Behind the scenes with the Biden 2020 team

WASHINGTON — Before declaring Philadelphia as ground zero for his campaign operations, former Vice President Joe Biden was taking another important step in launching his presidential bid – enlisting seasoned Black Democratic strategists.

“I’m very proud to have a diverse and experienced
staff. It’s important that this campaign has a wide range of perspectives,
voices, and backgrounds that reflect the America we live in. I’m glad to have
this growing staff be a part of team Biden, as we all work together to unite
our nation and rebuild an inclusive middle class for all,” Joe Biden said.

Snagging top Black advisers such as
those who led House Democrats to victories during the 2018 midterms at the
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and drove the Department of Health
and Human Services’ Obamacare enrollment campaign is an example of Biden’s
commitment to cultural competency.

According to Candice Nelson, academic director of the Campaign Management Institute at American University, having people of color on staff for communications is key to a campaign’s success.

“Tone is very important to a
campaign in terms of messaging,” Nelson said. “If the campaign is reaching out
to people of color, they want people of color as part of the campaign.”

Nelson considers tone as a potential
fatal campaign error if a candidate’s messaging is received by a community as
inauthentic or offensive.

During the 2016 presidential
election, Hillary Clinton’s campaign messaging was at the heart of Black
Americans’ criticism. While tone is not the only thing that sunk Clinton’s
presidential bid, it did demonstrate a disconnect between the candidate and her
party’s strongest voter bloc. Only 88 percent of black voters went for Clinton
in 2016, while Obama pulled 91 percent, according to Pew Research.

Looking forward to 2020, the stakes remain high for Democrats to energize Black voters. Many candidates are taking steps to engage the Black community with policy proposals such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to address Black infant and mother mortality and California Sen. Kamala Harris’ cash bail reduction proposal.

Many political commentators wonder
if a non-black candidate can connect with African Americans in a race with two
African American competitors.

It raises the question of whether
Biden’s early move to bring in major Black political operatives can help fill
the perceived gap between candidates and communities? So far, Biden’s campaign
consists of eight top level national staffers and 90 percent of the South
Carolina state operations who identify as Black/African American.

Who’s on Team Biden?

Biden has a diverse range of Black staffers — many regions of the country,
colleges, intersectional social identities and areas of policy expertise are
represented by the eight national staffers.

Kamau M. Marshall — Director of
Strategic Communications

served as the Deputy National Press Secretary and Director of African American
Media at the DCCC during the 2018 midterm elections. In this role, he was part
of the Year of Engagement team, which spent $30 million to mobilize communities
of color in a midterm election that flipped the most seats from red to blue
since 1974. Prior to his leadership at the DCCC, Marshall worked on
communications and more for Rep. Al Green, D-TX, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-MD.,
Sen. Tom Carper, D-DE., and at a public relations firm known as
SKDKnickerbocker. In addition to Marshall’s congressional experience, he also
served in the Obama administration as a speechwriter and communications advisor
at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under the leadership of Secretary Tom
Vilsack and Foreign Agriculture Administrator, Phil Karsting.

Hometown/state(s): Chicago, Illinois; Baltimore, Maryland; Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania; Birmingham, Alabama; Columbus and Atlanta, Georgia.

College(s): Texas Southern University (B.A. & MPA)

Photo Credit: Adib Abdussalaam

Quote: “When I listen to
people in the communities I’ve come from and people [from early voting states],
women of color and people of color — they support a person like Vice President
Biden. He meets people where they are and that’s important to them. More
importantly, he listens to the people and he is a life learner. Also, Vice
President Biden has over 40 years of experience as an elected official, being
one of the youngest ever elected into the U.S. Senate at the age of 29. While
working as VP, he was one of the main connectors in congress, especially having
a strong relationship with the congressional black caucus. He has been working
with the African American community for a while and has only gotten stronger
and better over the years. That kind of competency and experience matters in
the black community.”

Erin Wilson — National Political

Black Caucus Foundation alum Erin Wilson lead the Pennsylvania operations for
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., to a 13-point margin victory during the 2018 midterms.
In 2016, she served as the Pennsylvania Deputy State Director for Hillary for
America. Additionally, Wilson managed the Democratic National Committee’s New
England regional political engagement.

