A lawyer looks back on his long career of campaigning at the local, state, and national levels.
In this debut memoir, Patton recounts decades of his political work for Democrats. Raised on a farm in “nearly pristine white” Iowa, he became a traveler in Europe, a ski bum in Colorado, and a college and law school student at the University of Iowa. After helping his father get elected as an Iowa state senator, Patton went on to join many other Democratic campaigns across the country, from city council races in Connecticut to presidential primaries in California. He learned practical political skills, such as voter targeting, advance work, and encouraging people to “vote more than once” in straw polls. In the nation’s capital, he volunteered for the Washington Urban League and joined in organizing the 1968 Poor People’s March. In 1970, he helped Walter Fauntroy become the District of Columbia’s first congressional representative in a century. Patton continued to campaign for African-American candidates in D.C., even helping ex-mayor Marion Barry win an election after the politician’s release from prison. He also did union work for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in New York and set up a lobbying firm. Over the course of this memoir, the author mixes with such political notables as Hubert Humphrey, Ed Muskie, and Barack Obama. Overall, it’s an entertaining account of politics in modern America. The book’s title is misleading, though, as only part of it involves Patton’s work with African-American candidates; it also devotes a lot of space to white candidates and his personal life. A few statements may seem patronizing, such as, “From time to time, when things hadn’t gone his way, [Barry] had pointed the accusatory finger at white people. I would chuckle, knowing that when the full and objective story of the city’s political development was told, white folks would have a major role.” Also, Patton and others breathe “sigh[s] of relief” so often that they seem to risk hyperventilation. However, the author’s anecdotes do provide insights into the realities of American politicking in a pleasantly conversational style. This isn’t a tell-all, but Patton certainly tells enough to give readers a salty taste of politics and of the sometimes-corrupting power of money—although it may make it harder to agree that “electioneering is a noble cause.”
A vivid, behind-the-scenes peek into the business of politics.