Walter Edward Washington (April 15, 1915 – October 27, 2003) was an American civil servant and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as Mayor-Commissioner of the District of Columbia from 1967 to 1975 and as the first popularly elected Mayor of the District of Columbia from 1975 to 1979.
Born in Dawson, Georgia and raised in Jamestown, New York, he earned a bachelor's degree from Howard University and a law degree from Howard University School of Law. After graduating from Howard in 1948, Washington was hired as a supervisor for D.C.'s Alley Dwelling Authority. He worked for the authority until 1961, when he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as the Executive Director of the National Capital Housing Authority. This was the housing department of the District of Columbia, which was then administered by Congress. In 1966 Washington moved to New York City to head the much larger Housing Authority there in the administration of Mayor John Lindsay.
In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson used his reorganization power under Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1967 to replace the three-commissioner government that had run the capital since 1871 under congressional supervision. Johnson implemented a more modern government headed by a single commissioner, assistant commissioner, and a nine-member city council, all appointed by the president. Johnson appointed Washington Commissioner, which by this time had been informally retitled as "Mayor-Commissioner." Washington inherited a city that was torn by racial divisions, and also had to deal with conservative congressional hostility following passage of major civil rights legislation. In April 1968, Washington faced riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Although reportedly urged by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to shoot rioters, Washington refused. Republican President Richard Nixon retained Washington after being elected as president in 1968; in 1971, the United States Department of Justice prohibited an anti-Vietnam demonstration on Pennsylvania Avenue. There were public concerns that violence would spark. Washington visited the White House, and he requested that President Nixon issue permits for the demonstration. The request was honored, and the demonstration commenced with 250,000 marchers.
Congress enacted the District of Columbia Self-Rule and Governmental Reorganization Act on December 24, 1973, providing for an elected mayor and city council. Washington began a vigorous election campaign in early 1974 against six challengers. The Democratic primary race— the real contest in the overwhelmingly Democratic and then-majority black city— eventually became a two-way contest between Washington and Clifford Alexander, future Army Secretary. Washington won the tight race by 4,000 votes. As expected, he won the November general election with a large majority. Although personally beloved by residents, some who nicknamed him "Uncle Walter," Washington slowly found himself overcome by the problems of managing what was the equivalent of a combination state and city government. In the 1978 Democratic mayoral primary, Washington finished third behind city councilmen Marion Barry and Sterling Tucker.
After ending his term as mayor, Washington joined the New York-based law firm of Burns, Jackson, Miller & Summit, becoming a partner. He opened the firm's Washington, D.C. office. Washington went into semi-retirement in the mid-1990s. He fully retired at the end of the decade in his early eighties. Washington remained a beloved public figure in the District and was much sought after for his political commentary and advice. Washington died at Howard University Hospital and was buried at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland.