Ever since charges surfaced about Washington, D.C. mayor Vincent Gray's alleged election law violations, speculation about the city's next mayoral candidacies have swirled. The most high-profile candidate, city councilman Tommy Wells, launched an exploratory committee this week. In the course of much of this speculation is the claim that Wells would be the city's "first white mayor." (Although examples are too frequent to cite, this Washington Post article by staff writer Tim Craig is the most recent one that I've seen.)
Would Tommy Wells really be D.C.'s first white mayor? No. But he would be the first white mayor of Washington, D.C.
Confused? That is because the "federal city," as it is also known, has been restructured several times over the last two hundred years. (See this handy Wikipedia article for further reference.) For several decades in the early- and mid-Nineteenth Century, the area was split into several jurisdictions, each with elected officials and federal oversight. There were several 'mayors of Washington.' However, there was no city government of "Washington, District of Columbia" until 1871, when Congress passed the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871. From 1871 to 1975, there were no elected mayors; this was reversed in 1973 by the District of Columbia Home Rule Act.
The most accurate way to discuss Wells might be to say that he would be the first white mayor "since Home Rule," as Colbert King has.
Perhaps this is being nitpicky with local trivia. However, let this be a useful reminder: when you hear hyperbolic claims in the newspaper, like 'first white mayor ever,' do the fact-checking yourself!