After its loss in November’s presidential election, the Democratic Party is in clear need of reform. The scandal surrounding the emails of former Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, in particular caused many in and outside of the party to question the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton’s nomination.
And yet, presented with the opportunity to make a change, Democrats chose to stick with business as usual. Former labor secretary Thomas Perez, now the first Latino chair of the DNC, was elected Feb. 25 to lead the party for the next four years.
Perez is not an inherently flawed candidate. He ran on a platform of restoring unity and emphasized renewed attention to grassroots movements. He previously served as the United States Secretary of Labor and as a civil rights attorney. He is exactly the sort of person you would expect to hold a position like DNC chair, and his victory was not a surprise.
That’s the problem. Continuing on with the same breed of leaders, no matter their promises to put “values in action,” will cause the Democratic Party to lose a great deal of potential from the perspective of the many Americans who were disappointed with its prior performance.
Perez’s path to his new leadership status is also somewhat troubling to the Editorial Board, given that his candidacy and victory were facilitated by support from party members who had worked in the Obama administration. These members, according to the Los Angeles Times, “stood to lose lucrative party contracts” if Perez lost.
Rep. Keit Ellison, D-Minnesota, was Perez’s main contender, but he isn’t the candidate we would have chosen either. The Editorial Board believes the DNC would have been able to repair broken trust generally and best address its failing relationship with rural and working-class voters specifically, under the direction of Pete Buttigieg.
Buttigieg has twice been elected mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and though he used his nomination speech to withdraw from the race after having been overshadowed during the campaign by Perez and Ellison, we think he would have been the best choice. His impressive background would have made him a leader in which the largest possible majority of the voting public could have found something to support.
Buttigieg’s education includes degrees in history and literature from Harvard and in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford. He received the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his counterterrorism work as an officer in the Navy Reserve in Afghanistan in 2014.
And, crucially, his popularity and success in a city like South Bend, Indiana, whose lengthy decline after the loss of its Studebaker plant makes it the epitome of contemporary struggles in the American heartland, prove that he is capable of spearheading the kinds of reforms that would make the DNC successful.
Because of his commitment to revitalizing local government and the ambition of his plan to repurpose the kinds of vacant and abandoned properties that are problematic for many formerly factory-dependent Midwestern communities, tech industry professionals and organizations like Code for America, a nonprofit that uses technology to improve government policy, are breathing new life into an otherwise dying city.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Notre Dame in June 2016, Buttigieg aptly noted “there are a lot of people who think they lost their jobs because of globalization when they actually lost their jobs because of technology,” and his work as mayor shows an effort to address that misconception.
The Studebaker factory, which closed in 1963, will be renovated as a “mixed-use technology campus ... for manufacturing, technology firms, business incubators, training and education,” according to the South Bend Tribune.
“Sitting back and waiting for the map and demographics to save us — that’s not going to be enough,” Buttigieg said in the speech that announced his candidacy for DNC chair. We can only hope Perez will recognize that issue and earnestly pursue reform as he shapes the future of the Democratic Party.