Saturday, May 31, 2003

A member of the Democratic National Committee’s black caucus yesterday demanded that DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe explain why a list of 10 pending firings consisted entirely of black staffers.

“The proposed layoff of only African Americans causes concern on every level — not the least of which is intellectual,” Yvonne Atkinson Gates, a commissioner from Clark County, Nev., wrote to Mr. McAuliffe in the faxed letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

“If the person or persons advising you on fiscal policy and on the importance of the diverse culture of our organization are one and the same, we do indeed have cause for concern,” Miss Gates wrote.

The 10 DNC staffers targeted for firing, all of whom are black, ranged from midlevel to senior administrative employees, The Times has learned.

Some have been with the DNC for several years. Some do not know they were close to termination.

“Terry, the reality is that African Americans have consistently been loyal to the party — in good times and bad — because Democrats have stood for the core values that are so important to our community,” Miss Gates wrote. “We believe this action strikes at the heart of those values, indicates a remarkable lack of awareness and respect, and will cause extensive and irreparable damage.”

The DNC’s black caucus includes 95 members from around the country.

Miss Gates faxed her letter to Mr. McAuliffe, the nine Democratic presidential contenders and the Congressional Black Caucus.

“What I can’t understand is that we are trying to win back the White House, and the last thing you want to do is alienate a constituency that votes 95 percent with our party,” Miss Gates said in an interview last night. “This causes us great concern and makes us really wonder just what is going on there.”

Mr. McAuliffe could not be reached for comment.

The party chairman said Thursday that the layoffs, part of a cost-cutting measure as Democrats begin to raise money to defeat President Bush next year, never received his formal approval and would not take place.

The situation was made public when Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000 and now leads the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute, obtained a list of DNC staffers who were to be laid off.

“I was read the list and I realized, ‘Oh my God, these are all black staffers,’” Miss Brazile said Thursday.

DNC spokesman Jim Mulhall said in initial news reports that party leaders, including Miss Brazile and several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, were told that the 10 staffers were going to be laid off. He later said the reported number of layoffs was incorrect and that the total had not been determined.

Some Democratic officials did not believe Mr. McAuliffe’s explanation.

“Worst part about all of this is that they lied,” one official said on the condition of anonymity. “They should have told the truth. The letter never should have been issued … and if they are going to lie, then get the lies straight.”

Miss Gates wondered the same thing.

“It was obviously an attempt to spin the story, and that’s not what needs to happen,” she said last night. “If you’ve made a mistake, let’s correct it and move on.”

Quoting Mr. Mulhall’s statement, Miss Gates’ letter to Mr. McAuliffe says that although the DNC “may have to … ‘adjust staffing levels to deal with the new political realities of facing George Bush,’ we do not believe that this is how our party’s potential nominee wants to enter the general election.”

The DNC commissioner added: “We know that there are many ways to spin numbers, to compare apples to oranges. But in a world in which perception is often reality, a very disheartening picture has already been painted.”

Although Miss Gates says in her letter that she still supports Mr. McAuliffe, she hints that she feels betrayed by the party chief in a reference to Joel Ferguson, another member of the DNC’s black caucus.

“When you asked me and Joel to be a part of your team and to support your candidacy for chairman, we did so without hesitation because we believed in you, and we believed that we shared common goals,” she wrote. “We are still committed to those goals, and we look forward to meeting with you as soon as possible to discuss the proposed layoffs and how we get our party back on track.”

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