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Caucus Leader Is Skeptical Perez Will Energize The Democratic Party

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Democratic Party has a new leader. Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

TOM PEREZ: When I was looking in the audience here, there was someone holding up a sign that says, unite. And I could not agree more. And we are united in our love for the Democratic Party, our love for the diversity of the Democratic Party, our love for the robust discussions that occur in the Democratic Party.

GREENE: But not everyone in the Democratic Party is firmly behind Perez. With me now is Leslie Wimes. She is head of the Democratic African-American Women Caucus in the state of Florida. Thanks for coming back on our program. We appreciate it.

LESLIE WIMES: Thanks for having me, David.

GREENE: So is Perez the right leader to - to unite the party, as he says?

WIMES: Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not.

GREENE: OK.

WIMES: Perez is just Debbie Wasserman Schultz with XY chromosomes.

GREENE: She's the former - former DNC chair, which is a...

WIMES: Yes, she is.

GREENE: Why do you think that?

WIMES: He's establishment. The establishment Democrats, they want to maintain their power and position at all costs. And when Perez got in the race, I knew that it was over for Keith Ellison. They just wanted to make sure that they maintain their power and position. So while I'm disappointed that Keith Ellison didn't win, I'm not surprised.

GREENE: OK. We should say Congressman Keith Ellison was the - the person you were supporting. And there was a protest from inside the party when he did not win. But the first thing Perez did was name Ellison as his deputy. Is that - is that a move that could help coalesce the party right now?

WIMES: No because what exactly does that mean? What does the deputy do? What is he going to do, get Perez's coffee in the morning? Exactly what is he going to do? What is that position?

GREENE: I would - I would assume the position is more than getting coffee. But - but you might know better than me. Go on.

WIMES: You know, the bottom line is this. That - that bone, if you will, was so that his supporters and, in essence, the Bernie - Elizabeth - Elizabeth Warren wing of the party - would coalesce. And that's not going to happen. The progressive wing, we're tired of the bones that they throw. We want meat, and that's not meat.

GREENE: Your party sounds incredibly divided right now, based on - on what you're saying here.

WIMES: Even more so, even more so - I mean, when you keep doing the same thing and you keep losing, at some point, you have to realize you have to do something different. And Tom Perez was not something different.

GREENE: I mean, President Trump tweeted over the weekend, the race for DNC chairman was, of course, totally rigged. Bernie's guy, like Bernie himself, never had a chance. Clinton demanded Perez. Are you basically agreeing with Donald Trump?

WIMES: This is not about Donald Trump at this point. This is about the soul of the Democratic Party. And that's what the establishment has to understand. And they have to listen to its base. And that's the problem. They're not listening to the base. What they're listening to are the consultants who want to keep making money and the donors who just want to control.

They're not listening to the people who are out there on the ground, the activists, the people who are going door to door, the people who are saying, listen to us. And that's what they're not doing. And that's why they continue to lose. I mean, look at how many people are leaving the Democratic Party. Listen to how many people, who - who are saying, hey, we're here for you. But you have to be here for us. And they're not. They're here for themselves.

GREENE: Is there an argument that now that this race is over - I mean, your candidate, Keith Ellison, is the number two; you have Perez as number one - that the party has so much work to do. It's time to come together, not criticize the new chair but sort of get this message that you're talking about, you know, from the inside and convince him to do the things you're talking about?

WIMES: But who's on the inside, David? The only people who are on the inside are the establishment people. They keep shutting out the very people that they need to win.

GREENE: You don't sound optimistic at all about your party right now.

WIMES: No, I don't because I'm not.

GREENE: OK. But we should say, we have - we have reached out to Perez. And we're hoping to talk to him at some point this week. But we really appreciate you being with us this morning and talking about this. Thank you.

WIMES: You're very welcome.

GREENE: That is the voice of Leslie Wimes. She is the founder of the Democratic African-American Women Caucus, and she joins us from Boynton Beach, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.