NYC Council Progressive Caucus Backs Keith Ellison for DNC Chair

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito with two members of the Progressive Caucus.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito with two members of the Progressive Caucus. William Alatriste/NYC Council

The City Council’s dominant Progressive Caucus—led by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—announced their endorsement today of Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison for chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

As Democrats look to recover from a devastating Election Day, Ellison is vying to lead the party against former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and South Carolina chairman Jaime Harrison. Ellison, the first Muslim-American ever elected to the House of Representatives, has attracted the support of Sen. Charles Schumer and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom the congressman backed for the presidency in defiance of most party leaders.

Now the Progressive Caucus, whose 19 members mostly though not unanimously favored Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, has added its backing to the Midwestern lawmaker’s bid.

“The members of the Progressive Caucus Alliance are proud to add our voices to those in support of Keith Ellison for Chair of the Democratic National Committee,” the group said in a press release today. “Congressman Ellison has been a true progressive champion in Congress, and has demonstrated the grit and tenacity that we’ll need for the tough fights ahead.”

Dean, who headed the DNC from 2005 to 2009, has asserted that the organization needs a chair who can attend to party business full-time. The Democrats have suffered severe setbacks over the past eight years under chairs who held elected office, most recently the controversial Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

The former Green Mountain State governor and 2004 presidential candidate has highlighted the success of his “50-state strategy” in yielding the first Democratic majority in Congress in 22 years in 2006.

More important for the Council’s Progressive Caucus, however, are Ellison’s two turns as keynote speaker at “Local Progress” gatherings of low-level left-leaning officials. This, the caucus asserted, showed an emphasis on building a party bench at the most basic levels of government.

“As municipal legislators, we are especially enthusiastic about his emphasis on progressive politics at the local level,” their statement said. “Congressman Ellison recognizes that progressive politics matter at the most local of levels: to families seeking a job that pays the bills, to kids from low-income families hoping to go to college, and to parents worried about whether their kids of color will be treated fairly by the criminal justice system. He knows the difference it makes to unite action at the local, state and federal levels, and why it is important to build strength among City Council members and other local elected officials.”

Ellison’s bid also comes as many Democrats, including Schumer, have argued the party needs to increase outreach to blue collar white voters in depressed industrial areas. But the Progressive Caucus insisted the “incredibly divisive national atmosphere” President-elect Donald Trump’s incendiary anti-immigrant rhetoric has created demands party leadership that will stick up for minorities.

“We need a leader who will stand firm against hatred, bias, discrimination, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia,” the Council members’ release said. “The members of the Progressive Caucus Alliance know that Congressman Ellison will be that type of leader, and we enthusiastically support his bid for Chair of the DNC.”

“We are enthusiastic that he will be [the] first Muslim-American DNC Chair,” it added.

Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.

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