Perez elected chair of DNC

BE­COMES FIRST LATINO TO OC­CUPY PO­SI­TION Former la­bor sec­re­tary de­feats El­li­son, choice of San­ders wing

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID WEIGEL

at­lanta — Former la­bor sec­re­tary Thomas Perez was elected the first Latino chair of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee on Satur­day, nar­rowly de­feat­ing Rep. Keith El­li­son (D-Minn.) at the end of a con­tentious bat­tle over the fate of the be­lea­guered party in the age of Pres­i­dent Trump.

Perez’s vic­tory con­cluded the first con­tested race for the DNC lead­er­ship since 1985, a con­test the party had ex­tended by a month to al­low more de­bate. It put in place the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship that will nav­i­gate thou­sands of state and lo­cal elec­tions — where the party hopes to re­verse the losses of the past six years — and a 2020 pres­i­den­tial race that could di­vide the party again.

El­li­son’s de­feat was a blow to the party’s lib­eral wing, per­son­i­fied by ac­tivists, la­bor lead­ers and or­ga­niz­ers, many of whom had sup­ported the pres­i­den­tial bid of Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.) and had come to At­lanta to cheer El­li­son on. Many of them warned that by pick­ing Perez, the party was alien­at­ing the grow­ing “re­sis-

that has or­ga­nized against Trump.

The race was close enough that it re­quired a sec­ond round of bal­lot­ing, with Perez win­ning 235 of 435 votes cast. With ten­sions still high as the re­sult was an­nounced, nine El­li­son sup­port­ers chanted “Party for the peo­ple, not big money!” and stormed out of the room.

“Some­day, they’re go­ing to study this era of Amer­i­can his­tory,” Perez said af­ter his win. “They’re go­ing to ask the ques­tion of all of us: Where were you in 2017 when we had the worst pres­i­dent in the his­tory of the United States? We will be able to say that the Demo­cratic Party led the re­sis­tance and made sure this was a one-term pres­i­dent.”

On­stage, Perez gave El­li­son the sym­bolic role of deputy party chair, and the Min­nesota con­gress­man gave a short speech ask­ing his sup­port­ers to stay with the party and avoid re­crim­i­na­tions.

“We don’t have the lux­ury to walk out of this room di­vided,” El­li­son said.

Hil­lary Clin­ton, the 2016 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, tweeted her sup­port for both Perez and El­li­son as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of a “uni­fied party,” while former pres­i­dent Barack Obama con­grat­u­lated “my friend” Perez in a state­ment.

“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.

San­ders, who had sup­ported El­li­son, said in a state­ment that it was “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.”

Trump, in clas­sic fash­ion, re­sponded to the elec­tion by si­mul­ta­ne­ously con­grat­u­lat­ing and be- lit­tling Perez in a tweet: “I could not be hap­pier for him, or for the Repub­li­can Party!”

The vote it­self was tense. On Fri­day night, Democrats gath­ered at a down­town Westin ho­tel here in At­lanta to meet, drink and lobby for votes, and the El­li­son cam­paign — along with al­lies of South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete But­tigieg, a third can­di­date — bat­tled ru­mors that Perez might al­ready have locked up the votes he needed.

But by Satur­day morn­ing, it was clear that the race was up for grabs. But­tigieg used his nom­i­na­tion speech to quit the race, en­dors­ing no can­di­date. As most of the 439 DNC mem­bers present cast their votes — eight el­i­gi­ble mem­bers did not at­tend — sev­eral DNC mem­bers got a text from the El­li­son camp say­ing the con­gress­man was “grate­ful to have the sup­port of Mayor But­tigieg,” an en­dorse­ment that the mayor de­nied.

In the first round of bal­lot­ing, Perez won 213.5 votes to 200 for El­li­son, 12 for Idaho Demo­cratic Party Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Sally Boyn­ton Brown, 0.5 for Demo­cratic strate­gist Jehmu Greene and one for But­tigieg in the first round of bal­lot­ing. Greene en­dorsed Perez, while two fringe can­di­dates who had won no votes backed El­li­son. Mem­bers who are abroad get half a vote.

