A Hispanic in the Democratic National Committee

By Astrid Pineda |

This past Saturday 25th of February, Thomas E. Pérez became the first Latino to be elected as chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The DNC constitutes the governing body for the United States Democratic Party. Among the main activities of the organization are the quadrennial elaboration of a Democratic platform where the central ideas to the Party are reviewed and presented; and the organization of the Democratic National Convention, where presidential candidates for the Democratic Party are nominated and elected.

Mr. Pérez won by a narrow margin of 35 votes, which is just a symptom of the deep-rooted internal divisions within the Democratic Party that have been accentuating after the past presidential elections. Keith Ellison, contender to Mr. Pérez, called for unity by addressing his supporters and saying: “(…) If you care about people who have walls being built against them, being banned for their religion, and having their healthcare taken away from them, if you care about those people, then you got to stay in here and back Tom Perez for chair.”

Thomas Pérez, a son of Dominican immigrants, has held a long career in public service. After obtaining a JD from Harvard Law School and a MPP from the Kennedy School of Government, he has worked as the principal advisor to former senator Ted Kennedy, as the Director of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and most recently as Secretary of Labor during the Obama Administration.

Among the new DNC chair’s main goals is the unification and strengthening of the Democratic Party. Shortly after being elected, he demonstrated his commitment towards achieving unity by naming Keith Ellison, the candidate favored by the progressive wing, as Deputy Chairman. Although this is a good first step and a signal of commitment, in order to prepare the Party for the next presidential elections, Mr. Perez faces an important challenge in bridging the establishment, mostly composed of Hillary followers, with the Sanders-aligned progressive wing of the Party.

After Mr. Perez’s election, Mr. Trump reacted by publishing a tweet saying 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!”, to which Mr. Perez replied with “Call me Tom. And don’t get too happy.  @keithellison and I, and Democrats united across the country, will be your worst nightmare”. One cannot possibly predict whether Mr. Perez will be able to become Trump’s worst nightmare. However, there’s one thing we can be sure of: in order to put up a strong front against Mr. Trump, the Democratic Party must resolve its internal disputes and unite first.

Astrid Pineda is a first year student pursuing a Master in Public Administration in International Development (MPA/ID) at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS). Before coming to HKS, Astrid was working with J-PAL on the impact evaluation of education policies in the Dominican Republic. Astrid has also worked as a consultant at the Social Protection and Health Division of the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB). She has a keen interest in poverty-alleviation strategies, and is passionate about improving education policy in her home country, the Dominican Republic. In her free time, she enjoys watching films and reading fiction.

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