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WASHINGTON—

Pete Buttigieg’s

presidential campaign is dealing with some departures in the closing days before the Iowa caucuses, as its head of talent and cybersecurity aides have left, and it still faces questions about staffer diversity, according to people familiar with the matter.

Nadia Singer,

the talent director for the campaign responsible for identifying potential new hires, parted ways with the former South Bend, Ind., mayor’s team earlier this month, some of the people said. Ms. Singer, who previously worked at question-and-answer website Quora Inc. and

Facebook Inc.,

was seen as part of a cadre of Silicon Valley hires by Mr. Buttigieg.

Her contract employment ended abruptly after she relocated to South Bend from San Francisco, those people said. Ms. Singer’s LinkedIn page shows she worked for Mr. Buttigieg between June 2019 and January 2020.

Two cybersecurity aides also left the campaign around the same time. The campaign described the staffers as midlevel.

A spokesman for the campaign said Ms. Singer’s contract ended because the campaign is fully staffed and not hiring during the primaries.

Hari Sevugan,

deputy campaign manager, said the campaign had experienced “remarkable stability.”

The departures follow months of rapid growth by the campaign. Mr. Buttigieg, who launched his campaign with a handful of staffers and little national name recognition, has climbed into the top tier of contenders for the Democratic nomination in Iowa and New Hampshire. His campaign transformed from a shoe-string operation to one of the most well-funded 2020 presidential campaigns, employing more than 500 staffers.

Mr. Buttigieg took a question from a supporter during a town hall meeting in Vinton, Iowa, on Monday.


Photo:

jim watson/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

That ramp-up at times brought concerns about racial inclusion, according to people familiar with the campaign. As his operation grew in the late summer and fall, these people say, top officials made a concerted effort to diversify its staff. About 40% of Mr. Buttigieg’s staff and leadership ranks are now nonwhite, according to his campaign.

Still, some staffers felt the makeup of the campaign leadership didn’t reflect those making campaign decisions, particularly on how to reach out to minority voters. While the former mayor has polled at or near the top in surveys of Iowa and New Hampshire, he is struggling to attract support from minority voters, a key Democratic constituency in states that vote later in the process.

Although Mr. Buttigieg is polling at about 7% nationally, his team is counting on strong showings in early states to give them momentum.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Buttigieg has faced criticism from activists for his handling last year of a shooting by a white police officer of a black man in South Bend and acknowledged he needs to improve his standing with minorities.

Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign says it held regular “diversity and inclusion” training sessions in the fall, including retreats focused on the subject at its headquarters and smaller trainings in early states. In addition to the trainings, campaign staffers have also created “Bridge Groups,” where people who identify with certain affinity groups can get together and make recommendations to the campaign leadership.

“We’ve made diversity and inclusion part of our foundational values from day one because we believe it will not only build a better campaign, but also a better country,” Mr. Sevugan said.

“As deputy campaign manager, I’ve been deeply involved in setting the overall strategy for this campaign,” he added. “I know my experience and perspective as a person of color growing up in America and living in the age of

Donald Trump

has informed every one of those decisions.”

At a diversity and inclusion meeting during a retreat at Mr. Buttigieg’s headquarters in December, staffers had hoped to press the campaign’s leadership about their efforts to win over minority supporters and push them to include more minority staffers in their planning and decision-making, people familiar with the campaign said.

Staffers submitted their questions ahead of time in hopes of getting more information on how they would be better integrated into the campaign’s strategy. But the campaign never addressed those questions during a Q&A forum at the end of the training, according to one of those people, leading to even more frustration.

Sonal Shah,

policy director for Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign who was asked by the campaign to speak on its behalf, said questions at the December meeting weren’t intentionally left off, but there was a desire from staff to keep the conversation going.

Mr. Buttigieg spoke during a campaign event in North Liberty, Iowa, on Monday.


Photo:

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

In response, she held two more meetings at her own apartment building to provide staffers with a safe space. She said 70-80 people attended.

“There were some tough questions,” said Ms. Shah, who is Indian-American. “It was great for people to ask those questions.”

On the campaign’s overall efforts to address diversity and inclusion, Ms. Shah said: “It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to get there.”

Marcus Switzer,

a senior adviser for investment who is black, said the campaign has not shied away from having tough conversations. “There’s always going to be friction points,” said Mr. Switzer, who was also asked by the campaign to speak on its behalf.

At a town hall in Ottumwa, Iowa on Tuesday, Mr. Buttigieg responded to questions from reporters about the concerns of staffers of color by saying that his campaign has taken steps to ensure that the diversity in his team is “lifted up.”

“They lead to conversations that are tough,” he said of those steps by his team. “They can be a risk, but it needs to happen, because this conversation nationally is tough. And we need to be practicing in our own organizations what we’re proposing needs to happen across the U.S.”

Mr. Switzer praised the campaign for giving staffers a platform to share their concerns. Asked if he viewed the diversity and inclusion trainings hosted by the campaign as proactive or reactive, he responded, “I think it’s a mix of both.”

Besides Ms. Singer,

Raul Velez Jr.,

the deputy cybersecurity chief, also left the campaign earlier this month. In a series of tweets sent from a private account that were seen by The Wall Street Journal and sent following his departure, Mr. Velez said that his experience working for Mr. Buttigieg showed him that political campaigns were toxic and populated by “ass-kissers, racists, sexists, power-hungry phonies, everything.”

Mr. Velez has since deleted the

Twitter

account tied to those tweets. He began working for Mr. Buttigieg last September. He worked for the campaign as a contractor, a person familiar with the matter said. Mr. Velez didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Journal has reported that Mr. Velez’s boss,

Mick Baccio,

left his job as chief information security officer for Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign earlier this month due to differences with campaign leadership over how to manage information security.

Howard County, Iowa voted by more than 20 percentage points for Obama in 2012 and more than 20 percentage points for Trump in 2016. WSJ’s John McCormick sat down with a group of the county’s voters to discuss their outlook on the 2020 election.

Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of this article inadvertently included notes made during the editing process. They have been removed. (Jan. 28, 2020)

Write to Tarini Parti at Tarini.Parti@wsj.com and Dustin Volz at dustin.volz@wsj.com

Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8



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