Sharon Ambrose, a Democrat and former teacher who served 10 years on the D.C. Council, where she was a no-nonsense proponent of economic development projects such as the construction of Nationals Park, died April 1 at a hospital in Washington. She was 77.
Mrs. Ambrose had hydrocephalus, an accumulation of fluid on the brain, said her husband, Michael Ambrose.
A 50-year resident of Capitol Hill, Mrs. Ambrose fashioned herself as an all-American, “baked potato” politician in the tumultuous final years of “mayor for life” Marion Barry’s tenure at City Hall.
“I am a staple,” she told The Washington Post in 1997, after she was elected from Ward 6 during a special election to replace incumbent Harold Brazil, who had won an at-large seat on the council. “What you see is what you get.”
When Mrs. Ambrose took office, the city was struggling back from insolvency, its financial management overseen by a federally appointed control board that — until it was disbanded in 2001 — exercised more power than the city council.
Mrs. Ambrose rose to become head of the council’s committee on economic development, opposing projects that she saw as unreasonably expensive — including the city’s downtown convention center, which ultimately cost $833 million — while successfully pressing for a range of major developments in her ward, which includes Capitol Hill and the Southwest Waterfront and Navy Yard.
She helped spearhead new restaurant and business developments near the Navy Yard and Eastern Market, and successfully lobbied for the Washington Nationals to locate their ballpark in a formerly industrial section of the waterfront.
Mrs. Ambrose was reelected twice to four-year terms before retiring in 2007 to focus on her family and on battling her illness, which for many years was misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis.
“The city made its way back from fiscal ruin during her service,” The Post editorial board wrote following her retirement announcement. Mrs. Ambrose, it continued, “helped put an end to the image of the D.C. Council as a refuge for small-bore politicians given to going off half-cocked on marginal issues.”
Sharon Patricia Connelly was born in Chicago on Sept. 3, 1939. Her father was a precinct captain for Mayor Richard J. Daley, the Democratic boss who ranked behind only God, the Pope and the Archbishop in the family pecking order, and her grandfather taught her the art of political door-knocking as a teenager.
She graduated in 1961 from what was then Saint Xavier College, a Catholic women’s school in Chicago, with a bachelor’s degree in English. She moved to the Washington area four years later with her husband, who found a job with the IRS and later became a deputy commissioner with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In addition to her husband of 54 years, Mrs. Ambrose is survived by four children, Moira Connelly of Knoxville, Tenn., Michael Ambrose Jr. of Golden, Colo., Ellen Ambrose of Washington and Peggy Franzen of Ashburn, Va.; two brothers; and nine grandchildren.
Mrs. Ambrose was a teacher and PTA leader before working as an aide to Democratic council members Betty Ann Kane and John Ray. She remained active in politics upon her retirement, working on the campaigns of Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), a former staff member, and of her former council colleague David Catania, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2014 as an independent.
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