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DCCC faces mass staff upheaval after uproar over diversity

 

The departures comes as chairwoman Cheri Bustos faces accusations that she has done little to address the lack of diversity in the upper ranks of the campaign arm.

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The top echelon of staffers at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee left their jobs Monday, a shakeup following a pair of POLITICO stories detailing deep unease with the party’s campaign apparatus over a lack of diversity.

On Monday morning, Allison Jaslow, DCCC executive director and a close ally of Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) — chair of the committee — resigned during a tense meeting at the party’s Capitol Hill headquarters. And in the next 10 hours, much of the senior staff was out: Jared Smith, the communications director and another Bustos ally; Melissa Miller, a top DCCC communications aide; Molly Ritner, political director; Nick Pancrazio, deputy executive director; and Van Ornelas, the DCCC’s director of diversity.

Jacqui Newman, the chief operating officer for the campaign arm, will serve as interim executive director and facilitate the search for a permanent replacement, Bustos said in a statement late Monday.

“Today has been a sobering day filled with tough conversations that too often we avoid," Bustos said. "But I can say confidently that we are taking the first steps toward putting the DCCC back on path to protect and expand our majority, with a staff that truly reflects the diversity of our Democratic caucus and our party."

Ritner was one of two national political directors at the DCCC. Kory Kozloski, the other national political director, is still with the campaign arm, according to multiple sources. While most of the staff departures are effective immediately, Miller is expected to remain at DCCC temporarily to help transition a new communications team, according to sources.

POLITICO reported last week that top lawmakers in the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus were furious with Bustos, saying she was short-changing minorities by excluding them from her senior staff and failing to live up to promises she made during her campaign for the chairmanship. Bustos surrounded herself with loyalists, eschewing the typical campaign hands that run major party apparatuses.

"Today, I recognize that, at times, I have fallen short in leading these talented individuals. To my colleagues, who I have the upmost respect for, I hear your concerns, and we can and must do better," Bustos said.

Newman will chair an executive council to conduct a "national and open search" for a new executive director, Bustos said. Several other top DCCC staffers, including Danny Kazin, the deputy executive director, and Kozloski will also be on the council.

In addition, senior DCCC aides Charles Benton, Jackie Forte-Mackay, Samantha McClain, Dennis Raj, Jillian Shweiki, Alexandra Smith, Michael Smith and Ryan Thompson have been appointed to the committee leading the search.

The staff turmoil follows criticism from many Democrats that Bustos has done little to address the lack of diversity in the upper ranks of the campaign arm since winning the chairmanship late last year.

Bustos also rankled some Democrats by routinely saying she was out to “finally” build a “world class” DCCC — which was perceived as a slight to the previous chairman, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, who helped lead the party back to the majority after eight years out of power.

And lawmakers felt misled about Bustos' handling of Tayhlor Coleman, a DCCC employee who came under fire for a series of derogatory tweets she sent nearly a decade ago disparaging the LGBTQ community and Hispanics. Coleman is still employed with the campaign arm.

A staff turnover of this magnitude seven months into the Democrats’ majority is jarring, and will present Bustos with a set of new challenges. She will be forced to rebuild the committee’s top leadership from scratch in the middle of a presidential campaign that has much of the party’s best talent tied up.

Bustos is, indeed, under a microscope. Democrats across the Capitol have privately griped about what they see as a subpar campaign committee with a chairwoman unresponsive to members' concerns, and unable or unwilling to live up to her own promises to hire a diverse staff.

Bustos did not respond to an email seeking comment. Much of the senior communications staff was in flux Monday evening, and did not respond to emails.

Bustos flew back to Washington this week — the beginning of the August recess — to attend an emergency staff meeting at the DCCC Monday. At the beginning of the meeting, Jaslow resigned and left the session immediately. The meeting — which was described by several sources as spirited and pointed — lasted more than an hour and a half.

"When I was in eighth grade, I decided that my life would be dedicated to serving my country. I did that first in uniform but since have tried to be a force of good in our politics," Jaslow, an Iraq War veteran, said in a statement later. "And sometimes selfless service means having the courage to take a bow for the sake of the mission — especially when the stakes are so high."

Bustos' decision to return to Washington to address committee staff in person came after several aides demanded an “immediate restructuring” of senior management in recent days.

The staff shakeup follows a tumultuous weekend for Bustos and her senior team, in which they struggled to respond to demands from Democratic lawmakers and committee aides that actions immediately be taken to address the diversity issues.

Jaslow convened an emergency all-staff meeting Friday that was described as "very emotional" by a committee aide present. Jaslow cried as she took responsibility for not doing enough to diversify the upper ranks as some staffers complained that neither she or her deputies were people of color.

Bustos held a tense call with staffers on Saturday before deciding to fly back and address the committee in person on Monday. On the call, Bustos "briefly" apologized for offending people by describing her husband and children as being of "Mexican descent" and announced she will undergo diversity and inclusion training in the coming weeks, according to multiple sources.

"I have never been more committed to expanding and protecting this majority, while creating a workplace that we can all be proud of. I will work tirelessly to ensure that our staff is truly inclusive," Bustos said Monday night. 

https://www.politico.com/story/2019/07/29/top-dccc-staffer-out-amid-diversity-uproar-1439525