Dean's staff mirrored state's racial makeup, although minorities say he tried

During more than a decade as Vermont governor, Howard Dean did not appoint any blacks or Hispanics (search) to his Cabinet, but minority leaders say it was not for lack of trying in the nearly all-white state.

None of Dean's five cabinet secretaries or top commissioners was Hispanic or black during the more than 11 years he served in office, as he was forced to concede during a Democratic presidential debate Sunday.

Dean pointed out during the debate that he had hired as a senior staff member a black woman. He did not mention that Bonnie Aten-Johnson worked part time while keeping a job with the Burlington, Vt., schools.

Contending that recruiting minorities for high-level posts in state government is difficult in a state that is nearly 98 percent white, one black leader who met regularly with Dean praised his efforts as governor. He recalled turning down Dean's requests to serve in the administration.

"He asked if I had an interest or if I knew of anyone who had an interest," said Vaughn Carney (search), a lawyer and executive with a financial services company. "I myself was constrained by other commitments. I wasn't aware of anyone who would be qualified or would be available."

Carney accepted posts on three low-profile commissions. "Those who have assumed the mantle of leadership in Vermont's very small black community are fully aware of Dr. Dean's commitment to inclusion, to diversity, and to fairness," he said.

Other Democratic presidential candidates serving in Congress say their staffs are far more diverse. A spokesman for Sen. Joe Lieberman (search) said of 64 staffers on his personal, committee and state staffs, 17 percent were minorities. Sen. John Edwards (search) of North Carolina employs 10 blacks on his Senate staff of 39. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (search) of Ohio said three of 17 staff members are minorities.

Messages left for the campaigns of Massachusetts Sens. John Kerry and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt were not immediately returned.

Minorities comprise 2.1 percent of Vermont's population of 608,827, according to Census Department (search) figures for 2000. Less than 1 percent of the population -- 5,504 -- are Hispanic. Even fewer -- 3,063 -- are black.

The 150-member Vermont House has two minority members while the 30-member Senate has one.

Dean's appointments to the state bench were constrained by law to nominees from a list vetted by the state Judicial Nominating Board (search). No blacks were appointed to judgeships during the Dean administration. He appointed at least one Hispanic, Jane Gomez Dimotsis, who became a judge in 1999.

"It wasn't that Howard didn't try," said Kathy Hoyt, Dean's former chief of staff. "He asked everybody to recruit for us in the minority community."

Hoyt said one effort to recruit a black man to the Cabinet fell through because he would not be paid as much as he was making in Massachusetts. She could not recall the man's name or the position he was offered.

Campaigning in Iowa, Dean explained that with a handful of Cabinet slots and little turnover, he didn't have many positions to fill, and he had trouble competing with better job recruiters such as IBM and the University of Vermont.

Separately, in an interview with American Urban Radio Networks, Dean said IBM engineering jobs and teaching positions "paid a lot more than you do in state government," and until recently, "the African-American average income was higher than the white income."

Speaking to reporters in Iowa, Dean said, "I'm not the least bit ashamed of defensive about my civil rights record. I was taken aback by the reverend's (Al Sharpton's) attack and I should have perhaps been a little quicker on my feet. But we made every effort we could and by and large were successful."

He promised that if elected president, "my Cabinet will look like the rest of America."

But to some in the minority community, Dean could have done more. John Tucker, an activist and volunteer with Burlington's Peace and Justice Center (search), said Dean should have sought more minority points of view.

"I think if you really want to do it, you take a cross section," said Tucker, who is black. "You get all the different opinions. You don't take one opinion and go with it."

H. Lawrence McCrorey, a retired University of Vermont biophysics professor who advised Dean on a regular basis, said being willing to listen to minority viewpoints was at least as important as hiring blacks.

"The fact that people, white people, have made black appointments is in and of itself no reason to vote for them," said McCrorey, who is black.

"I know Howard Dean and I believe he is on very firm ground in the sense of civil rights," McCrorey said. "He understands justice. He understands civil rights."