Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, freshly sworn in Wednesday after a contentious special election against Republican Roy Moore, tapped former transportation official Dana Gresham as his chief of staff, becoming the only Senate Democrat to have a black chief of staff, according to reports.
Jones announced Gresham's appointment on Tuesday. Only two Senate Republicans also have black chiefs of staff: Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Tim Scott of South Carolina, Politico reported.
Gresham served for eight years as assistant secretary for governmental affairs at the Department of Transportation during the Obama administration, according to a statement from Jones' team. And for six years before that, he was the chief of staff for Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who served from 2003 to 2011.
Black voters played a key role last month in Jones' victory over Moore, whose campaign had been plagued by sexual harassment and assault allegations. Black voters made up 29 percent of the electorate, and almost all of those voters — 96 percent — supported Jones, according to NBC News' exit polling. A staggering 98 percent of black women voters backed Jones.
Black voters turned out at a higher level than in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama was running for president, according to The New York Times.
After the upset, Jones faced pressure to hire a diverse staff. Seventeen groups representing minorities, including the NAACP, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund and National Urban League, wrote a letter to Jones on Dec. 19 encouraging him to hire at least one person of color to his senior staff.
"As a new Member of the U.S. Senate, you have an opportunity to show your constituents that not only do their voices matter, but that their experiences and skills are vital to the work that you do to represent them," the groups wrote in the letter, obtained by the Washington Post. "Ensuring racial diversity among your staff would enhance the deliberation, innovation, legitimacy, and outcomes of your office and of the Senate as a whole."
U.S. & World
Jones said in a statement to the Post that he is "absolutely committed to having a diverse staff including in top posts in my Senate office."
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson in a statement to NBC commended Jones' hiring of Gresham but added that "this lack of diversity highlights the failure of our nation’s highest legislative body to embrace in a true way the principles of diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity."
Fellow political figures lauded Jones' decision to hire Gresham.
"Great News! Birmingham's own stand out Dana Gresham chosen to be Chief of Staff to Alabama’s Senator Doug Jones! Looking forward to working with them to move Alabama forward!! @GDouglasJones," Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell tweeted.
Amanda Brown Lierman, political and organizing director for the Democratic National Committee, wrote, "Snaps for @GDouglasJones naming Dana Gresham as his Chief of Staff!"