The national director for the New York State-based Working Families Party decried Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison‘s loss to ex-Labor Secretary Tom Perez in the battle to lead the Democratic National Committee in the vote held this afternoon in Atlanta.
Dan Cantor, who co-founded the labor-backed third party in 1998 with other activists, released a statement shortly after Perez topped Ellison with 235 votes to the congressman’s 200. Ellison, a darling of the party’s left wing, had received the support of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders—who he had backed for president in the 2016 primary—Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, an array of liberal organizations like the WFP, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette Clarke and the Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council.
Perez—once a rumored running mate for Hillary Clinton—was the preferred candidate of former President Barack Obama, in whose administration he served.
“The leaders of the Democratic Party missed an opportunity today. This vote may sting for progressives, particularly young people,” Cantor wrote, alluding to the mass demonstrations that have dogged President Donald Trump‘s first month in office. “Keith Ellison was uniquely qualified to transform anger and fear into political power and organization.”
Although a third party with its own ballot line in New York and a few other states, the WFP largely functions as an advocacy organization within Democratic Party politics, endorsing and campaigning for left-leaning contenders in local primary elections. In states like New York that allow candidates to run on multiple party lines, the WFP also lends its row on the November ticket to individuals it deems sufficiently liberal, in hopes of influencing outcome of the election and politicians’ future decisions.
The DNC leadership battle was the first serious contest to head the national organization in the past eight years, as the chair is usually selected by the president when the party holds the White House.
Ellison, an African-American and the first Muslim to serve on the Hill, attracted controversy during his bid because his history of critical statements about Israel and his one-time support for anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan—whom the congressman later renounced. Others highlighted the Democrats’ losses under other chairs who simultaneously served in elected office, prompting Ellison to promised he would abdicate his seat if victorious.
Perez and Ellison ran on largely similar platforms, and the winner swiftly appointed his opponent deputy chairman. Cantor seemed to see cause for both optimism and pessimism in the outcome, as the party also voted to continue accepting contributions
“The silver lining is that America will get to keep one of its best members in Congress. Keith will be a voice for the values and vision that the Democratic Party needs to embrace,” Cantor continued. “As chair, Tom Perez would be well advised to take Keith Ellison’s counsel, and avoid that of the donor class that led us to the current crisis.”
A Buffalo native, Perez will be the first Latino to head the Democratic Party.