Meet Tom Perez, the Democratic Party's next best hope

Tom Perez facing divided Democratic party?
Tom Perez facing divided Democratic party?


    Tom Perez facing divided Democratic party?


Tom Perez facing divided Democratic party? 01:01

Story highlights

  • The lifelong Democrat has devoted much of his career to civil rights
  • "We have to get back in rural America," Perez has said

Atlanta (CNN)Just a month after watching Republicans take over the White House and keep their control of Congress, the Democratic Party elected former Labor Secretary Tom Perez as the man to move the party forward.

The Democratic National Committee's first Hispanic chairman won a tight election on the second ballot Saturday and, in a move aimed at at party unification, immediately named runner-up Keith Ellison, a progressive House member from Minnesota, as his deputy.
It's a sorely needed olive branch. The Democrats have been in disarray after the knock-down, drag-out presidential primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the disappointing congressional elections and President Donald Trump's win in November.
    Adding to the wounds, former party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned just before the Democratic National Convention in July after hacked emails suggested she and other since-departed DNC officials sought to undermine Sanders in the primary race. The fallout exacerbated tensions between centrist Clinton supporters who backed Perez in the DNC chair race and the progressive Sanders wing, which preferred Ellison.
    So, who is the man charged with reversing the downward spiral of the Democratic party?

    Personal background

    Perez, 55, is the son of Dominican immigrants who settled in Buffalo, New York. He went to Brown University, graduating in 1983 with a degree in international relations and political science. Four years later, he received a law degree from Harvard and a masters in public policy from the university's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    Perez is married to Ann Marie Staudenmaier, an attorney for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, and the couple has three children.

    Career highlights

    The lifelong Democrat has devoted much of his career to civil rights. Perez was elected to the Montgomery County Council in Maryland in 2002, where he served for four years before being named the state's labor secretary in 2007. President Barack Obama nominated Perez to be assistant attorney general for civil rights in 2009. Four years later, Perez became the 26th US secretary of labor, holding the Cabinet post until Trump was inaugurated in January.
    Before Perez sat on the Maryland County Council, he served for three years as a clerk for a US district court judge in Colorado. In the late 1990s, he was a civil rights lawyer for the Department of Justice and a special counsel to Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, where he played a key role in passing legislation making it it a federal crime to burn or vandalize a place of worship.
    At the end of the Clinton administration, Perez served as deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights under Attorney General Janet Reno and led the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services.
    He was also a law professor at the University of Maryland from 2001 to 2007.

    Notable achievements

    As Obama's labor secretary, Perez hewed to his party's traditional focus on boosting labor standards. He pushed for an increase in minimum wage for home health workers and an expansion of overtime pay, doubling the salary threshold at which workers qualify. He also fought the practice of misclassifying employees as independent contractors as a cost-saving measure and expanded paid sick leave to employees of federal contractors.
    Under his tenure, the department also issued rules to require companies to disclose anti-union spending, mandate that retirement advisers act in their clients' best interests, and protect workers from silica dust.
    In 2015, Perez entered the national spotlight when he helped negotiate an end to a months-long dispute between dockworkers on the West Coast and their bosses that was slowing the flow of goods through the ports. Perez's success in quickly ending the standoff boosted his profile in Washington. Lawmakers told CNN at the time that Perez took a noticeably hands-on approach to the effort and was in close contact with them.
    The following year, he helped resolve a dispute between Verizon and two unions representing nearly 40,000 of the company's workers, increasing wages and reducing cuts to pensions.
    His support among unions and progressive bona fides landed him a spot on Clinton's short list for a running mate, which he eventually lost to Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

    Vision for the Democratic Party

    On his website, Perez outlines his vision for a resurgent Democratic Party. Among other things, he calls for fighting unjust voter ID laws and gerrymandering, increasing small-dollar fundraising, recruiting DNC members from outside Washington and supporting state-level fundraising and grassroots efforts.
    In announcing his candidacy for DNC chair, he said the organization has failed to be a "year-round operation" and no longer listens to state-based organizers.
    "We have to get back in rural America, because in Ohio we weren't making house calls in rural America," Perez said during a debate with the other candidates for DNC chair broadcast on CNN, referring to the Clinton campaign's costly lack of outreach in rural areas, many of which voted for Trump. "That's precisely why we lost."