Democrats quietly made history Saturday in Atlanta when the Democratic National Committee elected its first ever Latino chair. After two rounds of ballots, former Labor Secretary Tom Perez defeated Rep. Keith Ellison in a vote split 235 to 200. Perez's election ends a fairly contentious four-month race many had come to view as a proxy battle between the party's establishment and progressive wings. Under Perez' leadership, Democrats will seek to take on the Trump administration and wrestle control of Congress from Republicans.
The son of Dominican immigrants, Perez is the first Latino to ever chair the DNC. According to an interview Perez gave to Brown Alumni Magazine following his confirmation as former President Barack Obama's Labor secretary in 2013, both his father and maternal grandfather were forced to flee the Dominican Republic, eventually ending up in New York.
"This country gave so much to my parents, who were exiled from the Dominican Republic, so they didn't have a country," Perez reportedly told Brown Alumni Magazine. "And in turn they made sure that their kids understood that the ladder of opportunity should always be down."
In a symbolic move to encourage party unity, Perez immediately motioned for DNC members to suspend the rules and appoint Ellison, the favored candidate of the party's progressive wing, as deputy chair. Upon accepting the position, Ellison sought to rally his frustrated supporters – some of whom stormed out of the room following Perez's victory – behind the new DNC chair. "We don't have the luxury to walk out of this room divided," Ellison said in a call for party unity.
It was a message Perez echoed in his own speech, urging the party to leave the divisiveness of the race for DNC chair behind and band together in the fight against the Trump administration. "Someday they're going to study this era of American history," Perez said. "They're going to ask the question of all of us: Where were you in 2017, when we had the worst president in the history of the United States? We will be able to say that the Democratic Party led the resistance, and made sure this was a one-term president."
In the race for DNC chair Perez was widely seen as the establishment candidate due to his close ties to President Obama and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. He served as assistant attorney general for civil rights in 2009 and then as Labor secretary in 2013.