At first, all the wind appeared behind Rep. Keith Ellison’s back in his bid to be the next DNC chairman. He hit the ground running with an early endorsement from progressive heavyweight Sen. Bernie Sanders. Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren also gave their approval of Ellison. The Democrat from Minnesota then shot down fears of him not being able to hold two jobs by publicly announcing he would resign from Congress if he became chairman. Making it even easier, the only candidates in the race were much less well-known.
Everything was going great until two things came into view: Ellison's past comments and secretary of labor Tom Perez.
Ellison, Capitol Hill’s first Muslim lawmaker, has been facing criticism of past admiration for Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan in years past. Ellison called Farrakhan a “role model for Black Youth” in a 1995 student editorial.
Following those revelations, critics uncovered more recent comments (taking place in 2010) where Ellison suggested America’s foreign policy agenda in the Middle East is set by Israel. The unearthed remarks prompted Haim Saban, Anti-Defamation League leader and prolific Democratic donor, to rebuke them publicly.
With Ellison’s bid faltering, more establishment Democrats (including those in Obama’s inner circle) pushed current labor secretary Tom Perez to jump into the race – which he did not long after.
Labor was beginning to be a major bastion of support for Ellison. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka pushed his major labor organization into officially endorsing him.
That base of support is now, too, in question.
Being the labor secretary for President Obama, Perez has enjoyed the support of labor groups the country over. He has enacted regulation after regulation in defense of labor rights and issues. Despite the AFL-CIO already endorsing Ellison (before Perez joined the race), the labor secretary’s entrance has undoubtedly created headaches for Ellison’s bid for chairman.
For his part, Ellison has disavowed past support for Farrakhan. He claims he praised the controversial leader years ago when Ellison was still quite young. However, his critics allege that these claims are a stretch and that Ellison's support for the Nation of Islam leader had endured for a much longer time than the Minnesota Democrat is letting on.