By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
Sen.-elect Doug Jones, who will be sworn in Wednesday, will be the only Democratic senator this Congress to hire an African American chief of staff. Jones on Tuesday announced three other top staff picks, including his legislative director, assistant legislative director and transition adviser.
Alabama’s newly elected senator has chosen Birmingham native Dana Gresham, a former Obama-era official with 14 years of experience on Capitol Hill, as his chief of staff. A graduate of Birmingham’s A.H. Parker High School and Georgetown University, Gresham served as assistant secretary for government affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation, leading the Legislative Affairs Office.
“Today I’m proud to announce that we have recruited four outstanding individuals to join our team,” Jones said in a statement Wednesday. “Each of them possess long and impressive careers in public service, and as Alabama natives, share my commitment to the people of our state.”
Jones will be sworn in using a family Bible at a Senate ceremony Wednesday morning in Washington, becoming the Senate’s most junior member and Alabama’s first Democratic senator in 20 years. Jones will replace Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, whom President Donald Trump appointed as U.S. attorney general. In Congress, Jones will be one of a few Democrats representing conservative states, and he has promised to work across the aisle.
In addition to his chief of staff pick, Jones selected Florence native Mark Libell — a former legislative director to former West Virginia Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller — as his own legislative director. Ann Berry, a longtime Democratic Senate aide, will serve as Jones’ transition adviser.
Libell is an Alabama School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center graduate and also served as assistant congressional liaison at the Federal Reserve Board. Berry, a University of North Alabama Graduate, first traveled to Washington in 1979 to work for Alabama’s last Democratic senator, Howell Heflin, whose team Jones worked on. Since then, she has worked in the offices of Senators Daniel Moynihan, John Edwards, Tom Carper and Patrick Leahy.
Katie Campbell, a former aide to Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Illinois, will serve as Jones’ assistant legislative director after having worked for members in both the House and the Senate.
Both Berry and Gresham will join Jones in Washington at a time when people of color make up only 7.1 percent of top Senate staffers while 36 percent of the U.S. population is people of color, according to a 2015 report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Another report from Roll Call said only 5 percent of nearly 3,600 Senate staffers are African American.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, are the only two senators with black chiefs of staff.
A coalition of 16 minority groups penned an open letter after Jones’ election in December calling on him to hire a diverse staff as he begins his transition into office.
The letter, co-signed by the NAACP and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund, urges Jones to recognize the “profound lack of racial diversity that currently exists among staff in the U.S. Senate.”