Seven months before Election Day, the Obama campaign is seriously searching for black staffers to work in its predominantly white Chicago headquarters and field offices across the country.
It’s a move, frankly, that should have come much sooner – but better late than never.
In an e-mail labeled “Urgent,” Stefanie Brown, director of the campaign’s African-American voter outreach initiative, recently appealed to the black community for help.
“The Obama for America campaign is in the process of really staffing up in states around the country, and I need your help to find qualified, African-American candidates for some of these positions,” Brown wrote to supporters last month, according to POLITICO. “This is a fast moving process and your (quick) support is greatly appreciated.”
Brown’s e-mail comes as a photo of the Obama campaign surfaced that showed dozens of white staffers in the Chicago office and not one African-American in the large, warehouse of a room.
The push by the Obama campaign to hire more black staffers took on greater significance this week as President Barack Obama traveled to three colleges speaking to students about reducing college loan interest rates while also courting young voters.
When I visited the Obama campaign headquarters six months ago, I watched a room-full of enthusiastic young white staffers sitting under large cardboard signs of most American states, working the phones and rallying Democrats from coast to coast.
I also saw several senior black staffers typing furiously on their laptops, analyzing polling data, and talking about innovative ways to increase black voter turnout – people like Valeisha-Butterfield Jones, who leads the national youth campaign; Mike Blake, deputy director of Operative Vote; Clo Ewing, a spokeswoman for the campaign and Broderick Johnson, a senior campaign advisor.
But the question that continued to echo in my mind was this: Why aren’t there more African-American young people working for the campaign when President Barack Obama is in the White House? It’s a legitimate issue, especially since Obama campaign manager Jim Messina says racial diversity is an important component of the 2012 election-year crusade.
Jones’ “urgent” e-mail to the black community was noteworthy because, for the first time, civil rights activists learned that assembling black staffers is now a pressing issue for the Obama campaign. The president’s senior campaign advisers are hoping to duplicate the historic enthusiasm among African-Americans from 2008 and they are keenly aware that more black staffers are needed to reach out to black voters.
With a new poll that shows Obama taking a slim lead over Republican Mitt Romney — 49 to 42 percent — Obama’s aides say every vote in November is important and voter turnout is critical.
Speaking privately, several influential black Democrats in Washington, D.C., have expressed frustration with the Obama campaign’s lack of African-American staffers, with one black professional saying “the campaign is three years too late” with its black recruitment efforts.
So what’s the problem?
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