Hometown/state(s): Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

College(s): University of Pennsylvania

Photo Credit: Adib Abdussalaam

Jamal Brown –
National Press Secretary

is an alum of the Obama Administration’s where he served as press secretary of
the White House Office of Management and Budget. He served as the Director of
Regional Press for Michelle Obama’s 2018 midterm election organization tour,
When We All Vote. In 2008, Brown began his career with the GLBTQ Advocates and
Defenders, or GLAD, and that year was named to OUT Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential
LGBTQ people in the world.

Hometown/state(s): Sacramento, California

College(s): Dartmouth College

Photo Credit: Adib Abdussalaam

Quote: “I am thrilled and honored to work for someone with a clear
and established progressive record on a range of issues including climate
change, criminal justice, violence against women, marriage equality, gun
control, and more.”  Brown said. “To work
for an individual who has not only dedicated their life to public service but a
leader who can admit when they’re wrong and take the necessary steps to course
correct, is rare.” 

Symone D. Sanders — Senior Advisor

Sanders is former CNN political
commentator and served in 2018 as a resident fellow at Harvard’s Institute of
Politics at the Kennedy School and in 2019 at the University of Southern
California’s Center for the Political Future.

Hometown/state(s): Omaha, Nebraska

College(s): Creighton University

Photo Credit: Adib Abdussalaam

Quote: “This is one of
the most consequential elections in our lifetime. I believe as the vice
president has said that we are in a battle for the soul of our nation. I’m
passionate about my politics. I feel strongly about banking and just as
strongly about health care as I do about criminal justice reform and housing.
So for me it’s not one specific policy. It’s the fact that I want to beat the
brakes off Donald Trump and I feel like Joe Biden can do that.”

Brandon English – Senior Advisor

served as a Deputy Executive Director and Digital Director of the DCCC, where
he built an innovative system to recruit and engage grassroots supporters. He
also launched the committee’s digital organizing program, which shattered
online fundraising records. Under English’s leadership the Democratic Party
increased digital revenue from $14 million in 2010 to $49 million in 2012 to
$70 million in 2014 — in total over $150 million of English’s digitally
generated funds supported Democratic campaigns across the country.

Hometown/state(s): Cleveland Heights, Ohio

College(s): Brown University (BA)

Photo Credit: Adib Abdussalaam

Quote: “On the digital side, I was thinking — when we launched
this thing, we were all thinking what’s going to happen. On the actual launch
day, we were sort of talking and whispering in the office saying, if we get
20,000 – 25,000 donations that would be good, if we don’t get there, how we
will message this, and what will we do. What we saw was not only a lot of
support from folks we expected to get support from, but donations that came
from folks who were searching for us online and finding our ads online. We
ended up raising more money from folks who found us than from folks that we
actually went out to try and go get. The support is larger than any of us could
have ever expected.”

Sherice Perry – Communications Director to Dr. Jill Biden

Perry’s resume includes more than a
decade of experience in health policy, advocacy and communications. She served
as the Director of Specialty
and Broadcast Media in the Secretary’s Public Affairs Office at the U.S.
Department of Health & Human Services during the Obama
administration. During that time, Perry focused on public health and the
Affordable Care Act. Previously,
Perry served as executive director of The Billie Jean King Leadership
Initiative, the health equity program manager at Families USA, and was a
communication specialist with the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer
Information Service.

Hometown/state(s): Valley
Stream, New York

College(s): University of Pennsylvania (BA), Georgetown University (MPP)

Photo Credit: Adib Abdussalaam

Quote: “I’ve traveled
across the country these last few years, and now in my work with Dr. Biden — I
hear stories of how our work to expand health care access has changed people’s
lives. Parents can get their kids the care they need, young people can take the
chance to start businesses and people with pre-existing conditions have access
to doctors and medication they need to properly manage their health. The Vice
President wants to build on that progress and strengthen the Affordable Care
Act. But it’s not just policy—I know how deeply they both care about our nation
and our community. It’s an honor to join this team and work for people who I
truly admire and respect.”

Ashley Williams — Trip Director

served as Special Advisor and Director of Special Projects at the Department of
State for the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. Previously,
she was the Senior Assistant to Dr. Jill Biden while at the White House.

