Connecticut’s top Democrats are enthusiastic about the Saturday election of Tom Perez, the former secretary of labor under the Obama administration, as the first Latino chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Widely considered the establishment candidate in the race, Perez edged Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who received endorsements from some of the leading voices of the party’s left wing, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Perez’s triumph concluded the first contested race for DNC chairman since 1985.
Connecticut’s Democratic leaders split their allegiances, with Gov. Dannel Malloy backing Perez and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., backing Ellison, while Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn., declined to endorse a candidate in the race. Since Saturday’s election, all three have expressed their wholehearted support for the new chairman.
“In his public life and political efforts, I have already seen [Perez] in action fighting for one progressive cause after another — disability rights, paid family leave and re-entry services for Americans looking for a second chance,” Malloy said in a statement earlier this month. “Tom has demonstrated that he has the vision, ability and track record of results to lead the turnaround our party needs.”
Unlike Malloy, who made his endorsement just weeks before the Feb. 26 election, Murphy threw his support behind Ellison in November on the same day Ellison announced his candidacy. At an event at Yale Law School last week, Murphy said he sees Ellison is not only a personal friend and “somebody that I deeply believe in as a human being” but a strong organizer with an authentic voice. After his defeat in the race for the chairmanship, Ellison was elected deputy chairman of the DNC unanimously.
Still, the choice between Perez and Ellison was a close call for Murphy, and although Perez was not his preferred candidate, he offered only praise of the new chairman in a statement to the News. Perez, he said, will be a strong leader in the fight against President Donald Trump’s agenda.
Echoing Murphy’s optimism, Blumenthal said in an interview with the News that he was encouraged and excited to be working with Perez, his longtime friend.
Perhaps in a nod to Sanders supporters disappointed by Ellison’s loss, Murphy also emphasized the party’s need to “fight against special interests and put American workers first.”
In a statement to the News, the Yale College Democrats acknowledged the danger of alienating the party’s more liberal wing but suggested that the choice of Ellison as deputy chairman could unite the party.
“In today’s Democratic Party, there is growing disillusionment with the status quo, as well as newfound energy driven by college students and young people,” the statement said. “We hope that Tom Perez’s choice to make Rep. Ellison his deputy will enable the DNC to couple the growing enthusiasm in the Sanders wing of the party with the institutional and financial resources of the center-left.”
Although Murphy admitted the DNC chairman would play a significant role in the party, he cautioned against “overplay[ing] the importance” of the position. In fact, he said, it will more likely be Democratic leaders in Congress and the 2020 presidential candidates who shape the party’s message.
Blumenthal went further still, stressing both during a town hall and afterward that ultimately, it will be not the Democratic leadership but the voter base that determines the direction of the party.
“I emphasized here again and again that the party has to build from the grass roots up,” he said. “The strategy and direction for the future won’t come the chairman or the Democratic National Committee. It has to be an organic movement, and I think Tom Perez understands that point.”
Perez succeeded acting chairwoman Donna Brazile, who stepped in after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned amid fallout from the release of thousands of emails between Democratic officials.