Tom Perez may have won the DNC — but it'll be Keith Ellison’s speech we remember.

Source: AP
Source: AP

As Tom Perez heard his name announced as the new chair of the Democratic National Committee, he moved to give Keith Ellison a hug, beginning his tenure as leader of the Democratic Party by sharing the spotlight with his erstwhile rival.


Perez's first move as chair was to make Ellison — a black, Muslim congressman from Minnesota — deputy chair of the Democratic Party. After initial razor-thin ballot results, and the first contested DNC leadership battle in decades, Perez asked for unanimous consent that Ellison become his chief lieutenant in leading the party forward. 

No one in the room opposed the motion — or if they did, they didn't vocalize it. Amidst cheers, Keith Ellison became the vice chair of the DNC.

"Allow me to congratulate our chair on successfully passing his first motion," Ellison said as Perez stepped aside to give his chief rival the microphone, "We don't have the luxury, folks, to walk out of this room divided." 


The moment may be symbolic, but it stands in sharp contrast to the brutal primary fight between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Sanders and other progressives supported Ellison, who announced his leadership bid a month before Perez, and worked diligently behind the scenes to elect the congressman. 

Perez, backed publicly by former Vice President Joe Biden and privately by former President Barack Obama, hoped to win his bid to lead the party on the first ballot. When that did not happen, the gathering of Democrats in Atlanta descended briefly into chaos, with Ellison's backers making a final push to elevate their candidate. Former DNC Chair Howard Dean threw his support behind Ellison in the time between the two votes. Ultimately, Ellison's 200 votes on the second ballot ended up the same as the first. 

That does not mean the progressive surge Ellison's candidacy represents can be ignored. As Perez took the microphone, a small contingent of Ellison backers chanted, "Party for the people, not big money!" Perez's elevation of Ellison was key to showing Sanders supporters and others their demands will not be ignored. 

"Somebody was holding up a sign that said, 'Unite,'" Perez said after taking the microphone back from Ellison. "And I could not agree more."

The coming months will determine whether Perez, and the Democratic establishment he represents, can win the support of progressives disillusioned by the defeat of Sanders and now Ellison. "If you came here supporting me," Ellison said in his speech, "I'm asking you to give everything you've got to support Chairman Perez."

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Will Drabold

Will Drabold is a policy writer at Mic. He writes Navigating Trump's America, Mic's daily read on Donald Trump's America. He is based in Washington, D.C., and can be reached at wdrabold@mic.com

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