Kelly, Sharon Pratt Dixon

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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From 1991 to 1994, the difficult job of running Washington, D.C., belonged to Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon Kelly, a successful utilities attorney who had had no previous experience in city government. Kelly was voted mayor in the wake of Marion Barry's fall from political grace. During her uphill campaign, Kelly portrayed herself as a squeaky-clean political outsider, even though she had strong connections to the national DEMOCRATIC PARTY. Kelly, a middle-class African American who was born and raised in the District of Columbia, promised to reduce crime, cut the city's bloated budget, and clean up corrupt government. Although she was turned out of office after just one term, Kelly earned herself a permanent place in history by becoming the first female mayor of the nation's capital.

Kelly was born January 30, 1944, in Washington, D.C. She was the first child of Mildred

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Sharon Pratt Dixon Kelly.


Petticord Pratt, who died of cancer when Kelly was just four years old, and Carlisle E. Pratt, who was a lawyer and superior court judge. Family expectations were high for Kelly, whose father gave her a copy of Black's Law Dictionary as a birthday gift when she was very young. Kelly did not disappoint her father, graduating from Howard University with a bachelor's degree in political science in 1965 and a law degree in 1968. While in college, Kelly met her first husband, Arrington Dixon, who later became a member of the Washington, D.C., City Council. The couple married in 1967, had two daughters, and divorced in 1982. In 1991, Kelly married entrepreneur James Kelly III. Although she had won the mayoral race as Sharon Pratt Dixon, she changed her last name to Kelly shortly after her 1991 wedding.

Kelly began her legal career as an attorney in her father's law firm. She also taught courses at Antioch School of Law, before joining the Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) as associate counsel in 1976. Kelly eventually became the first African?American woman to be named vice president at PEPCO. As a decisive, hardworking executive, Kelly was involved in LOBBYING, policy making, and regulatory matters for the utility company. At the same time, she developed a strong interest in local Democratic politics. Kelly became the Democratic national committeewoman from the District of Columbia in 1977 and eventually was the first African?American woman to serve as national party treasurer.


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