Members of Rhode Island’s African-American community are questioning the number of minorities in Governor Gina Raimondo’s administration — and are calling for increased diversity. I expected more diversity with [Raimondo’s] administration,” said Jim Vincent, President of the NAACP Providence Branch.
“Looking at the list of names of the 30 or so people in her office, I don’t know all her staff and I can’t go by names, but I know [GoLocal] looked at the issue of women, and I think we need to do the same with the African-American and minority communities,” said Jim Vincent, President of the NAACP Providence Branch.
Vincent noted that Raimondo has appointed former Treasury staffer Melba DePena as the new Director of Human Services and Sidney McCleary, most recently the Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Quality in Connecticut, to the Department of Business Regulation.
“Sandra Powell is no longer at the Department of Human Services. Of all the positions, we had to replace a woman of color with another? There couldn’t be room for both? Sandra grew up here, went to Classical, was raised by a single mom, is a Princeton graduate,” said Vincent. “We need to see more like her in government, not less.”
“I hear that he’s a bright guy,” said Vincent of McCleary. “He’s the third African-American to head up DBR mind you, after [Governor] Almond, and [Governor] DiPrete administrations. So that’s two people of color in a state that’s approaching 25%, 30% minority population? Again, I don’t know the total composition of the staff, but I expected more diversity with [Raimondo’s] administration.”
Vincent pointed to a previous administration’s appointments as a comparison.
“[Former Governor Donald] Carcieri had three people if color in his cabinet…Keith Stokes at EDC , Sandra Powell at Department of Labor, and Patricia Martinez at DCYF,” said Vincent. “Having people of color in cabinet or high level positions sends a strong signal to communities of color that inclusion is a high priority. In a state as diverse as Rhode Island, that message is extremely important.”
Brown University graduate Dr. Jeffrey Williams, who is the Pastor at the The King’s Cathedral in Providence, spoke to the issue of diversity in both state — and city — government.
“I’m very fond of the Governor, but that does not mean we can’t push and hold people accountable,” said Williams. “I think she’s a maverick, and the right person to move the state’s economic agenda forward. But when your Chief of staff, Deputy Chiefs of Staff, and top level staff comprise a relatively homogeneous group of people, it shows as a state we tend to be paternalistic.”
“I would encourage people who haven’t to see Selma,” continued Williams. “It brings up a very important point. African-American individuals are no longer trying to find a seat at the counter, now we’re trying to find a seat at the table that makes a difference. McCleary is brilliant, he’ll do well, but no one here knows him. You don’t get points for that. We’re still trying to find that seat.”
“I get it, you get elected, you’re going to find people that you know, and I get that, but when you’re Governor — or Mayor — of all the people, there needs to be a gut-check on a certain level,” said Williams. “I’m getting older, this isn’t about me, it’s about the next generation.”
The Governor’s office responded to the issue of diversity in the administration.
“As the first female Governor of Rhode Island, she knows the importance of breaking down barriers to leadership roles and recognizes that more diversity in government makes the state stronger. It’s incredibly important to her to reflect this within her own team. Nearly 60% of her staff are women, including her Chief Legal Counsel, Director of Appointments, and Director of Communications, and she has chosen many women for her Cabinet,” said Marie Aberger, press secretary for Raimondo.
“As the Governor looks to move Rhode Island forward, she knows hearing from all viewpoints will be paramount to success. This is why her staff includes not just diversity of gender and race, but also diversity of age, experience, and sexual orientation. In addition, we have both native Rhode Islander’s and those new to the state,” continued Aberger. “We are always working to do more to be better leaders in the state. More importantly, we recognize diversity lends to better decision-making. As the Governor continues to expand her team through her staff, Cabinet, and Commissioners, this will remain a priority.”
“I think that the Governor is trying. Melba’s great, and I feel that she’s helping with diversity,” said community activist Leah Williams Metts. “But to get those jobs, you often have to go through a lot of interviews. In the minority community, we often work two and half jobs. How do you take that time off? I’m not sure how many minorities are asking, or even looking. Is it because they don’t think they’ll get the job to begin with? I’d like to see more attention paid to this, and how we’re reaching out to minorities.”
Vincent countered for the top level positions, they were often hand-picked appointments, however.
“I do want to be fair, but not so fair as to give this a hall pass,” said Vincent. “If it’s two out of ten or a dozen or more senior level cabinet level positions, what about the rest of the staff? I think its important that we look not only at composition, but salaries.”
Vincent noted that he would be meeting with the Governor’s administration soon to talk about issues including the states board and commissions.
“To the credit of the Governor’s folks, they’re trying to reach out to diversify the ranks of the board and commissions, but 99% of those are non-paying boards,” said Dr. Williams. “That’s disappointing. There’s an overall malaise in the ethnic communities.”
Kate Nagle, GoLocal Contributor / golocalprov.com
Tuesday, February 03, 2015