Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected chair of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday after a contentious race that highlighted divisions within the party.
Perez bested Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the only other candidate remaining in the race after an inconclusive first round of voting. The final tally was 235 for Perez and 200 for Ellison.
Perez will now begin the work of rebuilding a Democratic Party battered by historic electoral losses as it is undertakes the task of confronting President Donald Trump and his agenda.
He also will have to win the trust of those who supported Ellison, his chief opponent. Many progressive activists who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2016 presidential primary viewed Ellison’s candidacy as a way to secure a foothold in the party after Sanders’ defeat.
Perez immediately moved to appoint Ellison deputy DNC chair and accepted a hug from his rival on the conference room stage. “I’m asking you to give everything you’ve got to support Chairman Perez,” Ellison told his supporters.
Perez bashed Trump and the “know-nothing movement,” and vowed to lead Democrats to victory against the president in 2020.
“We are one family, and I know we will leave here united today, no doubt about that,” Perez said. “We are indeed the party that turns hardship into hope. We are the party that turns doubts into dreams.”
Jay Jacobs, a New York DNC member who whipped votes for Perez in the second round of voting, said some party leaders ultimately decided Ellison was too radical.
“You have to understand that on the emotional level, a lot of people liked Keith’s message, and liked the idea of the dramatic change,” said Jacobs, chair of the Nassau County Democratic Party on Long Island. “On the more intellectual level, we had a sense ― and I think this is what a lot of folks had a sense ― that this would shift the party too far to the left. That was the back and forth.”