Perez wins bid to lead Democratic Party
ATLANTA – Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez has defeated Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) to become the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee in a blow to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the progressive wing of the party.
Perez won with 235 votes on the second ballot, with 218 votes needed to reach a majority. Ellison topped out at 200 votes in both rounds of balloting.
The win came after Perez failed to clear the threshold for victory by only one vote on the first ballot, dramatically heightening the tension in the room as the campaigns furiously whipped DNC members to join their side.
It was a dramatic day that Democrats hope will set them on the path toward unity. However, lingering divisions from the primary may be hard to overcome.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and other key figures from the Obama administration supported Perez, who backed Hillary Clinton in the primary.
Sanders and many of his allies backed Ellison, the first-ever Muslim elected to Congress and a star on the left. Several Ellison supporters told The Hill this week that they are unsure if they can back Perez.
The race to become the next Democratic Party leader split along establishment-grassroots lines and in many ways mirrored the divisive 2016 presidential primary between Sanders and Clinton.
On Saturday, the mainstream Democrats won out again.
Perez, the 55-year-old son of Dominican immigrants and the first ever Latino to lead the DNC, becomes the party’s public face and chief spokesperson in charge of staking out Democratic opposition to President Trump.
“We are united in our love for the Democratic Party,” he said. “The robust discussions that go on in the Democratic Party – we have spirited discussions and then we all lock hands and celebrate our shared interests.”
Prior to serving as President Obama’s Labor secretary, Perez was a civil rights attorney in the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder, who endorsed him in the chairmanship race.
He has almost no electoral experience, save for a successful bid for Montgomery County Council and a failed run at Maryland attorney general, in which he was disqualified over a technicality.
“I recognize I have a lot of work to do and I recognize I have a lot of learning to do,” he said.
As chairman of the DNC, Perez inherits a monumental rebuilding project across the country after years of Democratic losses at every level of government.
And he will also have to go about the work of unifying a fractured party.
While Democrats sought to squash the intra-party divisions that linger from the contentious presidential primary, the campaign to be the next DNC chairman became a proxy battle between the rival factions.
Perez’s win is a victory for centrist Democrats, many of whom were wary of handing the party over to the Sanders wing. But his election risks infuriating progressives, many of whom wanted to see Ellison, an early supporter of Sanders, installed atop the DNC.
There are still bitter feelings among Sanders supporters who feel the DNC — then led by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) — rigged the primary against Sanders and in favor of Clinton. Wasserman Schultz resigned at the Democratic National Convention after hacked emails posted by WikiLeaks appeared to show DNC staffers working to undermine Sanders.
In a symbolic move meant to reach out to the left, Perez’s first act as chairman was to make Ellison deputy chairman of the DNC.
Perez was encouraged by several top Obama officials to run for DNC chair. Obama on Saturday congratulated Perez on his victory and for making Ellison his deputy.
“I know that Tom Perez will unite us under that banner of opportunity, and lay the groundwork for a new generation of Democratic leadership for this big, bold, inclusive, dynamic America we love so much,” Obama said in a statement.
Ellison urged his supporters to overcome their hard feelings and unite.
“If you came here supporting me … I’m asking you to give everything you’ve got to support chairman Perez,” Ellison said. “We don’t have the luxury folks to walk out of this room divided.”
Still, in the immediate aftermath of the election, Ellison’s supporters erupted in a chant of “Party for the people, not big money.”
Sanders congratulated Perez on his victory, but said “it is imperative that Tom understands that the same-old, same-old is not working and that we must open the doors of the party to working people and young people in a way that has never been done before.”
The progressive grassroots group Democracy for America released a statement calling Perez’s victory “incredibly disappointing” and “another missed opportunity.”
Perez’s allies bristle at the notion that he is not a true progressive, citing his work as a civil rights attorney and as Labor secretary.
His victory comes as liberals are still reeling from Trump’s upset of Clinton, and Perez takes control of a party out of power at the White House, in both chambers of Congress, and in a majority of statehouses and governor’s mansions across the country.
There are 33 GOP governors, compared to only 21 for Democrats. Since Obama was sworn into office in 2009, Republicans have gained more than 1,000 state legislative seats across the country.
There is urgency for Democrats to turn things around quickly, particularly at the state level, where legislators will redraw district lines in 2020. Democrats blame GOP gerrymandering in 2010 for their inability to make significant gains in the House. In Congress, the electoral map is unfavorable for Democrats in 2018.
While the out-of-power party typically picks up House seats in an off-year election, Democrats are defending 25 seats in the Senate, including 10 in states that Trump won in 2016.
Like all of the candidates running, Perez has vowed to return the DNC to former chairman Howard Dean’s “50-state strategy,” which is still viewed by many in the party as the gold standard.
Many Democrats blame their losses on a disconnect between the national party in Washington and grassroots liberals across the country and are eager for the new chairman to direct more resources and attention to those on the ground.
Updated: 4:49 p.m.