Obama's Former Labor Secretary Elected DNC Chairman Over Keith Ellison

Ellison named deputy chair

Rep. Keith Ellison (D, Minn._ listens as newly elected DNC Chairman Tom Perez gives a victory speech / AP
February 25, 2017

Members of the Democratic National Committee selected former secretary of labor Tom Perez to be their chairman on Saturday in a closely contested election that took two rounds to be settled.

Perez was a late entrance into a race that was once considered to be in the hands of Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, a close ally of Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic primary and the candidate of the more liberal wing of the party.

Perez fell just short of receiving a majority of votes in the first round of voting on Saturday morning due to substantial support for Ellison, forcing members to participate in a second round in which Perez received enough votes, 235, to be named chairman.

Perez is seen by many who were upset about the DNC's treatment of Sanders during the election as a continuation of rampant insiderism and corporatism in the party. Sanders' former campaign manager Jeff Weaver told BuzzFeed's Ruby Cramer that Perez was the "candidate of the insider" and that selecting him would "send a horrible message to millions and millions of people."

Early on it seemed that party leaders were willing to make concessions to the dismayed Sanders supporters after the sweeping defeats in November.

Ellison received early endorsements from party leaders in Congress such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), but was dragged down by his previous involvement with the radical Nation of Islam and long history of anti-Semitic comments and policy positions.

Numerous prominent members of the Jewish community voiced concerns about Ellison and said that they would leave the party if he was named its chairman.

It is unclear whether the concerns about the direction that the party is heading on Israel were settled with the election of Perez, who in his first action as chairman named Ellison as his deputy chairman at the DNC.

The appointment of Ellison is likely an effort to show party unity in the wake of the election, which party leaders had hoped wouldn't take more than a round to settle.

Republicans were quick to go on offense following the selection of Perez, who was branded by one conservative group as "Hillary Clinton 2.0."

"After a soul-crushing 2016, the Democrats just chose Hillary Clinton 2.0 as the face of their party," said America Rising's Colin Reed, who also predicted that Perez would be incapable of "quelling" division in the party.

"Perez is incapable of quelling the Democrats’ raging civil war, and takes over a depleted party hell-bent on a leftward march to oblivion," Reed said.

Republican National Committee chairman Ronna McDaniel, who unlike her Democratic counterpart was selected in an uncontested election, also labeled Perez as an "insider."

"By selecting a D.C. insider, Democrats only create deeper divisions within their own party by pushing a far left agenda that rejects a majority of their base outside Washington," McDaniel said. "The DNC would be well-served to learn from two straight election cycle losses, encourage the leaders in their party to listen to what the voters want, and get to work with Republicans to fix the mess they created."

Perez voiced to supporters in the room a willingness to combat President Donald Trump, who he called "the worst president in the history of the United States."