Behind the scenes. A look at the people of color in the Hillary Clinton campaign

Maya Harris, senior policy senior policy adviser for Hillary Clinton with her sister Kamala Harris, CA Attorney General.

Behind the scenes.  A look at the people of color in the Hillary Clinton campaign

Commentary by Black Kos Editor Denise Oliver-Velez

Though much attention is being focused on the top two candidates running for the Democratic nomination for the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, it behooves us here in Black Kos to examine the actual people who are both adviser’s to the candidates and running their national campaigns, because this is a political blog, and campaigns are one of the key elements on the road to electoral success or failure. I don’t believe that a candidate in 2016 can win—the nomination and the general election—without significant backing and turnout from the large portion of the Democratic base that is comprised of people of color.

Current Pew data:

Race and ethnicity. Republicans hold a 49%-40% lead over the Democrats in leaned party identification among whites. The GOP’s advantage widens to 21 points among white men who have not completed college (54%-33%) and white southerners (55%-34%). The Democrats hold an 80%-11% advantage among blacks, lead by close to three-to-one among Asian Americans (65%-23%) and by more than two-to-one among Hispanics (56%-26%).

Projections at Think Progress about the Democratic coalition:

The strengths of the coalition are obvious, starting with minority voters.  The share of minority voters in the 2012 election increased by 2 percentage points, bringing their share of the voting electorate to 28 percent. That compares to just 15 percent of voters in 1988.

Overall, Obama received 80 percent support from people of color in 2012 just as he did in 2008.  His support among African-Americans was almost as overwhelming last November (93-6) as it was in 2008 (95-4).  And his support among Hispanics (71-27) improved substantially over its 2008 level (67-31).  In addition, Obama achieved historic levels of support among Asian-Americans, carrying them by 73-26, compared to 62-35 in 2008.

Adding to the power of the minority vote is the certainty of its continued growth. The share of minority voters in the 2016 election should be around 30 percent and, in the 2020 election, around 32 percent.

I have seen people dismiss this data as simply paying attention to “identity politics”, and even seen the term “culture wars” used, but candidates who ignore or dismiss listening to issues that take priority in communities of color, and actively engaging with our communities better wake up and smell the cafe con leche. Tacking us into stump speeches isn’t going to cut it. Building ties, and trust is a must, and that won’t happen without campaign staffing. I’m starting with Hillary Clinton’s campaign first, because frankly her poc hires are currently more long-standing and diverse. I’ve seen some recent diversification action in the Sanders campaign and will report on those in a few weeks. I’ve been watching the key hires for some time now, through a Black Kos lens, curious to see what people of color are at work behind the scenes.

One of the key hires that interested me was that of Maya Harris. Though more people are familiar with her higher profile sister Kamala Harris, Maya’s background is of real interest.

Harvard Law School Names Civil Rights Lawyer Maya L. Harris Visiting Scholar

As Vice President of the Ford Foundation’s Democracy, Rights and Justice program, Ms. Harris oversees a global effort that invests over $150 million annually to promote effective governance, increase democratic participation, and advance human rights worldwide.  Under her leadership, Ford launched its first LGBT rights initiative; funded nationwide efforts to protect voting rights; supported emerging human rights organizations in the Global South; and invested in expanding economic and political opportunities for women around the world.

Over the last two decades, Ms. Harris has built a career as a public policy advocate, a legal educator, an attorney and published commentator. She is a contributing author to the No. 1 New York Times best-seller, “The Covenant with Black America” (Third World Press, 2006).

Maya Harris is married to Tony West, former assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice, Civil Division. They went to law school together – and are featured in this Stanford profile:

Tony and Maya: Partners in Public Service

Maya Harris ’92 recalls childhood family dinners where her parents’ involvement in the civil rights movement as graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley was often the topic of lively conversation. “Their activism and what they were striving to achieve was what we talked about at the dinner table,” says Harris. “I knew at a very early age that I was going to one day have a career that would allow me to work for social justice and focus on improving the quality of people’s lives.”

