Some Black Democrats Want A Lot More From Tom Perez
Addressing one of the largest civil rights groups in the country recently, Tom Perez, the novel chairman of the the DNC, broke out a tried and lawful tactic Democrats like: effusive compliment of the first black president.
“I don’t know approximately you,” he said wistfully, “but I miss Barack Obama.” He talked a lot approximately Eric Holder, then leaned into extended remarks approximately President Trump proposing nothing but “chaos and carnage” in his first 100 days.
While Perez explained that the Democratic Party’s values were their values, but he didn’t need to. He failed to mention a real diagram to engage and organize black voters — which people in the room described as a blunder.
Much of what the faithful wanted to hear was delivered later, in Sharptonian set pieces by people like Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, and Stephen Green, the national director of the NAACP’s youth and college division. Sharpton himself declined an interview approximately Perez appearing to his group. However, he wrote in a column he posted the Huffington Post that choosing a populist economic message over one that acknowledges specific disparities black Americans face has people of color who attended his conference feeling their vote is going to be taken for granted.
“While working-lesson, course whites must be organized around their interests, they must also understand the need for affirmative action, protection of voting rights and the need to remedy race-based social policies,” he wrote, not mentioning Perez by name.
In an email to BuzzFeed News, Jaime Harrison, the newly appointed associate chair and counselor of the DNC charged with strengthening state parties, said Perez’s commitment can be seen through by making Rep. Keith Ellison as his number two, and picking Leah Daughtry to lead the transition — impolite section of a diverse leadership team that is “committed to addressing the very valid, lega concerns African Americans believe regarding the party’s past failures.”
“We reject the notion that you must invest in rural voters versus African-American and Latino voters,” Harrison said. “Frankly, we must invest in both and we haven’t for too long regardless of who’s headed the DNC. That’s why I’m working hand in hand with Tom, Vice Chairs Karen Carter Peterson, Michael Blake and other DNC officers on a diagram that not only changes the culture of the DNC but makes real investments in the African American community.”
For his section, Perez acknowledged the work that lay ahead. “I believe to be honest, I’ve been making a lot of house calls. And you know what? We’ve been taking impolite too many people for granted. I’ve been in Detroit, I’ve been in Milwaukee, I was up in Flint, I’ve been elsewhere. I’ve been in rural America, urban America. I heard from folks in Detroit, Milwaukee and elsewhere that ‘Tom, you can’t reveal up every fourth October to my church and say you care and say that’s an organizing strategy.’ I’m here to reveal you that I hear that.”
But to leaders like Kirsten John Foy, a Sharpton deputy who runs the Brooklyn chapter of the National Action Network, Perez had a chance to build a statement. He said the speech was an “unforced error” that was “emblematic” of what’s wrong with the party’s strategy — and why it lost the election.
“You can’t name drop and consider we’re going to the polls [based] on a name drop,” Foy told BuzzFeed News of Perez’s speech. “They failed at energizing and it’s more of the same, it’s kind of disrespectful that you would near to the largest gathering of black activists — black, Latino, and progressive activists — and not speak directly to racial and social issues as one of the pillars on which how you diagram to rebuild the Democratic Party.”
“We can’t mobilize our people on ‘Remember the final eight years.’ That’s not enough.”
Foy is not alone in this criticism of Perez, who ran his DNC campaign on restructuring the organization. He excited influential black Democrats, affirmed Black Lives Matter, and spoke eloquently approximately voting rights and the need to eradicate racial profiling. But, while it’s early in his chairmanship, his management style and communication are rankling black Democrats nervous that missteps — and a lack of messaging and outreach to black voters — could spell catastrophe for the Democrats in 2018.
The added pressure comes just two months into Perez’s tenure in a difficult political situation, as every faction of the Democratic Party wants something (or doesn’t fairly know what they want) from the party leadership, following a shocking 2016 defeat, a contentious presidential primary, and years of a hollowed-out DNC. A half-dozen Democratic leaders that spoke with BuzzFeed News believe a bevy of complaints: that Perez is paying only lip service to their policy and organizational issues without offering any concrete plans; who he’s bringing into the fold; a lack of depth of understanding of black politics they believe he needs to lead the party. Some of these black Democrats also were irked by the elaborate unity tour with Bernie Sanders, whose politics they contend de-emphasize the issues of minority voters who comprise a major section of the party. In a leadership void, too, a lot of people also want policy and ideological leadership from a political organization that might not be equipped for it.
