New DNC Chair Rose Through Maryland Politics

by Josh Averbach ’18

This year’s race for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair—who serves as the head of the Democratic Party—was one of the most contentious in the party’s history. Hardcore progressives, who largely supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries, backed Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison for DNC chair, while the party’s more moderate, Clinton-supporting wing backed former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. In the end, the latter narrowly defeated the former. While Perez is now a key power broker in national politics, his rise to the top started in Montgomery County.

After a tenure as a law professor at UMD, Perez was elected to the Montgomery County Council in 2002. He represented the county’s fifth district, which covers Kensington, Silver Spring, Wheaton, and Takoma Park. While on the council, Perez served on the committees for Health and Human Services, and Transportation and the Environment. He even served as the council’s president from 2004-2005. Once his county-level political career ended, Perez became Maryland’s Secretary of Labor. His success in Maryland propelled him to high levels of the federal government. In 2009, president Obama nominated him for the post of Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. He was confirmed with little resistance. In 2013, Perez became Obama’s labor secretary. and, on February 25, the former Montgomery County Council member became head of the Democratic Party.