A lack of minority representation at the upper levels of John Kerry’s presidential campaign threatens to weaken enthusiasm among black and Hispanic voters, two core constituencies, some Democrats and advocacy groups say.
Kerry’s inner circle — the dozen or so advisers who participate in the campaign’s most important decisions — is mostly white.
Senior political adviser Paul Rivera said a core group of seven high-ranking staffers participate in a daily, morning conference call to talk strategy and make key decisions. The group includes campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill; deputy campaign managers Steve Elmendorf and Marcus Jardotte; communications director Stephanie Cutter; general election strategist Jill Alper; and senior advisers Art Collins and Rivera. Jardotte and Collins are black; Rivera is Hispanic.
Campaign officials say media consultants, pollsters and other top aides are often on the call, including chief speechwriter Bob Shrum, and Tad Devine, an architect of Kerry’s general election planning.
Shrum and Devine are white, as is John Marttila, a longtime Kerry ally from Massachusetts who spent a lot of time at campaign headquarters during the Iowa and New Hampshire races and is considered part of the brain trust.
Some black officials and independent analysts expressed concerned about the campaign’s lack of racial diversity. Campaign officials and the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus said the criticism was unfounded.
“I am concerned about diversity, but more importantly I am concerned about the experience in that diversity — senior policy people who know people from one end of the country to the other,” said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., a caucus member.
He said the issue may dampen voter enthusiasm. “The senator should remedy this very quickly,” Jackson said.
Added Ron Walters, who worked on the presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson Sr. and runs the African-American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland: “There is a sense that Kerry’s people don’t get it.”
Campaign officials dispute the criticism, saying too much of the focus has been on the influence of Shrum, Devine and other consultants.
“It really is odd to read any suggestion that a national campaign is being run by the media consultants and the pollsters and excluding the other folks,” Jardotte said while traveling to Philadelphia, where Kerry was addressing the National Conference of Black Mayors convention on Thursday.
“Throughout the primary process, we’ve had a very diverse campaign. Now we are building a general election system that is diverse,” he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the black caucus chairman, said he was satisfied with the access minorities had to Kerry, noting that he and fellow Democratic Reps. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Harold Ford of Tennessee are among House members asked to play key roles in the campaign.
“I believe the door is open and we are present and accounted for,” he said. “I really believe in my heart that those trying to judge Kerry early in campaign are a bit premature in regards to diversity.”
The campaign noted that Kerry has enjoyed strong support from minorities during the primaries. Exit polling conducted for The Associated Press in 18 states that have held Democratic primaries this year found Kerry easily winning support among whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians.
Cahill invited anyone concerned with diversity to visit campaign headquarters in Washington. “In every office in the campaign, we are looking to have people with different backgrounds and experiences and different approaches to the campaign,” she said.
Blacks and Hispanics typically vote overwhelmingly Democratic, though Republicans are making efforts to capture a larger share of support from Hispanics.
Gore got 90% of black vote
President Clinton won 83 percent of the black vote in 1992, and 84 percent in 1996. Four years later, Democrat Al Gore received 90 percent of that vote.
Among Hispanics, 61 percent voted for Clinton in 1992, followed by 72 percent in 1996. Gore captured about 62 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000.
A campaign staff’s makeup suggests what the White House staff could look like if the candidate wins, said Lisa Navarette, a vice president of the National Council of La Raza, a nonpartisan Hispanic advocacy group.
The average voter may not focus on this, she said, “but for people concerned about the strength of the commitment to diversity, you would have to be concerned.”
Census Bureau estimates show that in 2002, 81 percent of Massachusetts residents were white, 7 percent were Hispanic and 5 percent were black. Nationally, the population is about 68 percent white, 14 percent Hispanic and 12 percent black.
“The Kerry campaign certainly at the top definitely needs some African-Americans, needs Hispanics, it needs to be more diverse,” said David Bositis, a political scientist at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank focused on black issues. “But he’s got plenty of time to address this.”