If a Pittsburgh politician needed support from Black voters in the 1960s and 1970s, they needed to go through East End Ward Chairman Dock Fielder Jr. And with that clout, more often than not, Fielder helped people in the 12th ward and beyond get jobs.
For 30 years, Fielder and his frequent ally, the late Ezell “Bubby” Hairston, ward chair in the neighboring 13th ward, were kingmakers. Fielder, 81, the last of the city’s Black powerbrokers, was admitted to UPMC Shadyside last week suffering from respiratory problems. As of this writing he remains in intensive care.
“He was the guy,” said longtime acquaintance Louis “Hop” Kendrick. “I remember sitting in his office one day when a woman came to see him, a doctor. She came in and said she was retiring from the Allegheny County Health Department. When she graduated from Pitt 25 years earlier no one would hire her, so her father asked Dock to get her a job—he did. And she’s been there ever since. You could repeat that story 100 times over. That’s what he did.”
Kendrick first met Fielder in the 1940s just after he’d moved to the Hill District from Mississippi. They lost touch for a while, but met up again when Kendrick moved to the East End in the 1960s.
“He was working construction at the time, but realized he could do better in politics,” said Kendrick. “He became a Democratic Party committee person and in 1972, he became 12th Ward chairman.”
Neither Fielder’s wife nor daughter returned calls for comment by New Pittsburgh Courier deadline.
Allegheny County Real Estate Department Manager Valerie McDonald Roberts knew Fielder was ill and recalled her personal and professional relationships with him, first as the political ally of her father “Bubby” and secondly as someone she had to deal with when she began her own political career.
“He was infamous, at least he always presented himself as intimidating—but I could get around that because of Bubby,” she said. “I could not have succeeded at what I’ve done without winning the support and confidence of Dock Fielder.”
And, she said, that support could be a little different. When she first ran for the District 9 City Council seat against Duane Darkins in 1991, Fielder supported her—his way.
“He was street smart, not Shakespearean, but very savvy,” she said. “And with him it was all about getting jobs for people. Others worried about legislations and access. He was about families, helping individuals. He was old school—and old school works.”
State Rep. Joseph Preston, D- East Liberty, said he too owes much of his success to Fielder.
He’s one of the people who brought me to the dance. He had the perfect name because, politically, he was a surgeon,” said Preston. “I went to visit him when he was in the hospital earlier, a few weeks ago, and it just brought back memories.”
Like Mc Donald, Preston said he had his differences with Fielder over the years, but always respected him—as did others.
“Governor Rendell would call him directly for advice on occasion. If you were running for local, state or national office, Dock was someone you had to talk to,” said Preston. “He was the epitome of a ward boss, but he was compassionate too. Yeah, he kicked me off his porch once for supporting someone other than his candidate, but he was also one of the first to support Kingsley, and he made sure left over county money went to the Lemington House. He got a lot done—made things happen. He’s the last one.”
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