Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez has launched a major overhaul of the party’s organization, which has been stung by recent crises — and the DNC has requested resignation letters from all current staffers.
Party staff routinely see major turnover with a new boss and they had been alerted to expect such a move. However, the mass resignation letters will give Perez a chance to completely remake the DNC’s headquarters from scratch. Staffing had already reached unusual lows following a round of post-election layoffs in December.
Immediately after Perez’s selection as party chairman in late February, an adviser to outgoing DNC Interim Chair Donna Brazile, Leah Daughtry, asked every employee to submit a letter of resignation dated April 15, according to multiple sources familiar with the party’s internal workings.
A committee advising Perez on his transition is now interviewing staff and others as part of a top-to-bottom review process to decide not only who will stay and who will go, but how the party should be structured in the future.
Major staffing and organizational changes will be announced in coming weeks, one aide said.
“This is longstanding precedent at the DNC and has happened during multiple Chair transitions,” said DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa. “The process was started before the election of the new Chair. From the beginning, Tom has been adamant that we structure the DNC for future campaigns. Current and future DNC staff will be integral to that effort. Over the last few months, the DNC staff has done incredible work under immense pressure to hold Trump accountable.”
Perez is the party’s third leader in the past year, which was one of its most difficult on record.
ATLANTA – Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, was elected president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs, defeating Connecticut Democratic Party chairman Nick Baletto and Democratic Party of Virginia chairwoman Susan Swecker in a race that took three ballots to determine the victor. The Minnesota DFL will have considerable influence within the Democratic National Committee because two of its members – Martin and Rep. Keith Ellison – will hold senior positions in the party.
Swecker dropped out after the first ballot. The second ballot – a head-to-head matchup between Martin and Baletto – ended in a 56-56 tie, prompting the outgoing ASDC president Ray Buckley to quip, “God wants me to remain as president a while longer.” Martin won 62-48 on the third ballot.
In between ballots, Buckley asked South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison and Idaho Democratic Party executive director Sally Boynton Brown to join him at the front of the room to discuss the recent chairman race. He pointed out that all three of them brought the perspective and the issues facing the state parties to the top of the agenda in the race for the chairmanship.
“We traveled across this country to make sure your voice was heard,” Buckley said. “We educated not only the other candidates, but hundreds of thousands of people who watched the debates.” He noted that regardless of the subject of the question, “We went back to talking about state parties.”
Buckley also said that the relationship between the state parties and the DNC would change in a short time, noting that “We’ll be getting back in the winning business.”
Shortly after, the newly elected DNC chairman Tom Perez entered the meeting to a standing ovation from the state party chairs. “Is Delaware in the house?” he asked, referring to the special election for the state senate seat that took place the same day. Stephanie Hansen won the race 58-41, up from a narrow 51-49 Democratic win in 2014. Perez pointed out that the DNC made a $300,000 investment in the race and said, “That’s the new paradigm.”
“I have an unlimited reservoir of optimism that we can turn this thing around.”
UPDATE/CORRECTION: I followed up with a Democratic Party official to try to verify and get more information about the $300,000 figure cited by Perez. The official said that if Perez said the DNC invested that amount of money in the race, then he misspoke. The official added that they think Perez said that $300,000 was the total amount spent, not the amount the DNC invested.
The official also added that the DNC helped out in the race through other ways – volunteer recruitment, sending out a Get Out The Vote email, and social media.
ATLANTA – Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez was elected to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee, beating Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) 235-200 in the second round of voting, easily clearing the 218-ballot threshold for victory. Ellison supporters were initially furious at the outcome, shouting “Party for the people, not big money!” after the outcome was announced. Those emotions quickly changed to joy after Perez, in his first official act as chairman, introduced a motion appointing Ellison as deputy chairman. The motion was quickly approved by thrilled DNC members who supported both candidates.
“Allow me to congratulate our chair for successfully passing his first motion,” Ellison facetiously said after the announcement. He urged members and the party to unite behind the new chairman, saying, “We don’t have the luxury, folks, to walk out of this room divided.”
It was the culmination of the chaotic final hours of the race which began in the weeks after last November’s presidential election. During the first round of voting, the Ellison campaign sent text messages to DNC members claiming South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg had endorsed him, a claim Buttigieg refuted on Twitter. Perez finished half a vote short of the 214 votes necessary to win on the first ballot. Ellison supporters sent out a subsequent text message during the second ballot announcing a last-minute endorsement from Governor Howard Dean, with a note assuring them that it was real. Perez was able to pick up 22 additional votes on the second ballot, which secured his victory.
