Edwardsville mayor's blackface photo draws controversy to state Senate race
Updated at 10:50 a.m. with statement from Rachelle Aud Crowe.
The mayor of Edwardsville says he believes a decade-old photo of him wearing blackface makeup released Monday was an attempt to harm his chances to become a state senator.
The Belleville News-Democrat published a photo Monday it received of Mayor Hal Patton wearing a T-shirt, a bandana on his head and dark makeup on his face. The newspaper reported receiving the photo from a Democratic operative.
Patton is planning to run as a third-party candidate for state Senate. It is undetrmined if he has collected the 5,000 or so signatures needed to get his name on the ballot. Voter signatures are due next week.
Patton initially entered the race as a Republican, but was disqualified from running as a GOP candidate after signing a re-election petition for a Democratic candidate for state representative.
Patton said the photo of him dressed in the offensive get-up was taken about 10 years ago at a Halloween party where couples dressed in complimentary outfits. Patton's wife dressed as chewing gum and he was supposed to be the "wrapper."
“A microphone and face paint was chosen, not as a racial statement, but due to the fact that most rappers are African-American,” Patton said in a statement sent by email.
Not all rappers are black. Notably, one of the most well-known rappers is Eminem. He is white.
“Looking back, it was a bad choice for an outfit,” the statement reads. “I regret and apologize to those it offends. I never imagined it would be viewed as a racial image, much less saved by someone for nearly nine years before using it to impugn my character.”
Patton then lists the ways he believes he shows support for women and people of color through hiring practices and serving people in his community at his dental practice. He accused Democratic state Senate candidate Rachelle Aud Crowe of the leak.
“Clearly, my opponent and her allies will use any methods, no matter how pathetic, to maintain power and control of our political system in Illinois,” the statement reads.
St. Louis Public Radio asked Aud Crowe in an email if her campaign leaked the photo. A spokesman for the campaign sent a statement via email on Monday evening quoting Aud Crowe calling blackface "racist" and "ignorant."
"Elected officials should be held to the highest standard. They should be dedicated to serving the people they represent, not using sterotypes that divide us," Aud Crowe said.
She added, "Hal Patton has made excuses and deflected by attacking me. There is no excuse for blackface."
Patton has been the mayor of Edwardsville since 2013. From 2002 to 2010, voters elected him to the Madison County Board. Patton was a member on that board around the time he said the photo was taken. Before he was on the county board, he served as an Edwardsville City Council member from 1997 to 2002.
Now, Patton is vying for a spot in the state Senate to represent the 56th Senate district, which includes parts of Madison, St. Clair and Jersey counties. According to the latest census records each of those counties is mostly white. In Madison County, where the population is more than 265,000 people, about 88 percent of residents are white.
“There’s never an excuse for that,” Ta’Jua Jefferson said. “Especially for someone who wants to be a leader.”
Jefferson is among the black residents who make up about 10 percent of the population of Edwardsville, according to the U.S. Census. When asked about the photo, she read the mayor’s statement.
“With the onset of how social media works, I’m sure he never thought something like that would come back to haunt him,” she said.
The 23-year-old said she planned to vote in the general election.
Jefferson continued, “(The photo) was inappropriate then. Now that it’s publicized, it’s still just as inappropriate.”
Here is Patton's full statement about the photo.
Having served the public for almost twenty years as an Edwardsville Alderman, Madison County Board Member, and now as Mayor, I have been on the ballot ten different times and involved in many challenging races. So nothing really surprises me in terms of the nasty tricks opponents will try. Typically, the more desperate the opponent, the lower they will go. This particular picture has been threatened to be used in my last three races. It was taken at an annual couples Halloween costume party where husband and wife try to pair their outfits. My wife was set on wearing a pink dress and wrapping it cellophane, those a piece of bubble gum. My choices to pair up — we’re going as a school desk or as a “wrapper”. A rapper outfit with a microphone and face paint was chosen, not as a racial statement, but due to the fact that most rappers are African-American. Looking back, it was a bad choice for an outfit. I regret it and apologize to those it offends. I never imagined it would be viewed as a racial image, much less saved by someone for nearly nine years before using it to impugn my character. Any one the knows me, knows that I do not judge people by their race or nationality. I grew up in household that taught how to love others, not to hate them. My friends, former classmates, employees, dental patients, and current co-workers at the city would all confirm this. In my dental practice I care for people of many different races and backgrounds yet all my employees will tell you that we consider them family. At the City of Edwardsville, we have always hired the best candidate, and I am pleased to report that we have more minorities and females working for us than ever before. In fact, my last three appointments that I have recommended for the city council have been females. I am saddened that I need to write about these things, but feel it is important for those who do not know me, to not judge my character from a Halloween costume. Moreover, I am sickened by and worried for the individual or individuals who would keep such a ridiculous picture for nine plus years and use it such a cheap manor. If these persons or anyone would like to discuss any issue with me, I have always made myself available. This is the second desperate act taken against me in this election cycle. Clearly, my opponent and her allies will use any methods, no matter how pathetic, to maintain power and control of our political system in Illinois. The more I get into trying to change the disfunction in Springfield, the more disgusted I get. Sincerely, Hal
Follow Ashley on Twitter: @aadlisenby