Alabama Sen. Doug Jones took office on Wednesday as the only Democrat in the Senate with an African-American chief of staff.
Dana Gresham, Jones’ new chief, was previously assistant secretary for governmental affairs at the Department of Transportation. He was nominated by former President Barack Obama and held the position for all eight years of the administration. He most recently was a consultant in D.C.
Gresham also has 14 years of experience on the Hill, including as chief of staff for former Alabama Rep. Artur Davis.
“This is a big and historic hire,” Don Bell, director of the Black Talent Initiative at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said on a call Wednesday. His goal is to increase congressional staffer diversity.
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After the Democratic Party saw an increase in diversity among senators, including Kamala Harris and Tammy Duckworth, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer recognized the lack of diversity among senior staff and promised to do better.
Senate Democrats last March said they would all adopt the “Rooney rule” — the NFL rule named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney that requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching vacancies.
Jones also hired an African-American woman, Sonceria Ann Bishop-Berry, as his transition adviser, AL.com reported.
Like Gresham, Bishop-Berry has extensive experience on the Hill. She was Sen. Patrick J. Leahy’s deputy chief of staff and also worked for Sen. Thomas R. Carper and former Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and John Edwards.
Jennifer DeCasper has worked for Scott since 2011, when he was in the House, and was promoted to chief of staff in December 2014. Moran hired Brennen Britton as his chief at the beginning of last year.
The center sent Jones a letter after his election asking him to make sure he adhered to the Rooney Rule.
“They need to make sure they remain committed to diversity in hiring staff in D.C. and Alabama,” Bell said.
He added that the center has continued to be in contact with Jones’ office to push the issue.
Jones had a bit of a debt to pay to the black community — he beat Republican Roy Moore with 96 percent of the black vote, according to the Washington Post’s exit poll. And African-Americans make up 25 percent of Alabama’s population.
Looking ahead to the 2018 midterm elections, the only potential Senate candidates who are African-American are Republicans: John James is running in Michigan for Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s seat, and E.W. Jackson is considering a run in Virginia for Sen. Tim Kaine’s seat.