Asked to account for where these additional votes might have come from, South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison – who also ran for the chairmanship and endorsed Perez after dropping out of the race – said, “I think in the end, sometimes people had thoughts on what they were doing in the first ballot and that strategy might change on the second ballot. It was always important, when I was in the race, to have a second and third ballot strategy. The Perez team had a second ballot strategy where they were going to go after people who couldn’t be with him for the first ballot but made commitments for the second.”
Perez and Ellison held a joint press conference after the election, each wearing the other’s campaign pin on his lapel to emphasize their unity as they prepare to take over leadership of the Democratic National Committee.
“For everybody that supported me in this race, I want to say thank you,” Ellison told reporters. “But I want you to support Tom Perez. I want you to put your energy and time and resources behind making this the best Democratic National Committee it can possibly be.”
Perez did acknowledge that he and Ellison had previously discussed the possibility of working together as chairman and deputy chairman before the election.
Both Perez and Ellison mentioned that the DNC would focus on down-ballot state and local races in their immediate and long-term efforts to rebuild the party. “We’ve got to make sure that we are implementing our shared vision of culture change, so that we are no longer the committee that helps elect the president,” Perez said, in reference to the party’s previous focus on presidential races at the expense of others down the ballot. “We’re the committee that helps to ensure that we are electing people up and down the Democratic ticket. Because if we want to take back the House of Representatives, we got to take back state houses, we got to take back governor’s mansions.”
Though Ellison had previously pledged to resign from Congress if elected chairman, he told reporters he would remain in the House of Representatives while serving as deputy chairman.
“Congratulations to my friend Tom Perez on his election to lead the Democratic Party, and on his choice of Keith Ellison to help him lead it,” former president Barack Obama said in a statement. “I know that Tom Perez will unite us under that banner of opportunity, and lay the groundwork for a new generation of Democratic leadership for this big, bold, inclusive, dynamic America we love so much.”
“I congratulate Tom Perez on his election as chairman of the Democratic National Committee and look forward to working with him,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an Ellison supporter, said in a statement. “It’s imperative Tom understands that the same-old, same-old isn’t working and that we must bring in working and young people in a new way. The Democratic Party must make clear it will stand up to the 1% and lead in the fight for social, racial, economic and environmental justice.”
President Donald Trump responded to the election outcome via Twitter: “Congratulations to Thomas Perez, who has just been named Chairman of the DNC. I could not be happier for him, or for the Republican Party!” He sent out a subsequent tweet calling the race for DNC chairman “rigged.”
“By selecting a D.C. insider, Democrats only create deeper divisions within their own party by pushing a far left agenda that rejects a majority of their base outside Washington,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “The DNC would be well-served to learn from two straight election cycle losses, encourage the leaders in their party to listen to what the voters want, and get to work with Republicans to fix the mess they created.”
WikiLeaks tweeted a link to search results where Perez’s name came up in its collection of emails from the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s personal email account.
ATLANTA—Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez came within half a vote of winning the chairmanship for the Democratic National Committee on the first ballot. Out of 427 ballots cast, the threshold to win was 214. Perez finished with 213.5 ballots, Rep. Keith Ellison finished second with 200 ballots. Idaho Democratic Party executive director Sally Boynton Brown finished third with 12 votes. South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, who withdrew from the race earlier in the day, received one vote. Former Fox News pundit Jehmu Greene received half a ballot. The remaining candidates – Air Force veteran Sam Ronan and attorney Peter Peckarsky did not receive any ballots. Perez and Greene’s half ballots came from the Democrats Abroad caucus.
Boynton Brown, Greene, Ronan and Peckarsky withdrew from the race after the first ballot. Greene endorsed Perez, Peckarsky endorsed Ellison, and Ronan endorsed Ellison but said he would support Perez if he won. Boynton Brown did not endorse a candidate. This sets up a head-to-head matchup between Ellison and Perez for the second ballot. Perez could have won the first ballot outright if the DNC member who voted for Buttigieg had cast his or her ballot for him or if he had received the half ballot cast for Greene.
The second ballot is currently underway.
ATLANTA – Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez showed signs of seizing momentum in the final stretch of the race for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. His campaign announced a series of endorsements from DNC voting members in the last 24 hours before party insiders gather to elect their next chairman and other senior party leaders.
The endorsements include the entire delegations of Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as individual members from Florida, Texas and Virginia.
