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27 Feb 2017
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A New Start? Perez elected DNC chairman

Former labour secretary to the Obama administration, Tom Perez was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Saturday after a closely fought campaign. shutterstock_438467041

He now has the arduous task of bringing the party back from the brink, after it was decimated by the unprecedented election win of Donald Trump.

Perez’s victory, which, announced, in Atlanta has been dubbed as a historic event, being the first Latino to lead the DNC, however the result was not without its disappointments. Left progressives that backed his opponent Keith Ellison were left deflated and despondent.

There were raucous displays of support for both candidates in the hotel ballroom during the second ballot announcement, with Ellison’s supporters clad in green clothing and holding signs that read “unite” and chanting “Not big money, party for the people,” which drowned out remarks from interim chairwoman Donna Brazile.

Perez’s supporters, dressed in blue, celebrated with a sigh of relief when it was announced that Perez had won the second round of voting, after only missing out by one vote during the first round of voting.

The threshold for victory in the second round was 218 out of 435 voters. Perez gained 235 to 200 for Ellison. After announcing the result, Brazile presented the gavel to Perez. In a display of beginning the process to heal party wounds, Perez’s first motion was to appoint his opponent Ellison as deputy chairman. A motion which passed unopposed.

After the vote, both men used their speeches to appeal for party unity, the race for DNC chair being a symbol of the divisions that opened during the presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Progressives had viewed the former labour secretary Perez with suspicion, as they believe that he represents the so-called establishment. In contrast, his party chair opponent Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress is a long-term activist of grass root causes.

During his speech, 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.” shutterstock_3398302

Similarly, Perez said, “I really want to apologize to the media because we did talk about issues.” “We didn’t do any of the other stuff, and that’s what the Democratic party is about,” He went on to say.

In a joint press conference after the vote, Perez and Ellison wore each other’s campaign badges, in an attempt to convey a unified party.

Speaking 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.”

However, some of his supporters were not that convinced. Notably Jim Dean, chair of Democracy of America, who endorsed Ellison said: “This incredibly disappointing result is another missed opportunity for a Democratic party desperately trying to regain relevance. “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.” Dean continued, stating: “The resistance will persist in showing progressive leaders how to unrelentingly take on Trump, with or without the leadership of the Democratic National Committee.”

With fingers and thumbs at the ready, President Donald Trump was among those who offered congratulatory messages, albeit with a bitter aftertaste:

trump perez tweet

After the vote, Perez concluded that Democrats were “suffering from a crisis of confidence, a crisis of relevance,” but pledged to take the fight directly to Trump and to support Democrats against the GOP in elections nationwide. In response to Trump’s Twitter jibe, Perez responded in kind:

 

perez tweet

As winner of the DNC chair, Perez is now leading a party demoralized by a string of losses over recent years on local, state and national levels. However, a surge in activism by liberal groups against the Republican president offers hope of purpose.

It is now time for the new Democratic chairman to wipe the slate clean. To become the catalyst for change in the party, to heal old wounds and bring centrists and progressives together as one to bring voter confidence back and to take the Republicans head on. Is this the “second coming” for the Democratic party?