Labor Secretary Tom Perez interested in Democratic Party chairmanship

Hunter Walker
·White House Correspondent
U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A battle is brewing over who will lead the Democratic National Committee following Donald Trump’s stunning upset victory in Tuesday’s presidential election. Several prospective contenders are eyeing the job, and Yahoo News has learned that another, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, is interested in the Democratic Party’s top post.

On Friday afternoon, a source familiar with Perez’s thinking said he is eager to take on Trump and interested in the impact he could have as DNC chair.

“Anyone who knows Tom knows he will not be able to sit on the sidelines. He has fought on behalf of working people, Democrats and progressive values his whole life,” the source said. “Like all Democrats, he’s trying to make sense of how best to continue that work, and DNC chair would be one of several fantastic platforms.”

Another Democratic source told Yahoo News that “a number of Democrats are floating” Perez’s name.

“They want someone who can rally the party and progressives,” the source said of Democrats pushing for Perez. “He’s wrapping up stuff at the Labor Department as we speak and trying to figure out how to make the most impact.”

Perez was previously considered as a potential vice presidential pick for Democrat Hillary Clinton, who was defeated by Trump. Clinton ultimately chose Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., but Perez consistently stumped for her on the campaign trail before and after the Kaine announcement.

The DNC chair plays a key role in strategy and fundraising for the party. The current selection process is shaping up to be a fight between the party’s left flank and more centrist elements.

There may be a crowded field to replace outgoing Chairwoman Donna Brazile.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who emerged as a leader of the party’s progressive wing during his unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign, has come out in support of Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., for the job. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., set to be the ranking Senate Democrat next year, has also reportedly thrown his support to Ellison, who has not yet confirmed that he’s running for the DNC post.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) speak to members of the media during a news conference about private prisons September 17, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The legislators announced that they will introduce bills to ban private prisons. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., speak at a news conference on Sept. 17. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

On Friday morning, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who also ran for president this year, issued a statement saying he’s “taking a hard look” at the chairmanship after being “approached by many Democrats.”

And Howard Dean, a former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential candidate, tweeted Thursday that he is “in for chairman again.” Dean was also DNC chair from 2005 until 2009.

Other names reportedly in the mix include House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, retiring Rep. Steve Israel of New York, South Carolina Chairman Jaime Harrison, and DNC Vice Chairmen R.T. Rybak and Raymond Buckley.

Perez’s parents came to the United States from the Dominican Republic, and his father passed away when he was 12 years old. He went to Brown University and financed his studies by working in the school’s dining hall, at a warehouse and as a garbage collector. From there he went on to Harvard University, where he obtained graduate degrees in law and public policy.

Obama nominated Perez to become labor secretary in 2013. Perez began his career as a prosecutor in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. During the 1990s, Perez served as the principal adviser to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy on civil rights issues. He also spent time in the Bill Clinton administration as director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services. While George W. Bush was in office, Perez became involved in Maryland politics and state government. He returned to the Justice Department in 2009, when he became an assistant attorney general heading up the Civil Rights Division.

During his time at the DOJ, Perez increased its focus on prosecuting hate crimes, investigating police misconduct and voting rights issues. At the Department of Labor, he has pushed for minimum wage increases, union organization and financial industry regulations.

Perez’s résumé could be appealing to the Democratic Party’s liberal flank. As Perez was being considered as Clinton’s running mate, one former adviser to President Obama told Yahoo News the labor secretary was a “true progressive” with a “great personal story” who was part of a “new generation of rising Democratic stars.”