Former Labor Sec. Perez elected as Democratic National Committee chairman
Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez on Saturday was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee, defeating top-rival Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, in their respective bids to chart the direction of the national party. Perez was elected after two rounds of balloting in Atlanta at the party’s annual winter meeting. He received 235 votes, crossing the threshold of 218 ballots. “We are at a turning point for our party and for all Americans,” Perez said after his victory. “By getting back to basics, we can turn the Democratic Party around, take the fight to (President) Donald Trump, and win elections from school board to the Senate.” After his win, Perez picked Ellison as is deputy chairman. Perez, now the first Latino to lead the DNC, and Ellison were among a field of 10 candidates that also included Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, whose late surge ultimately fell short.
The race between Ellison and Perez was portrayed as an ideological proxy battle between Democratic supporters for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who defeated Sanders in the party’s 2016 presidential primary. Ellison backed Sanders, while Perez backed Clinton.
Ellison, who in 2006 became the first Muslim elected to Congress, was considered a champion of the party’s most progressive wing. Perez, a Labor secretary under President Obama, is considered more of an establishment candidate, though each ran on a progressive agenda and vowed to rebuild the party at the state and local levels, in large part by appealing to Democratic voters’ opposition to Republican President Trump. Trump’s victory in November was a gut punch to Democrats.
The DNC was already under duress by the time Trump won, the victim of an electronic hacking scandal in which emails showed then Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her staff appearing to favor Clinton over Sanders, an independent who ran as a Democrat.
Perez was backed by former Attorney General Eric Holder and former Vice President Biden. Former President Obama praises of Perez without formally endorsing him. Ellison used Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Quran for his swearing-in. In 1989, he seemed in an academic paper to defend Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the National of Islam. Accusations of anti-Semitism have followed Ellison, based on his association with Farrakhan. He asserts that he was never an official member of the Nation of Islam, but admits that he did spend 18 months organizing the Minnesota division of Farrakhan’s Million Man March in 1995. It wasn’t until he ran for Congress in 2006 that Ellison wrote a letter to the Jewish community, apologizing for his involvement with others who held anti-Semitic views.
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