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Tom Perez new DNC chair
Posted On: Feb 26, 2017

The former labor secretary Tom Perez was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Saturday, after a fiercely fought campaign. He will now lead a party still divided after the surprising election of Donald Trump but energized by the liberal backlash to his presidency.

Perez’s victory in Atlanta saw him make history as the first Latino to lead the party but left progressives who backed his main opponent, US representative Keith Ellison, disappointed.

When the result of the second ballot was announced, chanting erupted from the back of the hotel ballroom where Ellison’s supporters sat, wearing green shirts and carrying signs that read “unite”. “Not big money, party for the people,” they chanted, drowning out the remarks of the interim chairwoman, Donna Brazile.

Perez’s supporters, wearing blue, celebrated with a heavy sign of relief after a dramatic round of balloting. Perez won in the second vote, after missing out by just one vote in the first round of voting.

The threshold for victory in the second round was 218 votes, out of 435 voters. Perez gained 235 to 200 for Ellison. After announcing the result, Brazile presented the gavel to Perez. He presented a motion to name Ellison as deputy chair, which passed unopposed.

Both men used their remarks after the vote to appeal for party unity, the race for DNC chair having become a symbol of divisions that opened during the 2016 presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Perez, who served in the Obama administration and was considered as running mate for Clinton, was viewed with suspicion by progressives who believe he represents the so-called establishment. Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, is a longtime activist for grassroots causes.

Ellison said: “If we waste even a moment going at it over who supported who”, Democrats would be letting down the American people in their need to “confront Trump and beyond that”.

“We’ve got earnest, sincere work to do under Chairman Perez,” he said, adding: “We don’t have the luxury of walking out of here divided.”

Perez made similar appeals. “I really want to apologise to the media because we did talk about issues,” he said, like Ellison heralding a campaign they said was free of partisan rancor. “We didn’t do any of the other stuff, and that’s what the Democratic party is about.”

In a joint press conference afterward, Perez and Ellison, wearing each other’s campaign buttons, again insisted that the party was not divided.

To his supporters, Ellison said: “If you care about people who have their loved ones’ cemeteries being desecrated like the Jewish community is facing right now, if you care about people who have walls being built against them, being banned for their religion, and having their healthcare taken away from them, if you care about those people, then you got to stay in here and back Tom Perez for chair.”

One progressive group called the result a “missed opportunity” to fuse opposition to Trump with the Democratic party.

“This incredibly disappointing result is another missed opportunity for a Democratic party desperately trying to regain relevance” said Jim Dean, chair of Democracy for America, which endorsed Ellison. “[It] proves, once again, how out of touch party insiders are with the grassroots movement currently in the streets, on the phone, and at town halls nationwide.

“The resistance will persist in showing progressive leaders how to unrelentingly take on Trump, with or without the leadership of the Democratic National Committee.”

Trump was among those who offered congratulatory messages to Perez, in his case with a barb:

After the vote, Perez said Democrats were “suffering from a crisis of confidence, a crisis of relevance”, but promised to take the fight to Trump and to support Democrats against Republicans in elections nationwide. On Twitter, he responded to Trump in kind:

When voting began, members voted by paper ballot and had two minutes to make their choice among the six candidates then still in the running. The first count was excruciatingly close. Perez finished with 213.5 votes, having needed 214.5 to win. Ellison won 200, taking the contest into a second round.

All of the candidates withdrew except for Ellison and Perez. Jehmu Greene, a former Fox News political consultant who earned half a vote, endorsed Perez. Peter Peckarsky, a Wisconsin attorney who earned no votes, endorsed Ellison.

In the frantic moments between the results and the distribution of the second ballots, the campaigns and their supporters spread across the convention center ballroom in a last-ditch attempt to sway members to their side. Perez waded into the crowd, smiling and shaking hands as he secured commitments.

The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg withdrew from the race before voting began and without endorsing a candidate, thereby unleashing at least a few dozen commitments late in the contest.

“We saw the potential of doing well on multiple ballots but we can do the math,” Buttigieg said.

The popular, 35-year-old Rust Belt mayor and openly gay Afghanistan veteran left the race after a streak of national media attention and without angering either faction. He is widely believed to hold higher political ambitions, especially as a young member of a party in search of new talent.

“There’s nothing wrong with our bench,” Buttigieg said. “We just haven’t called enough people on our bench off the bench and asked them to get out in the field.”

After his victory, Perez said: “Mayor Pete is going to be the example of how Democrats win statewide in red states.”

The winner inherits a party demoralized by years of losses at local, state and national levels. A surge of activism by liberal groups in reaction to an unpopular Republican president, however, offers hope of new purpose.

As chair – in equal parts a tactician, a fundraiser and an opposition leader – Perez will need to immediately prepare for races in 2017 and the midterms in 2018. Part of the challenge will lie in healing the rift between centrists and progressives while developing a message to resonate beyond liberal enclaves.

He will also have to rebuild trust in an organization that was engulfed in controversy last year, after the publication of hacked emails that appeared to show committee staffers favoring Clinton over Sanders and led to the resignation as chair of Florida representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The race to replace Wasserman Schultz attracted national attention and had all the trappings of a presidential campaign, with candidates embarking on bus tours and competing in televised debates.

The vote was ultimately decided, however, by 435 voting members of the DNC. That lead Buttigieg to compare it to a “high school student council race”.

in Atlanta, for the Guardian


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