In April 2012, the Obama re-election campaign posted a photo of a staff meeting on its Tumblr account. The aides in the picture were young, casually dressed, and enthusiastic—and nearly all white. The campaign took heat on the Internet for a remarkable lack of diversity, particularly since the staff was working to re-elect the first black president in U.S. history.
Now, a new book filled with inside information from the campaign reports that top Obama aides were also taking heat from key donors and supporters. In The Message: The Reselling of President Obama, author Richard Wolffe writes that influential black supporters were unhappy with the lack of black aides in top campaign roles. The supporters were so unhappy that they forced the campaign to search for African-Americans to fill senior roles in the effort. After months of searching, the campaign found exactly one.
“Inside the campaign to re-elect the country’s first black president, there was an embarrassingly low number of African-Americans in the senior ranks,” Wolffe writes.
Prominent and wealthy black donors told Obama’s aides, as well as his operatives in Chicago, that they would not take part unless and until there was African-American representation in headquarters. [Campaign manager] Jim Messina embarked on an intensive search to fill the hole, asking [White House aide] Valerie Jarrett for her advice on the role she herself played in 2008. There were few candidates who were prepared to give up a year’s worth of salary, and unwind their outside work, to commit to the campaign full-time. It took several months before Messina could recruit just one figure to the innermost circle of leadership: Broderick Johnson, a former lobbyist and personal friend of the president, who visited Chicago weekly.