By Jim Ellis
Feb. 28, 2017 — Convention politics often produces interesting results, and the Democratic National Committee’s vote for chairman on Saturday proved no exception. Former Obama Administration Labor Secretary and Justice Department official Tom Perez was elected the new party chairman, in a race where the first and second place finishers ultimately secured the DNC’s top two internal positions.
Perez came within one tally of winning outright in the first round of voting, and then captured the chairmanship on the second ballot. Minnesota US Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minneapolis), who placed a very close second, was immediately appointed the organization’s Vice Chairman.
The national committee is comprised of 447 voting individuals, including members from overseas. The Democrats Abroad receive only half-votes for their contingency, however. Therefore, with 427 full votes being cast in the first round, the winner needed 214 to clinch the chairmanship, but Perez finished with 213. Therefore, a second round was required.
On the first ballot, Rep. Ellison tallied 200 votes, and Idaho Democratic Executive Director Sally Boynton Brown recorded 12 with former Rock the Vote organizer Jehmu Greene getting only one from an Abroad member. Two other minor candidates failed to even score. South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who exited the race prior to voting, still received one vote.
In the second round, with only Perez and Ellison in the mix, the former scored a 235-200 victory. Though Ellison received the same number of secret ballot votes on the second round as he did in the first, it is difficult to tell if any Ellison voters switched to Perez. Although it seems unlikely that the new chairman converted every participant who previously supported an outlying candidate, the numbers suggest that such was at least a possibility.
Overall, the vote seemed to accurately reflect the Democratic Party’s current division. We all remember the internal presidential nomination fight where the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, barely defeated the hard-charging ideologue in the person of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT). In Saturday’s vote for chairman, largely the same result occurred: the Obama-Clinton establishment candidate barely prevailed over Sanders’ more radical contender.
For Perez, former Obama Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett was a driving force in coordinating the communication campaign while Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti focused on organizing the grassroots contact. The Ellison effort’s most prominent backers were Sen. Sanders and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who termed the congressman “a man of destiny.”
The new chairman’s career is policy-centric, having served as secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, assistant US Attorney General for Civil Rights, as US Labor Secretary. He ran for elective office only once in Maryland, for the Montgomery County Commission. He wanted to enter the 2006 Maryland attorney general’s race, but failed to qualify for the ballot because did not have 10 years of experience as a Maryland lawyer.
Therefore, how the new chairman begins to change the Democratic campaign strategy approach and political apparatus will be interesting, and because of his background and history might be different than focusing on campaign mechanics, funding candidates, and supporting ground efforts.
Perez succeeds Acting Chair Donna Brazile who replaced Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) when the latter was forced to resign in late July during last year’s Democratic National Convention.