WASHINGTON - In his first speech as Senate Democratic leader this year, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowed to hold the White House and Congress accountable, but now he is being pressed to account for the scant number of top minority Senate staffers.
Last week, former New York Democratic Party official Charlie King called out Schumer on Senate Democrats’ minority hiring after Schumer and others said they’d vote against Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for attorney general because of his record on civil rights.
“If you care about civil rights, you then begin to ask yourself what you can do to make a difference here,” King said in an interview, noting that the holiday for civil rights leader Dr. Martin L. King Jr. will be observed Monday.
King, a former executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee, said when he arrived to deliver a letter about scant Senate minority employment last Thursday, a Schumer legislative aide met with him right away and they had “a frank and candid conversation” about where the Senate stood now and where it needs to go.
King then stood outside of Schumer’s office as a protest, one that he said he and others sharing his concerns for minority hiring might join the week after Donald Trump’s inauguration.
King also has been adviser to the Rev. Al Sharpton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo as well as a candidate for lieutenant governor and attorney general. He now works with the Mercury lobbying firm.
King said he’s focused on Democrats because, “you have to get your own house in order” — giving a pass to Republican senators and Trump, who has nominated the most white men to cabinet posts since President Ronald Reagan during the 1980s.
An aide said Schumer has taken several steps since the beginning of the year to improve the minority hiring record.
Schumer is urging all Senate offices to adopt a version of the “Rooney rule,” which requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for coaching positions.
Schumer hired Cietta Kiandoli, a black woman, for the new position in the Democratic leader’s office as director of engagement to expand minority hiring. And his new regional director for Long Island is Garrett Armwood, one of retired Rep. Steve Israel’s black staffers.
Congress for decades has had an abysmal record in hiring minority staffers, studies have shown, particularly in the top jobs of chief of staff, legislative director and communications director.
A year ago, a report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonpartisan think tank focusing on black issues, found that blacks held less than 1 percent of those top three jobs in the offices of the 100-member Senate.
The only black chief of staff worked for Sen. Tim Scott, a black Republican from South Carolina. Since then three sitting senators have hired a black, Latino and Asian aide for top posts, and two new senators brought on a black chief of staff and legislative director.
James R. Jones, a former House staff intern and fellow who wrote Joint Center’s report while finishing his sociology doctorate at Columbia University, said in an interview that Congress must provide the same hiring data it requires of businesses and other government agencies.
Without that data, Jones said, “there cannot be any calls to hold Chuck Schumer or anybody else accountable for their policies in the workplace.”