"Jim Harris, a husky African American who could have easily found work as a boxer, burst into the 10 x 12 non-descript Dupont Circle office, shouting every known profanity. The white guy with him, George Strawn, attempted to calm him down. But without warning, Jim pulled out a .38 pistol and stuck it in my face. I didn’t believe he’d shoot, but the way his hands were shaking, I thought the gun might discharge accidentally. I couldn’t give any hint that I was concerned about any of it, however. "
THE WHITE GUY IN THE ROOM
A Political Memoir
Douglas J. Patton
Patton Corporation (304 pp.)
ISBN: 978-0-9975284-0-4; June 10, 2016
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.
author's note: Anyone interested in excerpting this review should visit