Sam Eastman, press secretary to D.C. mayor, dies at 89

Sam Eastman, right, with Walter E. Washington
 in an undated photo. (Family Photo)
Sam Eastman, a press secretary for the last of the District’s unappointed chief executives and for the city’s first modern mayor, Walter E. Washington, died Dec. 3 at a hospital in Rockville, Md. He was 89.

The cause was complications from hip surgery, said a daughter, Jennifer Eastman.

When Mr. Eastman began his career in 1946 as a copy boy for the Washington Star, the District had not held mayoral elections in nearly 80 years. The city was instead administered by powerful congressional committees that oversaw its legislation and budget, as well as a three-member Board of Commissioners appointed by the president.

Mr. Eastman was reporting on Capitol Hill and D.C. politics for the Star when the District commissioners appointed him head of a newly formed public affairs office in 1966. Under commission President Walter N. Tobriner, he acted as liaison between the commissioners and the Hill’s D.C. congressional committees.

In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson reorganized the District government, consolidating power under a single commissioner and an appointed nine-member City Council. Tobriner’s replacement, Washington, became the first African American to lead a major American city.

“Although I was a former reporter with the conservative Washington Star and a white carryover from the Board of Commissioners era, Mr. Washington kept me on,” Mr. Eastman recalled in a 2003 letter to The Washington Post. “I am proud to say we also became friends.”

After the passage of the Home Rule Act under President Richard M. Nixon, which provided for an elected mayor and an elected city council, Washington was elected mayor in 1973.

Despite Washington’s years in office, prejudice toward the city’s black chief executive remained stubbornly persistent, Mr. Eastman recalled.

In his 2003 letter to The Post, Mr. Eastman wrote that he once applied to buy a condominium at Tilden Gardens, a development in Washington’s predominately white Cleveland Park neighborhood. Mr. Eastman said he believed he was rejected by the board “because of the remote possibility that the city’s black mayor might be our guest in its private dining room.”

Washington lost his 1978 reelection bid to council member Marion Barry, who would go on to his first of four terms as mayor. Mr. Eastman then served as a special assistant to the D.C. Department of Human Resources from 1980 until retiring in 1998.

Samuel Thomas Eastman was born in Little Rock on Jan. 18, 1926, and grew up in Alexandria, Va., where he graduated in 1943 from George Washington High School. He served in the Army during World War II and was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Attribution: Harrison Smith -

Full articles: Sam Eastman