Obituaries

Gilbert Hahn Jr.; Nixon Pick to Lead D.C. Council

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 8, 2008

Gilbert Hahn Jr., 86, a socially prominent Republican lawyer and civic leader who chaired the D.C. City Council from 1969 to 1972 as a presidential appointee and clashed with the mayor and White House over his attempts to expand the council's authority, died Aug. 7 at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He had a heart ailment, among other illnesses.

Mr. Hahn's grandfather started the William Hahn & Co. shoe company, a major retail business, but the younger Hahn showed little interest in following in the family's footsteps.

In 1969, Mr. Hahn was D.C. Republican Party chairman when President Richard M. Nixon named him to the city council chairmanship in an attempt to assert GOP control over the nine-member appointed body. Mr. Hahn succeeded John W. Hechinger Sr., a leading Democratic businessman.

Mr. Hahn's anticrime sentiments after the riots of 1968 and his fundraising for the Republican Party inspired Nixon's confidence. But during his three-year term, Mr. Hahn proved more independent than the White House and some in Congress preferred.

Before the council emerged as an elected government in 1974, Mr. Hahn was said to have devoted much energy to forging a council more independent from the whims of federal politicians who controlled the city budget.

This led to confrontations over many initiatives favored by the White House, including a controversial bridge and highway plan that would slice through black neighborhoods and an edge of Georgetown. Mr. Hahn did not oppose the entire freeway plan, which prompted a road protester at one tense council meeting to hurl an ashtray that flashed past his ear.

He later remarked that he never expected a career in public service to require dodging tobacco receptacles.

An effusive, balding man who liked to flash a button saying "Give a Damn," Mr. Hahn also feuded with the presidentially appointed mayor, Walter E. Washington (D), about executive and legislative authority over many community concerns, including a proposed incinerator in Northwest.

Mr. Hahn tried to strengthen consumer protection regulations, which the mayor and many city businessmen called too hard to enforce. The council chairman also wanted to phase out such troubled institutions as Junior Village, a residence for homeless children.

Fred Taylor, the head of a children's advocacy group called For Love of Children, wrote a letter to The Washington Post editor in 1972 describing Mr. Hahn as a key figure in the "gallant fight on behalf of the District's homeless and dependent children, while others in positions in power have scurried to the sidelines on this important issue."

Sterling Tucker, a Democrat who served as vice chairman under Mr. Hahn and later headed the District's first elected council, said Mr. Hahn's "interests were more local than national, and the White House became a little bit upset because he seemed to them more Democrat than Republican.

"He was a tough-minded person in matters of interest to the District," Tucker said. "He would not have compromised easily on matters he considered important to the city."


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