Tom Perez advised Ted K, worked on garbage truck
Newly elected Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez will bring decades of public service — stretching from a county commission in Maryland to the Department of Labor — to the tough task of uniting his fractured party after the bruising election of President Trump and the weakening of state parties under President Obama.
Perez, 55, was raised in Buffalo, N.Y., by parents who are both immigrants from the Dominican Republic. His maternal grandfather was the country’s ambassador to the U.S. but was declared persona non grata when he spoke out against the nation’s brutal dictator, Rafael Trujillo.
Perez studied at Brown University — where he says Pell grants and working on the back of a garbage truck put him through college — and Harvard Law School before clerking for a federal judge and working as a civil rights prosecutor for the Justice Department under Attorney General Janet Reno.
Perez worked for three years as a special counselor to U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy in Washington, D.C., advising him on civil rights, criminal justice and constitutional issues. He and Kennedy fought discrimination in the Defense of Marriage Act and passed the Church Arson Prevention Act as African-American churches were being burned to the ground in the late ’90s.
Under President Clinton, Perez worked on civil rights in the Department of Health and Human Services, before getting into local politics as the first Latino to win a seat on the Montgomery County Council, where he served from 2002 to 2006. He ran for Maryland attorney general in 2006, but his candidacy was sunk when a court ruled he didn’t meet the requirement of having a decade of legal experience in the state.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley named Perez to lead the state’s Labor Department in 2007, and President Obama named him as the assistant attorney general for civil rights in 2009. Perez was named the U.S. Labor Secretary in 2013, a position he held until Obama left office.