Barack Obama's Rainbow Coalition: Minorities & Women Fill Many Top White House Posts

Obama's White House is shaping up to look a lot like him.

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Interactive: Obama Transition 2009

By David Saltonstall
Daily News Senior Correspondent

Barack Obama's White House is shaping up to look a lot like him—youngish, multi-ethnic and sprinkled with key advisers who, like him, lived for a time overseas.

His nomination Wednesday of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as commerce secretary marked his most high-profile Hispanic appointment, leading Obama to refute charges he has not tapped enough Latinos—a group that voted 2-to-1 for him.

"I think people are going to say this is one of the most diverse cabinets and White House staffs of all time, but more importantly I think they're going to say these are all people of outstanding qualifications and excellence," the President-elect said. "There's no contradiction between diversity and excellence."

Obama has yet to fill roughly half his cabinet posts, leaving him plenty of room to offset perceived imbalances.

But already it's clear that women, minorities and people younger than average for senior administration posts will have plenty of seats at the White House table.

Of the 28 senior White House staffers named so far, roughly one-third are nonwhite and nearly half—43%—are women, according to a study by NYU Prof. Paul Light, an expert on presidential transitions.

In addition, about two-thirds are the same age or younger than the 47-year-old Obama, himself the fifth-youngest President ever.

The staff includes Jonathan Favreau, 27, Obama's chief speechwriter, and Alyssa Mastromonaco, 32, his scheduler.

"Certainly it reflects Obama's commitment to diversity, and it is a broad definition of diversity," said Light.

As important as the numbers, some say, is diversity in Obama's most senior ranks.

His selection of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, widely considered the most prestigious cabinet post, suggests a clear comfort level with powerful women.

Others certain to have Obama's ear include senior adviser Valerie Jarrett; Melody Barnes, Obama's director of domestic policy, and UN Ambassador Susan Rice - all African-American women.

New York-bred prosecutor Eric Holder is in line to be the first black U.S. attorney general, while Joe Biden will be the first Catholic vice president. Prominent Jews include top economic adviser Larry Summers, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser David Axelrod.

Like Obama, who spent much of his childhood in Indonesia, several also have overseas connections. National security adviser Jim Jones grew up in France, while as a kid Timothy Geithner, Obama's choice for Treasury secretary, hopped from Africa to Tokyo to Bangkok with his dad, who worked for the Ford Foundation.

Emanuel's dad is an immigrant from Israel, while cabinet secretary Chris Lu—the senior Asian-American named so far—has parents who came from Taiwan.