Her mother was a particularly strong influence on Harris. Born in India, she came to the United States in the late 1950s, earned a PhD in endocrinology and became a breast cancer researcher. “My mom was an extraordinary force of nature. She was accomplished in her field, yet always the activist helping others, whether women who were disproportionately impacted by breast cancer or students trying to get financial aid. Her example and her core values made a very deep impression on me, and my sister,” she says.

Inspired by childhood memories of running around her mother’s lab, Harris started out in the sciences during her 
undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley. But, she says, “at some point it became clear to me that the law is such an awesome tool and influence in shaping the social playing field.”

Harris has moved from the national to the global stage in her advocacy work as vice president of the Ford Foundation’s Democracy, Rights and Justice Program. She travels the world, to Africa, Asia, Latin America and throughout the United States, to discuss projects with field staff and grant recipients who are working on a range of issues from civil rights and 
human rights for women, to racial minorities and people living with HIV, to voter rights and democratic participation. “It’s a leading foundation in supporting the work of courageous advocates for social justice around the globe. It’s an incredible opportunity to pursue so many of the issues that I’ve dedicated my life to, and on a larger global scale.”

Ezra Klein wrote this feature Maya Harris is Hillary Clinton’s most interesting hire yet pointing out that Harris has authored an important paper:

She’s a law professor and, most recently, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where she published only a single paper — but it’s a paper that may prove key to Clinton’s 2016 efforts to hold, and even expand, Obama’s coalition.

The paper’s title is “Women of Color: A Growing Force in the American Electorate,” and in it, Harris criticizes politicians and political strategists for only addressing the concerns of women of color “as a part of broader efforts aimed at women, youth, or a specific racial or ethnic group.” Women of color, Harris argues, are their own, incredibly fast-growing voting bloc, and any politician who wants to win them needs to make sure “their interests are priorities on the policy agenda.”

This profile gives us more: Meet the woman who’s guiding Hillary Clinton’s stance on police reforms

Harris talks about the “collateral consequences of conviction” on families and communities, not just individuals, and tells me that the best police reforms are those that “engage the community as partners and problem-solvers, not just people to be policed.” Clinton’s speech gave fodder to critics who accuse the candidate of being too soft on crime and too hard on police officers assigned to work the front lines of dangerous neighborhoods.

Immigration is another issue that falls under Harris’ campaign purview, and another spot where Clinton has rejected her husband’s policies and moved to the left—further left than even President Barack Obama. In a May 6 speech that Harris helped to craft, Clinton warned that if Congress doesn’t pass immigration reform—and she is elected president—she would issue executive orders beyond those issued by President Obama to provide legal protection to undocumented workers living here. Look to see Harris’ influence again on June 13, when Clinton delivers official “launch” speech on Manhattan’s Roosevelt Island.

Brynne Craig, Deputy National Political Director

for Hillary Clinton

Moving along, next is Brynne Craig.

Meet the 30-year-old woman running Hillary Clinton’s field operations

Craig does field operations. She’s done that job for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2008, for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—charged with electing House members—in 2012, and for victorious Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe in 2013. She also picked up some useful organizing skills working for Democratic nominee Barack Obama after Clinton dropped out in 2008, but the former First Lady is clearly her first political love.

like Iowa, Nevada runs a caucus rather than a primary, and in 2008 this in-person process was a strange new system to state voters, unlike in Iowa. So a lot of what Craig did was education–Caucus-101 meetings and simulations of caucus days. She oversaw 43 precincts. On election day, Clinton was the top-vote getter (though a complicated process gave Obama more delegates)—making Nevada the only caucus state to fall into her 2008 column during that grueling primary battle.