Hometown/state(s): Tallahassee, Florida

College(s): University of Pennsylvania (JD), George Washington
University (Master’s) and Georgetown University (BS)

Photo Credit: Adib Abdussalaam

Quote: “Vice President Biden is someone who is committed to
focusing on a wide range of issues. He is also very much open to listening to
the staff and I think that’s a big part of the reason why all of us are here
because we have something to offer to him as he works on the platform to
address people within our communities. He has shown over the years that he is
committed to issues that we care about. What I admire about him is that he is
willing to listen, adapt, and change and do what is most impactful and helpful
to all communities.”

Isabel Aldunate — Hispanic Media
and Nevada Press Secretary

Aldunate most recently served as the
Deputy National Press Secretary for Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer
(D-NY) in his Capitol Hill Leadership office. Additionally, she is fresh off the campaign trail for Andrew Gillum’s bid
for governor of Florida where she served as the Deputy Press Secretary.
Aldunate began her political communications career as a Communications
Assistant at the National Association of Real Estate Brokers and has served in
communications roles with the Maryland Clean Energy Center, Climate Action
Campaign, and the American Council on Renewable Energy.

Hometown/state(s): Bowie,

College(s): American University (MA) and University of Maryland Baltimore County (BA)

Photo Credit: Adib Abdussalaam

Quote: “Under our
current president we have had two government shutdowns because of his obsession
with a wall that even congressional Republicans were not on board with
completely. So we Americans suffered because he was so polarized and just
pandering to his base,” Aldunate said. “Biden would be a president for the
people not just for a set of people and just not his base. He would be a
president for everyone and wouldn’t sacrifice Americans’ livelihoods and
well-being just for an idea.”

Questions and Answers with Team Biden

Editor’s Note: The transcript of this conversation has been
condensed for space and clarity.

Floyd: Why did you
sign on to work with Biden?

Marshall: I
personally chose Vice President Biden because he fits where people are right
now. He’s an actual real human that has an organic connection with people, and
I think that’s what separates him from other candidates. It’s not about his age
or race, but more so about his experience and relatability. VP Biden brings a
lot to the table and he has what it takes to win. After traveling to a host of
congressional districts during the 2018 cycle, it was clear where I needed to
be for 2020. Besides Mrs. Michelle Obama, VP Biden was one of the most
requested surrogates in the 2018 election cycle. Moving forward, VP Biden says
“ordinary people do extraordinary things” — that motto always stays on my mind
while working on this campaign.

Williams: There
is no other place that I would have been than here, and I say that as I am
preparing for two graduations this weekend with my master’s and law degree, all
while planning two weddings. I believe in who he is, and I know he is the best
person to unite our country. I have to also add that he knowing all of this is
completely supportive. He understands deeply that family is important.

Floyd: What policy
passions are driving the team?

Perry: I got involved in
this world because of health care. I recognized early on that when folks got
sick some folks stayed sick and some folks got better and I started to
understand things about the health care system and how that worked.

Aldunate: My
mother is Black and father is an immigrant from Bolivia and I feel like ever
since the Trump administration has begun, America has become a very hostile
environment for Hispanics and immigrants in this nation. Vice President Biden
has made it a staple of his campaign to make sure that people are treated with
dignity and respect. He has made it known that this country is built off of the
greatness of immigrants and that there isn’t a reason to make America great
again, like Trump says. I’m part of this campaign because I think Vice
President Biden will be the person to stop Donald Trump in his tracks.

Floyd: Could you
explain the former VP’s work style?

Sanders: The
thing that’s so great about Vice President Biden is that he is all about
relationships — so much that he won’t just stop for a five-minute quick chit
chat. Your chit chat will become 30 minutes or more. But that’s what’s so good
about him. I think that lends his strength to his relationships with the
African-American community in places all across the country.

Williams: People come up
to him and want to pour out their stories and talk to him — and he listens to
them as if they are the most important person in the world, because to him they
are. He is going to stop and talk to every single person who either stood out in
the rain or who traveled from near or far, even if it means running behind on
the schedule. He truly is one of the most decent men that I know. He is honest
and honorable. He often says all politics is personal, and he truly believes
this. He embodies that every single day because no person is more important
than the next. He believes that you should speak to the janitor just like you
would speak to the president of the corporation. Both of those people to him
are the same, and they deserve to be recognized and talked to because everyone
has a story.

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