The divisions within the Democratic Party were in full view on Saturday, when former Labor Secretary Thomas Perez narrowly defeated Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota to become the new head of the Democratic National Committee. As soon as Perez won 235 votes on the second ballot and became the first Latino chair of the DNC, Ellison’s supporters began chanting: “Party for the people, not big money!” It was the party’s first contested election for the chairmanship in more than three decades, and the balloting in Atlanta on Saturday made it clear the “Democrats have yet to heal the wounds from last year’s presidential primary,” as the New York Times puts it. In a nod to these divisions, Perez quickly called on Ellison to serve as deputy chair.
“We are all in this together,” Perez said, as he called on Democrats to unite against “the worst president in the history of the United States.” Ellison accepted the position and said his supporters should unite behind the new leadership: “If you came here supporting me, wearing a Keith t-shirt, or any t-shirt, I’m asking you to give everything you’ve got to support Chairman Perez.”
Although some in the party said they wanted to avoid a repeat of the primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders that seemed to be inevitable as the contest effectively became a two-man race. Perez was endorsed by several members of former president Barak Obama’s administration while Ellison was backed by the likes of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Ellison had been one of the few members of Congress to publicly back Sanders’ presidential bid.
Despite the endorsements, Perez’s victory “did not represent a Democratic shift to the right,” notes the Washington Post, which points out that on key issues his platform was uncannily similar to that espoused by Ellison. In the end, several DNC members said that they were convinced Perez was better prepared to give state parties what they needed.
In a statement shortly after Perez’s victory, Sanders called for change in the Democratic Party structure. “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,” Sanders said. “Now, more than ever, the Democratic Party must make it clear that it is prepared to stand up to the 1 percent and lead this country forward in the fight for social, racial, economic and environmental justice.”
Perez is taking over for Donna Brazile, who became the interim chief following Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation after hacked emails appeared to show the DNC had tried to boost Clinton’s candidacy.