Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Democratic strategist Donna Brazile criticized Sen. John Kerry yesterday for failing to put black and Hispanic leaders into senior campaign positions, saying it raised serious questions about his commitment to racial diversity.

In a new sign of growing political discontent among the Democrats’ large minority base, Miss Brazile, who managed Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000 — the first black woman to hold that post in her party — admonished the Kerry campaign for not involving more minorities in the development of the Massachusetts senator’s campaign policy, strategy and message.

“The last thing the Democratic Party needs in 2004 is to repeat the failures of its most recent past on matters of race and inclusion,” Miss Brazile wrote in this week’s edition of Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper.

“If the past is indeed prologue, this message has been lost on Sen. John Kerry’s campaign, which has failed to understand how to navigate one of the most important issues in American politics: race relations and diversity.”

Her surprisingly sharp criticism of the party’s presumptive presidential nominee was the second major broadside hurled at the Kerry campaign in the past week by a prominent minority leader.

In a letter to Mr. Kerry last week, Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, wrote that “relegating all of your minority staff to the important but limited role of outreach only reinforces perceptions that your campaign views Hispanics as a voting constituency to be mobilized, but not as experts to be consulted in shaping policy.”

“Not a single one of your senior staff is Latino. Quite frankly, we find this deeply troubling,” Mr. Yzaguirre wrote, adding that that raises “questions about the seriousness of your commitment to diversity.”

Kerry campaign officials deny that minorities are not represented in its highest councils, pointing to deputy campaign manager Marcus Jardotte and senior adviser Art Collins, both of whom are black, and senior political adviser Paul Rivera, who is Hispanic.

But these positions are well below the small, tight-knit circle of all-white senior campaign advisers that Mr. Kerry has assembled around him, including chief strategist Bob Shrum, campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill and senior adviser Tad Devine.

As word of Miss. Brazile’s criticism spread through the party, Democratic strategists yesterday urged Mr. Kerry to get a handle on the problem.

“It certainly needs to be dealt with and dealt with immediately. This is something that the Kerry campaign ignores at their peril,” said Maria Cardona, architect of a major Hispanic outreach ad campaign for the New Democrat Network.

Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Illinois Democrat, has suggested that the staffing controversy may undermine minority-voter enthusiasm for Mr. Kerry’s candidacy. “The senator should remedy this very quickly,” he said.

At the same time, a Bush campaign official said that its campaign was extensively staffed by minorities at top policy and strategy-setting levels.

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