US Democrats took the first major step toward rebuilding the Democratic party today. Former president Barack Obama’s onetime labor secretary Tom Perez was elected party chair at a meeting in Atlanta, Georgia on Feb. 25.
His election follows a tumultous DNC leadership change that upended the party last summer and an election cycle that concluded in big Democratic losses across the ballot.
The race for chair of the DNC was expected to be close, and it was. Perez—considered the establishment favorite—fell a single vote short of the 214.5 votes needed to win the chairmanship during the first ballot round, in which 427 votes were cast. But he captured 235 votes in the second round, surpassing the threshold of 218 needed to win (based on the 435 ballots that were cast).
Perez’s first motion as chair was to appoint as deputy his rival, Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison. Ellison, who had the support of distinguished progressives including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, John Lewis, and Chuck Schumer, trailed Perez with 200 votes in the second ballot round. The motion passed promptly.
“I come to you with an unrelenting optimism in our capacity to move forward,” Perez said, in his victory speech. “It is an unmitigated pleasure and privilege to take this gavel.”
Perez and Ellison were two of seven candidates vying to head the DNC, including Sally Boynton Brown of Idaho, South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Fox News analyst Jehmu Greene, US veteran Sam Ronan, and Wisconsin lawyer Peter Peckarsky.
Former DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in disgrace last July when party emails, published on WikiLeaks, appeared to expose collusion that favored candidate Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Her temporary replacement, interim chairwoman Donna Brazile, was also embroiled in scandal in October when other WikiLeaks emails suggested that she leaked details of debate questions to Clinton’s camp last March.
Earlier in the day on Saturday, DNC members also reportedly voted against a measure that would have reinstated Obama’s ban on party donations from corporate political-action committees.
“Just a reminder that Republicans control all three branches of the government right now—all three branches. We do not have a president in the White House,” argued one opponent of the resolution, Bob Mulholland of Chico, California, according to the Huffington Post. “I am not a member of Mother Theresa’s sisters organization; I am a member of the Democratic Party.”