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Originally published Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Obama picks diverse team

Barack Obama, soon to be the first black U.S. president, is on the road to making good his pledge to have a Cabinet and White House staff that are among most diverse ever, although some supporters want him to go further.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama, soon to be the first black U.S. president, is on the road to making good his pledge to have a Cabinet and White House staff that are among most diverse ever, although some supporters want him to go further.

He added to the minority representation at the top of his administration Wednesday, when he named New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Hispanic, as commerce secretary.

But some Latinos are grumbling it is not enough after all the support they gave Obama in the campaign, and some gays and Asian Americans are pushing for representation in remaining Cabinet announcements.

Obama is allaying some early concerns that a black president wouldn't need to put so much importance on diversity of those working under him.

"The question was: Because he's black, how much pressure would he feel to be more traditional with appointments?" said Jamal Simmons, a Democratic consultant who worked with the Obama campaign.

"The leadership of the campaign in the beginning wasn't very diverse, so there were questions about that. But I don't hear those questions anymore."

In Obama's seven Cabinet announcements so far, white men are the minority with two nominations: Timothy Geithner at Treasury and Robert Gates at Defense. Three are women: Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security, Susan Rice as United Nations ambassador and Hillary Rodham Clinton at State.

With Clinton set to replace Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was jokingly asked this week whether there will ever be a male secretary of state again. There probably will be "someday," she told her audience of business executives at the Fortune 500 Forum.

The United Nations ambassador is not a Cabinet position under President Bush, but it was under former President Clinton, and Obama said it will be in his administration.

His nominee, Susan Rice, is black, as is attorney-general nominee Eric Holder.

Bush and Clinton also made a point of diversity in their Cabinets when they moved into the White House.

Bush's first Cabinet had four women, two Asian Americans, two blacks and one Hispanic.

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Clinton, who promised to appoint a Cabinet that "looks like America," had three women, two Hispanics and four blacks when he first took office.

Latino groups applauded the selection of Richardson, although some were disappointed the Mexican-American governor was not chosen for secretary of state after Obama interviewed him for the job.

A reporter from Spanish-language TV network Telemundo asked Obama to respond to Hispanics' concerns that there aren't more Latinos advising him and that Richardson got the "consolation prize."

Obama said he's only appointed about half the Cabinet and that when he's done, "I think people are going to say, this is one of the most diverse Cabinets and White House staffs of all time."

Obama transition head John Podesta has been meeting with Hispanic groups and hearing their suggestions for other Latinos who could be considered for high-level administration positions. Democratic officials say Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., is the leading contender to be U.S. trade representative.

Latinos are the largest minority group in the country, making up 15 percent of the population, and helped Obama win in key battleground states such as New Mexico and Florida.

"I definitely don't think we should characterize it as a consolation prize, but it's not enough," said Brent Wilkes, executive director of League of United Latin American Citizens.

Floyd Mori, chairman of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, said that with blacks and Hispanics chosen for the Cabinet, "what is missing now is an Asian American."

He said given Obama's upbringing in Hawaii and his understanding of their community, they are optimistic he will appoint at least one. He suggested Illinois veterans-affairs director Tammy Duckworth, former Washington Gov. Gary Locke or Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif.

Joe Solmonese, president of the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign, wrote to Obama this week asking him to name labor leader Mary Beth Maxwell, a lesbian, as labor secretary.

An analysis by New York University's Wagner School of Public Service and The Washington Post found that of the 28 White House staffers Obama has appointed so far, 43 percent are women and 29 percent are a racial minority.

The analysis examined other areas of diversity: one-third have a tie to Obama's hometown of Chicago, half worked on his campaign and two-thirds have advanced degrees.

Obama also promised to have Republicans in his Cabinet. So far there is only Gates.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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