After Clinton conceded and dropped out, Craig was off to the swing state of Ohio for the general election, where Obama would beat GOP nominee John McCain—and show off an awe-inspiring grass roots operation. “We built a neighborhood team model all across Ohio, voters talking to their neighbors and friends, block by block,” Craig recalls. “The lady who was the cashier in the grocery store was the one knocking on your door.”

Craig took away from that experience a lesson that holds true even in an age of social media and online communication. “We used to say people will come to a campaign because they believe in the candidates,” says Craig. “But the reason they stay is the relationships we have. I still talk to my precinct captains. Social media engages people, but you have to take that second step of going off line and continuing the relationship.”

The black news outlets online, like BET and Black America Web have been paying attention:

Hillary Clinton Declares Candidacy: Will Black Voters Help Her White House Bid?

Quentin James

The campaign is getting a head start by bringing African-Americans into the campaign early. That should  silence any critics who would criticize Clinton for not hiring Black strategists.

Among Clinton’s African-American advisors are Karen Finney as Strategic Communications Adviser and Senior Spokesperson, Oren Shur as Director of Paid Media; Brynne Craig may serve as deputy national political director, Tyrone Gayle will head up one of Clinton’s regional press desks, Bernard Coleman will likely become the Clinton campaign’s director of Human Resources and Tracey Lewis, who was a Field Director for Clinton’s primary win in New Hampshire, will serve as primary states director; and Quentin James is the Black Americans director for “Ready for Hillary.”

In his new role, Quentin will mobilize leaders in the Black community around Clinton’s candidacy.

“I’m very excited to join Ready for Hillary and the amazing team they have assembled,” he said on the website. “Across the country, there is a tremendous amount of grassroots support in the Black community for a Hillary run for the White House, and Ready for Hillary is the place to gather and build upon that support.”

Note: Quentin James was hired in 2013

Will These Top Black Politicos Help Hillary Clinton Make History?

Marlon Marshall

“This is the strongest start when it comes to diversity in presidential politics that I’ve seen and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” says Jamal Simmons, a principal at The Raben Group, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm. “She is hiring Black and Latino department heads and women in important positions. It’s aggressive and to be commended.”

According to Simmons, it’s not only the Democratic thing to do because the party says it values diversity, but it’s also important to have people on her staff who come from the same communities as her prospective voters.

Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, agrees.

“The first thing [such hires] does is show our community that the campaign is concerned about who we are and what our issues are and I think that’s very, very important,” she said. “It also says to our community that there are people in that campaign with whom we have some genuine ability to talk to and who understand what we’re talking about.”

Marlon Marshall, for example, will likely become the director of state campaigns and political engagement. He’s served on President Obama’s 2012 campaign and in his administration, as well as on Clinton’s 2008 campaign. Marshall also grew up in St. Louis, Missouri.

Okay, those are black folks. But what about Latinos and Asian-Americans?

Matt Ortega

Those of you who have been to Netroots Nation, and attended the Latino Caucus may know this face. He’s a new member of Hillary’s “Nerd Squad”

A self-taught designer and developer, Matt Ortega serves as Digital Director for the Democratic firm, New Partners. He also was a member of the Democratic National Committee digital team under Governor Howard Dean in the 2008 presidential campaign. A creative Democratic operative, his projects — like,, and — have been featured in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News, ABC News, and on NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams, MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, and NBC’s The Today Show.

Lorella Praeli

But key in her Latino outreach are Latinas, some old faces, like Amanda Renteria, Hillary’s National Political Director, and some very new ones.

Hillary Clinton Taps DREAMer Lorella Praeli As Latino Outreach Director

May 20, 2015

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has named prominent DREAMer and immigration activist Lorella Praeli as Latino Outreach Director, a Clinton campaign official told NBC News. Praeli, who was undocumented for almost 13 years and became an outspoken advocate during that time, will be the Clinton campaign’s main point person with Latino communities around the country. She will also be one of the campaign’s surrogates with the press on Latino issues, including immigration.