Perez’s vic­tory did not rep­re­sent a Demo­cratic shift to the right. On key is­sues, Perez’s plat­form mostly re­sem­bled El­li­son’s. Perez promised to re­fo­cus on small donors and on­line fundrais­ing; El­li­son set a goal for “low-dol­lar con­tri­bu­tions from ev­ery­day Amer­i­cans [to] ac­count for 33 per­cent of rev­enue.” El­li­son called for an “In­no­va­tion Hub” in Sil­i­con Val­ley; Perez pro­moted DNC fel­low­ships to “en­cour­age de­vel­op­ers, pro­gram­mers, data sci­en­tists, [and] en­gi­neers.”

While Perez and El­li­son praised each other per­son­ally, the race was de­fined for out­siders by San­ders’s sup­port of the Min­nesota law­mak­tance” er. El­li­son was one of the few mem­bers of Congress who had backed San­ders for pres­i­dent. He billed him­self as the “unity can­di­date” who would keep San­ders’s restive sup­port­ers in the party while em­brac­ing those who had backed Clin­ton.

In the first weeks af­ter El­li­son de­clared his can­di­dacy, the strat­egy seemed to be work­ing, de­spite some hic­cups. La­bor unions that had en­dorsed Clin­ton, such as the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers and the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, County and Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees, got be­hind El­li­son.

Howard Dean, the most suc­cess­ful DNC chair in mod­ern party his­tory, dropped his plans to run again when El­li­son said he would re­sign from Congress if elected to the full-time job. Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had fre­quently clashed with Dean over strat­egy and in­vest­ments, en­dorsed El­li­son and de­fended the first Mus­lim mem­ber of Congress against charges of anti-Semitism.

But veter­ans of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, where Perez had been a pop­u­lar lib­eral force, en­cour­aged the former la­bor sec­re­tary to run — and start­ing Dec. 15, he did. In pro­gres­sive me­dia, the race was fre­quently cov­ered as a clash be­tween “the es­tab­lish­ment” and the “rev­o­lu­tion” that had been proved right by the 2016 elec­tion.

Most of the DNC’s mem­ber­ship — just 39 of whom had backed San­ders for pres­i­dent in 2016 — did not view the con­test as a stark ide­o­log­i­cal clash. San­ders sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing El­li­son, had largely suc­ceeded in mov­ing the party’s plat­form to the left. In in­ter­views, some ac­knowl­edged that there would be walk­outs by San­ders die-hards in their states, but they ar­gued that the daily out­rages around Trump might bring them back into the process.

That con­fi­dence was on dis­play Satur­day be­fore the vote for chair­man. DNC mem­bers de­bated whether to strike lan­guage from Cal­i­for­nia’s Chris­tine Pelosi, House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi’s daugh­ter, that would have re­stored a ban on cor­po­rate do­na­tions to the DNC. The pro­hi­bi­tion was qui­etly rolled back dur­ing the con­tro­ver­sial ten­ure of the pre­vi­ous elected DNC chair, Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz (D-Fla.)

“This res­o­lu­tion has noth­ing to do with non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions,” said Larry Co­hen, a former pres­i­dent of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­ica who backed San­ders in 2016. “This is to send a mes­sage, loud and clear, that the DNC it­self — not can­di­dates, not state par­ties — will re­store the ban that Pres­i­dent Obama put into ef­fect.”

When the lan­guage was struck, a few of the ac­tivists who had come to cheer El­li­son — in­clud­ing mem­bers of Na­tional Nurses United, Pro­gres­sive Democrats of Amer­ica and Demo­cratic So­cial­ists of Amer­ica — started a brief chant.

“Money out of pol­i­tics! Money out of pol­i­tics!”

“We will be able to say that the Demo­cratic Party led the re­sis­tance and made sure this was a one-term pres­i­dent.” Thomas Perez, af­ter be­ing elected chair of Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee


Thomas Perez, seen on a visit to Mi­ami Beach, Fla., in May 2014 when he was la­bor sec­re­tary, was elected Satur­day to head the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. Sev­eral back­ers of Perez’s main ri­val for the post, Rep. Keith El­li­son (D-Minn.), left the At­lanta meet­ing in protest.

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