UPDATED: 1:24 p.m. EDT — Dana Gresham has been hired to be the chief of staff for Doug Jones, the Alabama Senator-elect announced early Tuesday afternoon. The hiring paved the way for Gresham to be the only Black chief of staff among Senate Democrats.
Black folks have seemingly forever faithfully flocked to the Democratic Party, usually with barely a question asked. But last month’s special election of Doug Jones, who was undeniably powered to victory by the support of Black women voters in particular, left one question echoing loudly among African-Americans across the country: Was the new U.S. Senator-elect from Alabama obliged to put Black folks in positions of power within his fledgling administration?
That answer was apparently an overwhelming yes, since Jones on Tuesday was reportedly set to hire a Black man to lead his staff. Dana Gresham, who previously served in the Obama administration, will become Jones’ chief of staff, according to reports on social media. That would make Gresham the only Black chief of staff in the U.S. Senate among Democrats, a group that talks a good game on progressive politics yet has struggled to address diversity within leadership of its own staffs.
As previously reported in NewsOne, Black women proved to be the difference in last month’s special Senate election, leaving many wondering how (or if) Jones would make any gracious overture to Black voters in return for their support. Hiring Gresham is definitely a good start, seeing as how the deep red state’s politics have been relatively void of any African-American perspective for quite some time.
But the entire U.S. Senate, especially Democrats, needs to make similar moves to level the cultural playing field among top Senate staffers, according to recent statistics.
Of the 336 “top Senate staffers” in 2015, just three were Black. That anemic number included only “1.2 percent of Democratic top staff” and six total in the Senate, according to a fact sheet compiled by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and released last week.
For his part, Gresham’s hiring seems like the perfect example for other U.S. Senators, and Democrats, to follow for their own staffs. The former assistant secretary for governmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation is a native Alabamian with more than two decades’ experience in national politics. And if his political history is any indication of what’s to come from Jones’ legislative future, good things are on the horizon from the underdog candidate’s camp.
”I never imagined the day I would have the chance to vote for an African-American president, let alone work for one,” Gresham wrote as part of the White House’s Black History Month celebration in 2011. “It’s a thrill beyond measure, a reminder of how far we’ve come, and a cause for great optimism about the direction in which our country is headed.”