Where Are Black Chiefs Of Staffs?

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[The Message Must Be Heard]

Typically during the month of February, Black History month, media seems to focus on the state of race relations.

I have done many interviews and had many conversations on this issue. As a result, I have spent more time than usual reflecting on it.

As a political operative, I have spent many hours meeting with senators, congressmen, governors, and mayors from both parties. My observation is that most Black elected officials that I have encountered have White chiefs of staff—the one who controls the office and in most cases the political operation also.

Should this matter? Does it make a difference? Yes and no.

I think it is critically important that when Blacks become elected officials that they position and groom other Blacks to move up the political food chain. If they don’t give Blacks a chance, in most cases, a White elected official isn’t going to do it.

So, we then get into this circular reasoning that goes like this: "You are a great person, but you just don’t have the experience." They don’t have the experience because no one gives them the opportunity to gain it. That’s why I am so amazed at the number of members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have White chiefs of staff, even though they represent a majority Black district.

Does this mean only a White person can do a great job? Not at all. It means that Black elected officials should and must be more aware of the impact they can have on the next generation by providing opportunities to get requisite experience for bigger and better jobs.

Many of my White Republican colleagues see the answer in simplistic terms of Black and White. "We don’t see color," according to one. They are looking for the best qualified person, another claims. In a perfect world, I would agree with them.

But how can you represent a district or state with a 25% Black population and not have any Blacks on your staff? They are either color-blind or just blind to people of color. I would be glad to refer them to an eye doctor. These are the same ones who will tell a kid he doesn’t have the right experience, but yet not willing to give him the opportunity to get that experience.

In the aftermath of Jesse Jackson’s two runs for president, in 1984 and 1988, came people like Ron Brown, Ron Walters, Donna Brazile, Alexis Herman, and others. Why are there not more Black chiefs of staffs working for member of the Black Caucus who will then make their own run for office? Why should we expect Whites to do for us what we are not willing to do for ourselves?

Contrast that with Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Most people were totally unaware that Dean named Leah Daughtry, a good friend of mine, to be his chief of staff. This means a Black woman was actually running the DNC.

She was so good that Dean then named her CEO of the 2008 Democratic National Convention Committee. Again, she ran the show. As a result of the relationships and skills she attained, she can now do pretty much anything within the political arena.

This is why it is critically important for Blacks in positions of power and authority to make sure they create opportunities for others whenever they get a chance. They have an obligation to do it. Does this mean you discriminate against Whites? Of course not. They are not mutually exclusive goals.

I am amazed when I meet with elected Republicans about these issues. They all say we need to get more Blacks on congressional staffs and within the party structure, even while they have no Blacks on their staffs. As much as former party chairman, Ken Mehlman, talked about this issue; he never had any Blacks on his personal staff.

That’s why I am very curious to see how newly elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, fills his personal staff. Where are the Jesse Jackson’s and Howard Dean’s of the Republican Party?

Steele has a chance to leave an imprint on the RNC and the rest of the party long after his tenure is complete. Will he feel the burden of King to name a Black as his chief of staff, political director, or press secretary, or general counsel?

And then empower them to exert influence on and within the party structure? Will he open the floodgates for the next generation of consultants, campaign managers, speech writers, or fundraisers?

Jackson is president and CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC. a D.C.-based political consulting/government affairs firm. You can reach him at: [email protected] and website at: www.raynardjackson.com

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