Praeli’s appointment sends a strong signal that the Clinton campaign recognizes immigration reform as a key issue for many of the nation’s Hispanic voters. It also sends a message to Republican candidates to take a clearer position on immigration – a contentious issue for the GOP – as they court Latino votes. Recently Clinton said she supported full and equal citizenship for undocumented immigrants, saying that anything less is “code for second-class status.”

In a statement obtained by NBC News, Hillary for America National Political Director Amanda Renteria stated “We are thrilled to have Lorella Praeli, a DREAMer, join our team because of her courage and perspective in the fight for Latino families across the country.”

“Bringing Lorella into our campaign is the next step in making sure families aren’t living in fear of deportation, all students have the chance to go to college, and that any comprehensive immigration reform ensures full and equal citizenship,” stated Renteria.

Image: Lorella Praeli, Chela Praeli and Ligia Jimenez (L-R) listen to U.S. President Barack Obama speak about immigration reform

Why immigration activists are so excited about Hillary Clinton’s latest hire

Lorella Praeli has enormous credibility with immigration activists

Lorella Praeli is a DREAMer — part of the generation of young unauthorized immigrants that’s been at the forefront of the immigrant rights movement and Latino politics for the last several years. Praeli came to the US from Peru at the age of 10, but didn’t find out she was an unauthorized immigrant until she was a senior in high school. (She received her green card in 2012.) For the past few years, she’s been the director of policy and advocacy for United We Dream, the leading DREAMer advocacy network.

In political advocacy, there’s often a split between the “inside game” and the “outside game.” The insider approach says it’s better to work with politicians and support them, showing them it’s worthwhile to support the cause and being willing to accept incremental improvements (on the principle that “it’s better to have half a loaf than no loaf at all”). The outsider approach holds that politicians need to know they can’t take support for granted, and when they fall short they should be confronted and embarrassed — and that some compromises on policy aren’t worth making.

Xochitl Hinojosa

Hillary Clinton Adds Another Latina to Her Staff For Media Work

Xochitl Hinojosa, former press secretary for Labor Secretary Tom Perez, has begun work with the Hillary Clinton campaign to oversee a division of her media operation. Hinojosa, 30, was hired as director of Coalitions Press, further building the presence of Latinos in the Clinton camp. The coalition media division of the campaign will house media operations for Latino, African American and other media. Her hiring creates a second front in the family in the effort to have a Democrat succeed President Barack Obama in he White House. Hinojosa’s father, Gilberto Hinojosa, is chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

Although Republicans control every office in the state, about a third of voters in the state are Latino. However, more than a third of that Latino electorate has been a reliable vote for Republican candidates. Clinton won 66 percent of the Latino vote in Texas in the 2008 primary, according to Pew Research Center. Hinojosa, originally from Brownsville, left the Labor Department for the job. She last was the senior managing director handling press operations and crisis communications at the Cabinet agency. She also handled media at the Department of Justice and for Perez while he oversaw the civil Rights Division at DOJ.

Her hiring follows the campaign’s hiring of Lorella Praeli, a legal resident who was in the country illegally for years and has been a vocal activist on immigration reform, as her Latino outreach director and Amanda Renteria to be her national political director. Other Latinos in the campaign are Matt Ortega, digital communications director; Rebecca Leal, deputy national finance director, operations; Emmy Ruiz, Nevada State director and Jorge Neri, Nevada Organizing director.

Maya Harris, counts as a woman of South Asian ancestry on her mom’s side, but there are few Americans who don’t know this California native of Chinese ancestry, Michelle Kwan, Olympic Medalist figure skating champion. I was surprised when I saw this notice in the NY Times:

Michelle Kwan

Michelle Kwan to Join Hillary Clinton’s Campaign

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign is getting a famous new staff member.

Michelle Kwan, a former figure skater and Olympic medal winner, will work from Mrs. Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters on outreach efforts before the Clinton campaign’s formal kickoff rally on Saturday, according to campaign aides.