ATLANTA – Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) endorsed South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg in his race for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. “Pete Buttigieg is the only candidate who has demonstrated he has what it takes to organize and win in places where Democrats haven’t competed for years,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “This is bigger than what happened in 2016 and what will happen in 2018. This is about the future of our party. Pete Buttigieg offers us the best opportunity to be put on a path to victory for decades to come. I proudly endorse Pete Buttigieg and a fresh start for the Democratic Party.”
Heitkamp’s endorsement offers Buttigieg one final big-name endorsement – though she is not a voting DNC member – less than 24 hours before Democrats elect their next chairman. Though the two front-runners in the race continue to be Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Buttigieg has been quietly gaining momentum and endorsements – most notably from five former DNC chairs, including Governor Howard Dean – in recent weeks and has emerged as the leading candidate from the rest of the field.
While the Ellison-Perez battle is seen by many observers and journalists as a proxy war through the prism of the 2016 primaries – Ellison was a Bernie Sanders supporter and Sanders has endorsed him in this race, Perez is seen as having the support of many former cabinet officials in the Obama administration and people close to the former president, including Vice President Joe Biden. Buttigieg – who wrote an essay praising Sanders when he was still in high school and endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016 – is perceived by many as a possible alternative candidate who is not tainted by the lingering Clinton-Sanders divisions within the party. At the recent DNC forum in Baltimore less than two weeks ago, Buttigieg said, “I didn’t enjoy the 2016 primary the first time. I don’t know why we would want to relive it a second time.”
Heitkamp is considered one of the Senate Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents up for reelection in 2018. Though North Dakota has a record of electing Democratic senators like Heitkamp, Byron Dorgan, and Kent Conrad in the past, Donald Trump won the state by 36 points in 2016.
ATLANTA – South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison announced he was dropping out of the race for Democratic National Committee chairman and endorsing former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. Harrison announced the decision on the first day of the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting in Atlanta, less than 24 hours after appearing on a televised candidates’ debate hosted by CNN and less than 48 hours before the election to pick the next chairman is scheduled to take place.
“In a former job, I whipped votes for House Democrats. I know what a path to victory looks like. Despite strong performances at the debate and DNC regional forums, the votes are simply not there for me to secure victory on Saturday,” Harrison wrote in an email to DNC members. “Tom Perez has brought integrity, passion, and tenacity to every job he’s ever had. I have had a front-row seat to these qualities in the many debates and forums we have participated in. These qualities are why Barack Obama and Joe Biden trusted him to spearhead an economic agenda that brought us out of the recession. They are why Eric Holder trusted him to enforce our civil rights and voting rights laws so that everyone is treated equally under the law and has access to the ballot box. And they are why I trust Tom to lead the Democratic turnaround as Chair of the DNC.”
“Every person who knows Jaime Harrison will say he is one of the smartest, most dedicated, and genuine leaders we know. Simply put, he’s one of a kind. Jaime’s commitment to the party is like no other and I’m proud to have his support as we both work together to invest in state parties, turnaround the DNC, and get back to winning,” Perez said in a statement. “If elected chair, I will work with Jaime and others who are running for chair to bring our party together because it will take every one of us to unite a party that is suffering from a crisis of confidence and relevance.”
Perez also announced today that he had received the endorsement of the entire Louisiana DNC delegation, as well as Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards. In a joint statement announcing the endorsement, they said, “Tom’s vision for the DNC and ours are the same — a DNC that competes in every ZIP code and empowers Democrats from the local to the federal level. For this reason and others, we proudly endorse Tom for DNC chair.”
According to a recent whip count of the DNC chairman race by the Associated Press, Perez leads Rep. Keith Ellison 205-153 out of 224 votes necessary to win the election. The count also calculated Harrison’s support at 27 votes. If the Associated Press’s calculations are correct, Harrison could possibly push Perez over the top, though the DNC members who have endorsed him are not bound to his decision to back Perez.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who endorsed Ellison early in the contest, sent out a letter to DNC members this afternoon – after Harrison’s announcement – reaffirming his support for Ellison and defending him on Israel:
Other high-profile surrogates for Perez and Ellison have gotten involved in the final days of the race, according to NBC News:
As NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald pointed out, Harrison’s exit makes South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg the default third party candidate who might emerge as a dark horse compromise alternative if neither Perez nor Ellison are able to secure the necessary votes to win the election after multiple rounds of voting. Buttigieg’s campaign received a major boost on Wednesday when it secured the endorsement of former DNC chairman Governor Howard Dean, who is well regarded within the party and had one its most successful tenures in recent times with victories in the 2006 and 2008 elections. Buttigieg and Dean will be hosting a lunch for DNC members tomorrow.