Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.
While Valerie Jarrett is one of the most recognizable faces in politics, thanks to her senior role in the Obama White House, many Americans would be hard-pressed to name some of the other behind-the-scenes African Americans influencing politics and policy in America. In honor of the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference, which is taking place Sept. 19-22, The Root decided to profile some of the movers and shakers of color who may not regularly grace our TV screens but who wield major political influence.
The current executive director of the Democratic National Committee was previously national political director of the 2008 Obama campaign. After the president's win, Gaspard served as director of the administration's Office of Political Affairs before assuming his current leadership role at the DNC. The press-shy political operative first solidified his reputation as a major player during nearly a decade spent as executive vice president of politics and legislation at the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers labor union.
Currently a senior communications adviser to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, Wall previously served in the Bush administration as director of the Office of Public Affairs at the Administration for Children and Families. A former broadcast journalist, she has also been a senior adviser to the Republican National Committee.
As chief of staff for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Watkins steers the legislative and strategy ship for the third-ranking Democrat in the House. Currently assistant minority leader, Clyburn previously served as House majority whip.
In her role as national youth-vote director for Obama for America, Butterfield-Jones is tasked with ensuring that one of the Obama campaign's strongest sources of support four years ago — the under-30 voting bloc — repeats its support for the president in 2012. As co-founder of the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network, Butterfield-Jones has used her network and experience to connect Obama celebrity supporters with volunteer opportunities aimed at motivating young voters.
Though "lobbyist" may have become a dirty word during the Obama administration, that hasn't changed the fact that lobbyists remain among the most influential people in the world of policy and politics. Few black lobbyists are more influential than Burgess, who is director of federal-governmental affairs for Amgen, one of the world's largest biotechnology companies. His earlier stints with the National Medical Association and pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly mean that he is one of the Hill's key movers during the era of "Obamacare."
Formerly a special assistant to the president and director of message events in the Obama administration, Léger is currently a vice president at the most influential progressive think tank in America: the Center for American Progress. She was previously a deputy press secretary at the Democratic National Committee.
After serving in the Clinton administration, Reid launched media-relations and -strategy group Westin Rinehart. In 2008 Westin Rinehart was acquired by the BGR Group, one of the world's most influential lobbying and consulting firms, and Reid became a managing director. He and his wife, Jaci, a successful political operative in her own right, are also one of Washington's philanthropic power couples, known for their work with the Washington Ballet and the VH1 Save the Music Foundation.
As executive director and general counsel of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rye provides strategic guidance for that group of legislators, which has been called "the conscience of Congress." In addition to handling this unique challenge in the age of the first black president, Rye is also a co-founder and director of IMPACT, a coalition of young DC-based leaders of color, many of whom are staffers on the Hill.
With Vice President Joe Biden's colorful, headline-drawing campaign appearances, it is easy to forget that he also serves an important legislative role. As president of the Senate, he can vote to break a tie, should one arise. Williams serves as his legislative director, keeping him abreast of any legislative developments and setting his agenda accordingly.