New Delhi: California Senator Kamala Harris, who is of Indian and Jamaican descent, made history Saturday as the first woman Vice President-elect. But so did her husband Douglas Emhoff, a 56-year-old Jewish entertainment lawyer, who is about to become the first ‘Second Gentleman’ in the US.
In the US, spouses of the president and vice president have long been women, known as First Lady and Second Lady, respectively.
On Wednesday, US president-elect Joe Biden acknowledged Emhoff’s unique position as a “barrier breaker” before the American news networks called the election race.
Asked what it would be like to be the first Second Gentleman in an interview last month, he had said, “I think it would be an incredible honour… I’m going to hopefully work on things like access to justice and access to opportunity and access to the American dream.”
Speaking to ThePrint Monday, Harris’ uncle G. Balachandran said he met Emhoff about four years ago during his niece’s swearing in ceremony as a senator in California.
“Forget Second Gentleman, he was a gentleman back then itself and considerate of others. If Shyamala [Harris’ mother] was alive, she would have been extremely fond of him,” said Balachandran.
Harris and Emhoff are in particularly unique positions. But before them, there was Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 1984, and Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008, who attempted to challenge gendered titles associated with the White House.
According to Joel K. Goldstein, a vice-presidential scholar, Emhoff’s position “sends a message to little boys that this is a different world than the one that their fathers and grandfathers grew up in”.
Working on Biden-Harris campaign, social media star
Married since 2014, Harris has acknowledged her husband in many acceptance speeches including when she was nominated as Joe Biden’s running mate in August and became Vice President-elect Saturday. During the former, she had said, “Family is my husband Doug, who I met on a blind date set up by my best friend.”
In August, Emhoff took a leave of absence from his law firm, DLA Piper, to be a part of Harris’ campaign trail. He developed a friendship with the wife of Joe Biden and prospective First Lady, Jill Biden along the way. His parents, Mike and Barb, also made appearances on the campaign.
Strategic adviser on the Biden campaign Greg Schultz said that it was because of Emhoff’s “Midwestern street cred” that he was sent to “hard spots” which aren’t traditionally Democratic strongholds.
From the time when Harris dropped out of the Democratic presidential nominee race to her becoming Vice President-elect, Emhoff has actively supported his wife on social media. He also has a fan following who call themselves the “#DougHive”.
While often on the sidelines, the lawyer-husband also made waves online when a video of him dancing at San Francisco Pride in 2019 went viral. In June that year, he famously rushed to Harris’ defence when a protester jumped on stage at a forum where she was speaking and grabbed the microphone from her hand.
California’s ‘go-to lawyer’
Emhoff was born in Brooklyn in 1964, before his father, a women’s shoe designer, moved the family to New Jersey and later to Los Angeles.
A graduate of California State University, Northridge and the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, he worked as a litigator at various firms and handled cases involving the Taco Bell mascot, a former National Football League athlete and others.
He opened his own law firm in 2000, along with former law partner Aaron Jacoby, before it was acquired by Venable in 2006.
Known as one of “California’s go-to lawyers for several decades”, a CNN broadcast once noted that the millionaire lawyer elevated Harris’ “public servant’s salary into the one per cent” upon marrying her in 2014.
Marriage with Kamala & previous divorce
Emhoff proposed to Harris in 2014, a year after the two met, and the wedding ceremony was officiated by Harris’ sister Maya.
“Being with Kamala Harris has opened my eyes to so many things I wasn’t seeing before I certainly see now,” he said in an interview last month in the battleground state of Michigan.
Emhoff has two adult children from his previous marriage with film producer Kerstin Emhoff — Cole and Ella named after jazz legends John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald. Harris’ stepchildren call her “Momala” rather than “stepmom”, a term she referenced in her first speech as Biden’s running mate. She said while ‘Vice President’ would be a great title, “‘Momala’ will always be the one that means the most”.
Though Emhoff’s first marriage ended in divorce, the pair “remain incredibly close,” he has said.
When Harris was asked what it was like coming into Emhoff’s life when his children were teenagers, she drew on her own experience as a child of divorce and spoke about her friendship with Emhoff’s first wife.
In her memoir, The Truths We Hold, the Vice President-elect remarked, “we sometimes joke that our modern family is almost a little too functional.”