Jon Ossoff’s top Senate aides reflect Georgia’s diversity

Georgia U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff has completed hiring his top staff, and overall, 66% of them are people of color. That compares with 11% overall in the Senate.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Georgia U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff has completed hiring his top staff, and overall, 66% of them are people of color. That compares with 11% overall in the Senate. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Sen. Raphael Warnock’s staff, announced in January, also received praise

Jon Ossoff’s legislative director is one of only five Black people to hold that position among the 100 U.S. Senate offices. Overall, 66% of Ossoff’s top office staff members are people of color, compared with 11% overall in the Senate, his office said.

His counterpart in Georgia, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, also has a diverse staff. Four of his top five aides are Black, including the legislative director. Warnock announced those hires in January.

Ossoff took longer in making personnel decisions than Warnock and the other senator sworn in on Jan. 20, California’s Alex Padilla. Ossoff slowed down the process to cast a wide net, even taking out help-wanted ads.

“I set out to recruit the most qualified leadership team in the country, and these extraordinary people will lead an office that is laser focused on Georgia, responsive, responsible, effective, and efficient,” Ossoff said in a news release announcing the names of his top aides.

His new legislative director is Donni Turner, a Georgia native and alumna of Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University. Turner has worked for Georgia U.S. Rep. David Scott and former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland. Most recently, she served as a senior policy adviser to the Senate Budget Committee, which is chaired by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Rey Benitez will serve as Ossoff’s chief of staff. He previously served in that same role for Nevada U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and was a senior adviser to her predecessor, former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

Chandra Harris, who most recently served as Scott’s Georgia office director and spokeswoman, is now Ossoff’s state director. Steven Parker, who previously served as political director for Ossoff’s Senate campaign, is the deputy state director.

Miryam Lipper is Ossoff’s senior adviser for communications and strategy; she is another holdover from the campaign, where she served as communications director. Ossoff had previously announced that campaign spokesman Jake Best will serve as his U.S. Senate press secretary.

Records show that 54% of the voters who put Ossoff in office were Black, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington-based think tank that studies the diversity of Capitol Hill staff. Its president, Spencer Overton, praised Ossoff for ensuring his top aides reflect the people who elected him.

“While Senator Ossoff is one of the newest members of the Senate, he is already among the leaders in prioritizing racial diversity among top staff,” Overton said in a release. “The legislative director role is important, and Ms. Turner’s experience as a Capitol Hill veteran who attended three HBCUs (including two in Georgia) will prove to be a great asset in setting the legislative agenda for all Georgians.”

The African Americans working closely with Warnock include legislative director Josh Delaney, a Fayetteville native who previously served as Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s deputy legislative director. Warnock’s deputy chief of staff and senior adviser is Lawrence Bell, his state director is Meredith Lilly and his communications director is Michael Brewer.

The only top Warnock aide who isn’t a person of color is chief of staff Mark Libell.

Warnock is one of three Black U.S. senators currently serving and among only 11 in history.

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