Democrats pick Perez to lead party
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[February 27, 2017]
By Justin Mitchell
ATLANTA (Reuters) - U.S. Democrats elected
former Labor Secretary Tom Perez as chairman on Saturday, choosing a
veteran of the Obama administration to lead the daunting task of
rebuilding the party and heading the opposition to Republican President
Members of the Democratic National Committee, the administrative and
fundraising arm of the party, picked Perez on the second round of voting
over U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, a liberal from Minnesota.
Following one of the most crowded and competitive party leadership
elections in decades, Perez faces a challenge in unifying and
rejuvenating a party still reeling from the Nov. 8 loss of Democratic
presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. He immediately made Ellison his
After losing the presidency and failing to recapture majorities in
Congress, party leaders are anxious to channel the growing grassroots
resistance to Trump into political support for Democrats at all levels
of government across the country.
"We are suffering from a crisis of confidence, a crisis of relevance,"
Perez, a favorite of former Obama administration officials, told DNC
members. He promised to lead the fight against Trump and change the
DNC's culture to make it a more grassroots operation.
Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants who was considered a potential
running mate for Clinton, overcame a strong challenge from Ellison and
prevailed on a 235-200 second-round vote. Ellison, who is the first
Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, was backed by liberal leader U.S.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
The showdown between candidates backed by the establishment and
progressive wings of the party echoed the bitter 2016 primary between
Clinton and Sanders, a rift Democrats will try to put behind them as
they turn their focus to fighting Trump.
Those divisions persisted through the months-long race for chair, as
many in the party's liberal wing were suspicious of Perez's ties to the
establishment and some Democrats raised questions about possible
anti-Semitism in Ellison's past.
Some Ellison supporters chanted "Not big money, party for the people"
after the result was announced.
But both Perez and Ellison moved quickly to bring the rival factions
together. At Perez's urging, the DNC suspended the rules after the vote
and appointed Ellison the deputy chairman of the party.
"I am asking you to give everything you've got to support Chairman
Perez," Ellison told DNC members after the vote. "We don't have the
luxury, folks, to walk out of this room divided."
Perez said the party would come together.
"We are one family, and I know we will leave here united today," Perez
said. "A united Democratic Party is not only our best hope, it is Donald
Trump took a dig at Perez and Democrats in a tweet offering his
congratulations on the election.
"I could not be happier for him, or for the Republican Party!" Trump
Perez and Ellison wore each other's campaign buttons and stood
shoulder-to-shoulder at a news conference after the vote. Perez said the
two had talked "for some time" about teaming up, and Ellison said they
had "good synergy."
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Tom Perez addresses the audience after being elected Democratic
National Chair during the Democratic National Committee winter
meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. February 25, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Berry
"We need to do more to collaborate with our partners in the
progressive movement," Perez said, adding he and Ellison would look
for ways to "channel this incredible momentum" in the protests
against Trump and against Republican efforts to repeal President
Barack Obama's healthcare plan.
Sanders issued a statement congratulating Perez and urging changes
at the DNC.
"It is imperative that Tom understands that the same-old, same-old
is not working," Sanders said. "We must open the doors of the party
to working people and young people in a way that has never been done
The election offered the DNC a fresh start after last year's forced
resignation of chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who stepped
aside when the release of hacked emails appeared to show DNC
officials trying to help Clinton defeat Sanders in the primaries.
Both Perez and Ellison have pledged to focus on a bottom-up
reconstruction of the party, which has lost hundreds of statehouse
seats under Obama and faces an uphill task in trying to reclaim
majorities in Congress in next year's midterm elections.
Perez said he would redefine the role of the DNC to make it work not
just to elect Democrats to the White House but in races ranging from
local school boards to the U.S. Senate, pledging to "organize,
"I recognize I have a lot of work to do," he said. "I will be out
there listening and learning in the weeks ahead."
Perez fell one vote short of the simple majority of 214.5 votes
needed for election in the first round of voting, getting 213.5
votes to Ellison's 200. Also on the first ballot were four other
candidates -- Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director Sally
Boynton Brown, election lawyer Peter Peckarsky, and activists Jehmu
Greene and Sam Ronan.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, withdrew just
before the voting, while Brown, Greene and Ronan dropped out after
the first round.
(Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Diane Craft and Mary
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