Former Labor Secretary, DNC Chairman Tom Perez to Launch Gubernatorial Bid

Tom Perez, then chairman of the Democratic National Committee, speaks during the virtual Democratic National Convention on August 20. Pool/Getty Images photo by Tannen Maury.

Tom Perez, a former member of the Obama cabinet who has also served in Annapolis and in local government, launched his campaign for governor on Wednesday with a pledge to steer state government in a manner that helps workers of all stripes.

Speaking to a group of approximately 100 supporters outside the Silver Spring Civic Center, the 59-year-old attorney and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee said Maryland “is punching below its weight.”

Perez promised to “finish the Purple Line” in the Washington, D.C. suburbs “and build the Red Line” — a project killed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) — in Baltimore City.

He said he would reinvigorate efforts to create an offshore wind industry in Maryland and make “affordable” broadband access available to every home in the state.

The Montgomery County resident also pledged, if elected, to pursue worker-friendly policies aimed at offsetting a pandemic “that disproportionately hurt poor communities, immigrant communities, communities of color and women.”

“We have now a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take this energy that exists on the streets across America and transform it into action,” he said. “Take this moment and turn it into a movement.”

In Silver Spring and at a second rally in Baltimore, Perez collected endorsements from former Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, Charles County Commission President Reuben B. Collins II, state Sen. Cory V. McCray (Baltimore City), Maryland House Judiciary Chairman Luke Clippinger (Baltimore City), and Montgomery County Council vice-president Gabe Albornoz, all Democrats.

“His DNA is civil and human rights,” Leggett told the crowd. “We have an opportunity today to elect a person who started working in New York at the back of a trash truck, to elevate him in Maryland to the head of our state government.”

Collins called Perez “a progressive” who sees issues coming before they hit the collective radar. “I almost call him ‘the oracle,’ because he recognized a looming challenge that our nation would be facing when he took on the idea of predatory lending.”

Perez joins a growing list of Democratic candidates — all men, so far — in seeking to succeed Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), Maryland’s popular and term-limited governor, in the 2022 elections.

He faulted the governor for capping supplemental federal jobless benefits and for not moving more quickly to fix the state’s unemployment compensation system. He also said Hogan was wrong to kill the Red Line, a project that had qualified for federal funding.

Perez’s bio is a blur of accomplishment and consequential posts.

After getting a degree from Harvard, Perez clerked for a federal judge in Colorado, worked as a prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, served as deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights under Janet Reno, was Sen. Ted Kennedy’s top adviser on civil rights and criminal justice issues, and steered the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

He’s taught law school in Maryland and D.C., and he served on the Montgomery County Council for one term.

His 2006 bid to become state attorney general was thwarted by a legal challenge from a Republican who argued he hadn’t practiced law in Maryland for ten years, as required.

He was tapped for a Cabinet post — leading the state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation — by Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D) the following year.

Perez was President Obama’s pick to become assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, then he became U.S. secretary of labor. In 2017 he was elected chairman of the Democratic Party.

A longtime resident of Takoma Park, Perez is now a partner at a D.C. law firm.

His campaign launch includes a video in which the former president, speaking from the White House press room, lavishes praises on Perez, calling him “one of the best secretaries of labor in our history.”

“He is tireless. He is wicked smart. If you look at his body of work on behalf of working people, he has been extraordinary,” Obama says.

The clips could prove valuable in a primary in which several candidates are stressing their connections to the 44th president.

Perez joins an increasingly crowded field of Democratic candidates that includes former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, nonprofit executive Jon Baron, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, former state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, former Obama Administration official Ashwani K. Jain, former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., author and former anti-poverty CEO Wes Moore, and Baltimore tech entrepreneur Michael Rosenbaum.

Perez was the first Latino ever elected to the Montgomery Council, the first to serve as state labor secretary, and the first to run the DNC. If elected next year, he would become Maryland’s first Latino governor.

In an interview he said that while he is proud of his “firsts,” “the need to help people” is his primary focus.

“I am most motivated by the desire to make sure that we are serving people well, and that everybody is getting access to opportunity.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include details from Perez’s Wednesday morning rally. 

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.