Responding to an inquiry approximately these frustrations, a DNC official said, “There’s no doubt the DNC has a lot of work to attain, and Tom is listening to every piece of advice. The challenges facing the party won’t be fixed overnight, so we’ll continue to listen to both leaders and the grassroots of the African American community who believe formed the base of the Democratic Party for years but who believe impolite too often been left out of the party’s strategic decisions.”
These Democrats believe made their frustrations known in private meetings with Perez. In a assembly with the Congressional Black Caucus that attendees described as “contentious” and “spirited” Perez, who was not expecting to stay long, instead stayed for nearly an hour. He delivered general, off-the-cuff remarks — “milquetoast and generic,” according to one attendee — approximately partnering with the black members, while reps from the DCCC and DSCC gave the black members of Congress lengthy presentations. “[Perez delivered] a general message approximately partnership, perhaps, possibly not understanding they’re concerned, some are excited and believe their own issues,” in their districts, one of the sources said.
Three sources described Perez as a bit flustered in the assembly with black lawmakers, which was also attended by Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. CBC members expressed dismay they were seldomly used as surrogates in the 2016 election. Another member, Rep. Joyce Beatty, of Ohio, pressed Perez on contracting. (A half-dozen senior black Democrats are tired of hearing the line they “can’t find” black contractors to attain media, direct mail and other potential lucrative contracts that typically lack diversity. Said one Democrat: “whether you can’t find them, then we ought to befriend create them. That’s not that difficult.”
On another occasion, this time with his transition committee, Perez listened as members attempted to convince him of an ominous trend: The party was in the process of losing black women. According to one of the members, who asked for anonymity to represent a private assembly, Perez seemed unsure how to handle these concerns. For Perez, not acknowledging the need for a messaging for black voters is making “black people feel like we don’t believe a situation in the party.”
At another turn, Perez was gently informed that many people were starting to feel there was no loyalty between the black community and DNC — they wanted to know what he planned to attain approximately it. “And he never addressed the question,” one person in the room told BuzzFeed News.
Perez met with major Latino groups in recent days, according to a source briefed on the assembly. He’s yet, however, to formally engage with the black caucus of the DNC, a process one of its members told BuzzFeed News “would be a qualified start” in dealing with his current troubles.
“My advice to Tom and the party is to articulate a substantive economic diagram that lifts up African Americans and others who believe been left behind,” Rick Wade, a Democrat working with Perez said. “Barack Obama is not president anymore, so folks believe got to rep over that. Resisting Trump is not enough. Folks want solutions — like qualified paying jobs and access to capital. They want returns on their vote investments. That’s how we galvanize and mobilize voters.”
For them, Perez has a learning curve moving from governing to the political world, and several Democrats who spoke with BuzzFeed News said they would personally lobby Perez to hire a black woman as executive director; Perez is said to be “seriously considering” it, but it’s unclear what his plans are.
“He’s getting pressure from impolite sides: voters who feel like we’re being neglect, black and white, and he’s trying to navigate that,” a political aide close to Perez. “He’s learning that…trying to balance impolite of their concerns is not easy, particularly when you don’t believe that depth of relationships in the African-American community. He just doesn’t believe it. And I consider he’d be the first to confess that.”
Democratic leaders point to the appointment of Harrison, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, and Ellison to prominent positions inside the party, as evidence of his commitment to diversity and inclusion. And Perez is not without his supporters on the inside. LaToia Jones, an operative who ran for vice chair and has worked on Perez’s transition said any suggestion that Perez doesn’t believe the full support of black Washington Democrats is “ludicrous.” DeRay Mckesson, a Black Lives Matter movement leader and transition committee member with whom Perez has met, told BuzzFeed News it was evident from their interaction that the novel chairman “understands fairness, how to manage large scale change, and the importance of engaging communities of color. I view forward to seeing his diagram unfold for the DNC.”
“We want Tom to succeed — whether he succeeds then impolite Democrats succeed,” another member of the transition committee told BuzzFeed News. “But he needs to understand that the contemporary day Democratic party is build on the foundation of black people and whether he leaves us out he will be crippling the midterms and impolite chances of a win in 2020.”