Ms. Kwan will bring a touch of celebrity to Mrs. Clinton’s relatively austere headquarters, where the frugality of the campaign manager, Robby Mook, is well known. Her arrival comes as Mrs. Clinton’s team hopes to add excitement to the next phase of the campaign. Ms. Kwan’s focus is said to be on directing campaign surrogates to engage voters on issues critical to working families.

Ms. Kwan worked as the United States public diplomacy envoy at the State Department when Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state.

When all is said and done, clearly people are going to vote based on multiple factors. However, political campaigns are built to get politicians elected, and campaign staffs need to not only reflect the diversity of the electorate, but to have the ability to organize and inspire voter participation in those diverse sectors.

IMHO, Hillary’s campaign staffing is on the right track in that respect.

What do you think?



  1. I have always felt that you know a lot about someone by the company they keep.

    And of course, Secretary Clinton is paying them … but I doubt people with these credentials would commit to the long hours and hard work simply for a paycheck.

    • They are committed – as much as I had issues with Hillary in her race against BHO – I know she is comfortable with black folks and Latinos

  2. Hillary has always cared about the health and well-being of kids, women, minorities – anyone and everyone starting out behind the 8 ball just by the structure of our society – and has always felt improvement started with voting. I’m happy to see this. But not surprised.

  3. Putting her money where her mouth is and at the same time getting an incredibly capable campaign staff. I didn’t know Maya Harris before reading your report, Denise, but I’m really happy with her sister here in CA and looking forward to her taking over for Senator Boxer.

    This is a great post. Thanks, Denise!

    • I had some good friends who were Program Officers for the Ford Foundation – they got a wealth of information and experience world wide as a result. Maya Harris is super smart and both she an her husband were committed to BHO. Hillary is doing the same networking she has always done – it’s why her poll numbers are so good in poc communities. She isn’t running away from POTUS – I really believe that we crashed in midterms because Democrats ran away from the POTUS.

      Bernie is beginning to make efforts – but his ardent supporters aren’t doing him much good.
      Simply repeating over and over that he was at the March on Washington doesn’t sell. And quiet as it’s kept – embracing Jesse Jackson doesn’t either – folks aren’t real happy with Jesse.

      From a black perspective – the tune is

      • I follow Black Twitter and what I am seeing verbalized is that the quickest way to lose the black vote, or to at least make a candidate have to earn it from scratch, is to run away from President Obama’s record. Heck, the way to lose my vote is to run away from President Obama’s record! I will vote for whoever is nominated by the Democratic primary process but it will be much easier to work on GOTV if I feel committed to the policies of our nominee … policies that are a continuation, not a repudiation, of President Obama’s. President Obama’s third term? Not really … but the third term for the Democratic Party principles that his administration embodies.

        I don’t have a problem with Bernie Sanders’ passionate commitment to middle-income Americans and fairness in our tax codes but his policies as they apply to poor people of color sound too much like the “rising tide lifts all boats” theory. He insists that focusing on wage increases will be enough because “everyone will benefit” but the racial discrimination that has built barriers to education, housing, and jobs suggests otherwise. Barney Frank once said that the problem with the rising tide lifts all boats theory was that if you don’t have a boat and you are standing tiptoe in the water, the rising tide goes up your nose. We need to get more people boats before we can talk about income inequality.

        • Oh, Jan, priceless quote:

          Barney Frank once said that the problem with the rising tide lifts all boats theory was that if you don’t have a boat and you are standing tiptoe in the water, the rising tide goes up your nose.

          This made me smile.

  4. Denise, thank you for this exciting diary! Really enjoyed reading it. Your diary leaves me feeling hopeful. I’m glad to find out about all of these staffers. With a team like this, how can HRC lose?

    My political granddaughter (currently working on Steven Costello’s campaign in Houston) aspires to work on Hillary’s campaign. Believe it or not, there are Democrats in Texas. Some of them are related to me. :)

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