Doug J. Patton, a behind the scenes political mover and shaker, has written an inside account of how White men helped Washington D.C.’s Black leaders get elected. The book, The White Guy in the Room, outlines the role he and others of his race played in the development of the District of Columbia’s and the nation’s Black political leadership. Patton is White.
Doug J. Patton has written an inside account of how White men helped Black leaders get elected. (Courtesy Photo)
Patton, a deputy mayor in the administration of D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D), played integral roles in the inaugural elections of Walter Fauntroy as the District’s delegate to the U.S. Congress and Marion Barry as the second elected mayor. “I was a backrooms guy,” Patton told the AFRO. “Those of us who were White didn’t want the notoriety. We wanted to help Black elected officials in Washington to do well.”
He helped Fauntroy get elected with what were then groundbreaking political techniques such as door-to-door canvassing and using lists that showed residents who tended to vote. Patton said Fauntroy was not difficult to sell to D.C. residents. “During the campaign, we focused on Wards 4, 5, 6, and 7, particularly in the Black blue collar neighborhoods,” he said. “We didn’t go into Ward 3 unless it was for money.”
Fauntroy served in Congress until 1991. Patton used those same techniques several years later in Barry’s 1978 election as the District’s mayor.
Patton was important to Barry’s win by getting Whites and working-class Blacks to vote for him, while the Democratic primary opponents, D.C. Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and D.C. Mayor Walter Washington fought over the middle-class Black vote. However, Patton recounts a particularly jarring moment in his relationship with Barry in the book. “Barry had different circles he kept separate,” he said. “There were his circle of Whites, a circle of Black professionals, and there was a circle that consisted of a bad element. He knew how to keep those separate.”
Patton worked for the U.S. House of Representatives and did more political work before helping Barry to come back as mayor in 1994 and helping to elect Tony Williams as mayor in 1998.
Patton said he, like many Whites who cross racial barriers, learned how to deal with Blacks.
“Many White people don’t know Black people and are suspicious and even afraid of them,” he said.
Former D.C. Council member William Lightfoot, who served on the council from 1988-1997, knew Patton and his work. “He provided advice to politicians behind the scenes,” Lightfoot said. “He helped to bring about meaningful change in economic development, particularly in downtown.”
D.C. Council member-elect Vincent Gray, District mayor from 2011-2015, told the AFRO he agreed with Lightfoot. “He served on a lot of political campaigns and he was very involved with Tony Williams,” Gray said. “He respected the culture and history of the city.”
The Oct. 6 edition of the Kirkus Review praised Patton’s book but said some of the statements were patronizing. Tucker disagreed with that assessment.
“I didn’t view him as being patronizing,” he told the AFRO. “While that is often the case with Whites who get involved in Black causes or with Black candidates, that wasn’t the case with Doug. He was involved in the civil rights struggle and he is a good, solid man.”