Tom Perez was elected Saturday as chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) after a competitive race against Rep. Keith Ellison, becoming the first Latino to lead the party.
Perez, 55, left the Obama administration last month after serving as labor secretary since July 2013. In that job, he helped push for new overtime rules to ensure workers get overtime pay, extended overtime protections for home care workers and extended minimum wage protections.
He also helped establish worker safety rules, and under his leadership the department provided paid sick leave and ensured employment protections for federal contractor employees, according to his biography on the department’s website.
He was elected Saturday in Atlanta, receiving 235 votes and surpassing the 218-vote threshold to win. Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and the first Muslim elected to Congress, received 200 votes. Perez appointed Ellison as deputy chairman immediately after the results were announced.
“We are united as a party,” Perez said after his election, with Ellison standing by his side. “We have so much work ahead of us because across America, people are fearful. People are fearful for our future. Democrats united are the hope for our future.”
Perez is a native of Buffalo, New York, and received a bachelor’s degree from Brown University, a law degree from Harvard Law School and a master’s of public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
His parents were immigrants from the Dominican Republic. His dad died when Perez was only 12 years old, according to his biography on his campaign website, and he later put himself through college by working on the back of a garbage truck.
He started his career as a civil rights attorney at the Department of Justice and later served as special counselor to Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts. Under Attorney General Janet Reno, Perez served as deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, and toward the end of the Clinton administration, he was the head of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Before President Obama nominated Perez to his Cabinet, succeeding Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, he returned to the Justice Department in 2009 to serve as assistant attorney general for civil rights.