There's a lot of talk this week in Washington about the diversityor lack thereofin the presidential campaign of Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry.
The campaign is feeling the heat and is aggressively attempting to get a hold of this issue before a damaging perception is created among Democratic voters. For the Kerry campaign, this is crucial: African Americans are the Democratic Party's most loyal constituency, followed closely by Latinos, a group of voters that Republicans are increasingly trying to court.
In the last couple of weeks, several news reports have examined this subject, beginning with CNNs Carlos Watson, who wrote on CNN.com recently that "this year President Bush may argue that his administration is more diverse at senior levels than John Kerry's would be." Last weekend, The Washington Post's Colbert I. King wrote in his column that Kerry "has an innermost circle of advisers that is practically as white as the driven snow." The Associated Press also moved a story on the wires Thursday about the perceived lack of color at the top of the Kerry campaign.
The AP story quoted, among others, Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) saying: "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...The senator should remedy this very quickly."
This week, I received two unsolicited phone calls from the Kerry campaignthe first unsolicited calls I have ever received from the Kerry camp for any reason -- to dispute the notion of a Kerry, um, whitewash. The first was from Art Collins, an African American political strategist whom I have known for more than a decade. We met when I was a young political reporter for the Miami Herald in Tallahassee, and he was advising politicians and corporations there.
"I don't know where this perception comes from that the Kerry campaign is not diverse," said Collins, who now works in Washington, advising clients like Lockheed Martin, Honeywell and Black Entertainment Television. "I am in the meetings. I am in the calls."
No question Collins, whose title is senior adviser, is solid. But he has only been on board for about two weeks. The campaign announced his hiring just this week in a press release with the headline: "John Kerry Assembles Senior Level, All-Star Team of African American Staffers."
The only other real senior level person the release mentioned was Janice Griffin, who has been named Kerry's senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee.
Until Collins and Griffin were brought on board, the only African American on staff or in a paid consultant position of any influence was deputy campaign manager Marcus Jadotte. And the only high-ranking Latino was senior political adviser Paul Rivera.
A paragraph buried near the bottom of an April 21 report by The Post's Jim VandeHei on Kerry's inner-circle really got tongues wagging. VandeHei wrote that Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill told him that six people dominate Kerry's strategizing sessions: Media adviser Bob Shrum and his partners Michael Donilon and Tad Devine, as well as pollsters Mark Mellman and Tom Kiley, and herself.
Not a person of color in the bunch.
The Kerry camp must have had nightmares of the Bush campaign making the case that the president has surrounded himself with more top level black and Hispanic advisers than Kerry has on his campaign (although, Bush would not fare so favorably in a campaign-to-campaign comparison).
A second Kerry official, Anthony Coley, who is African American, called me on Thursday to say, among other things, that Cahill's comments had been taken out of context. The point she was making to VandeHei was that Shrum, Donilon, Devine, Mellman and Kiley were the campaign's most important consultantsnot that they were the key decision makers.