”

“His managerial skills with the uprisings at the [D.C.] jail, Lorton [Correctional Complex], the ‘68 riots and the 1972 and 1979 peace demonstrations laid the predicate that [blacks] can govern, and govern well.”

Mr. Washington was the commissioner mayor in 1968 when President Johnson ended the commissioner system of government by appointing him the chief officer of the city. During his appointed term as mayor, with the help of U.S. Rep. Walter E. Fauntroy, he fought for and won home rule for the District and became the first elected mayor under the Home Rule Act in 1974.

In 1968, when riots destroyed much of the center city, including the historic U Street corridor of Northwest, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, it was Mr. Washington who stood up to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. He refused to enact martial law — rounding up and arresting outraged residents by the truckloads — and decided to ride out the storm.

He ordered the police not to shoot looters, an act his successor, Marion Barry, said was “Mr. Washington’s greatest accomplishment.”

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, said, “Mayor Washington ushered the District through perhaps its most turbulent era in modern times … . He then began to lay a framework for reaching out to business to help rebuild the city.”

She said Mr. Washington’s model for using business to aid public ventures is still followed by urban mayors nationwide.

Mr. Barry, who in 1978 became the city’s second elected mayor, said Mr. Washington represented the best the city has to offer.

“Walter Washington was a fantastic person. He loved people; he genuinely loved the city — it wasn’t a pretense with him. He loved public service, and he was an inspiration to us even though he and I had our political differences from time to time.”

D.C. Council members said that were it not for Mr. Washington, they would not have had the opportunity to hold their current positions.

“Most people will never understand nor appreciate the depths of Mayor Washington’s commitment to the city and the sacrifices he made on behalf of our residents,” said Council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat.

Mr. Washington was always viewed as a statesman, although some criticized him for being too conciliatory with the white power structure. But he knew when it was time to flex his muscles.

“The mayor was legendary for his way with the president and the Congress, but Walter Washington was appreciated in this town not only because he could talk to power, but because he talked equally well to the powerless,” Mrs. Norton said.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Burke Washington, and his daughter, Bennetta Jules-Rosette.

“He loved this city and the people in it, and he served them well, and they didn’t forget him when he went out of office,” Mrs. Washington said.

Mr. Washington’s body will lie in state Friday at the John A. Wilson Building. The funeral will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral.

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