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Celebrating Women's History Month: Sallyanne Payton

Contributions to Public Administration: Sallyanne Payton

By: Thomas Stanton

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By: Daniel Guttman

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Sallyanne Payton, the first African American to graduate from the Stanford Law School, and the second woman appointed to the faculty of the University of Michigan Law School, came to Washington at a time of turmoil over Civil Rights and Vietnam. Working first at a top-flight law firm and then on the White House Domestic Policy Staff and as the White House representative for much of the rebuilding of the District of Columbia after urban riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Sallyanne combined the skills of a legal architect with insights essential to implementing policies to give the District “home rule” and improve its economic and political circumstances.

Sallyanne focused on four principal tasks: rebuilding city corridors that had been devastated in the riots, building museums along Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall, opening the DC Metro system, and helping with enactment of the Home Rule Act that provided for an elected mayor and council of the District. Sallyanne left the White House to become Chief Counsel of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (now the Federal Transit Administration) of the US Department of Transportation.

As a skilled public administrator Sallyanne understood the need to link successful administrative projects with sensitivity to the cultures of those affected. She once explained, for example, how the DC Metro opened the Red Line, largely serving white riders in the downtown and Maryland suburbs, before it opened other lines that served riders, often Black and lower income, in other parts of the city. This happened for a reason: once white riders used and enjoyed benefits of the Metro, then a large volume of Black riders could be added without causing the whites to flee. Starting the other way around might have caused whites to continue commuting in their cars and not use a Metro that they saw as the province of lower-income Blacks. While these dynamics were not attractive, they had to be recognized if Metro were to become a success for all communities.

Sallyanne was an active participant on the Standing Panel on Executive Organization and Management and contributed a trenchant analysis of Medicare to one of the panel’s books.[1] She also served on the Academy’s Board of Directors. In an interview about her exceptional career,[2] she told the Stanford Lawyer that, “Lawyers can also be architects, representing clients who are building institutions. You are an engineer of government. That’s what you do. You are making the government’s systems.… This goes back to the moon shot, when James Webb created the National Academy of Public Administration in 1967, setting up an organization to foster these big ideas. And they recruited and continue to recruit the best people in the country for that service. Once I found my place on that team I never looked back.”

[1] “Professionalism and Third-Party Government: The Function and Dysfunction of Medicare,” chapter 6 in Thomas H. Stanton and Benjamin Ginsberg, Making Government Manageable: Executive Organization and Management in the Twenty-First Century (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).

[2] “Sallyanne Payton: A Groundbreaking Legal Career,” Stanford Lawyer, June 25, 2020, available at https://law.stanford.edu/stanford-lawyer/articles/sallyanne-payton/.

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