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BACKGROUND CHECK: Labor Secretary Thomas Perez

Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez in his office Feb. 26, 2014. (Matt McClain/ The Washington Post)

When President Obama nominated Thomas Perez a year ago to be labor secretary, he noted that Perez was then an assistant attorney general for civil rights and had also been Maryland’s labor secretary.

But Perez — the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic and the first Cabinet secretary of Dominican descent — had also worked in some less glamorous jobs, Obama said, helping to pay his way through college working as a garbage collector and in a warehouse and “went on to become the first lawyer in his family.”

In a chat with the Loop, Perez revealed, among other things, that despite his Dominican roots, he can’t come around very well on a fastball and his own fastball, well, left a little to be desired. (Problem may have been that the family wasn’t from San Pedro de Macoris.) So he had to seek other professional opportunities.

Which Cabinet secretary would you most like to hang out with, and what would you do?

I have enjoyed working with all my Cabinet colleagues, and, while I have spent a considerable time with my former boss, Eric Holder, I currently work extensively and very productively with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.  We have a shared belief that if we can help workers and businesses succeed, then America succeeds.

What’s your favorite non-work-related Web site/blog/app/magazine?

Fill in the blank: People would be surprised to know that I _________.

Ran the Boston Marathon three times and have coached at least one of my children in basketball or some other sport for 10 years.

What’s your dream job (other than your current gig)?

Major League Baseball Commissioner. I played baseball throughout high school but, unlike other Dominican-Americans, I couldn’t hit a fastball.  My own fastball had deceptive speed — it was slower than you think.

What motivated you to go into public service?

My parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic to escape a brutal dictator. [Loop note: That would be Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, a.k.a. “El Chivo," finally gunned down, apparently with CIA help, in 1961.]  America was a land of opportunity for them, and they taught my four siblings (all of whom are doctors) and me to work hard, aim high and always give back to others. They taught us that if you want to get to heaven, you better have letters of reference from the underserved.

Favorite TV show?

“The Wire”

Which character from that show do you most identify with?

I identify with the young people living in tough neighborhoods for which meaningful opportunity was elusive.

What subject, other than your work, do you know most about?

Civil Rights history

Fill in the blank: I’m scared of _________________.

The fact that millions of Americas are working hard and falling further behind.  This is why our focus at the Department of Labor is expanding opportunity by  helping people get a good job, making sure they have the skills to succeed in today and tomorrow’s economy, and ensuring that we reward hard work with fair wages.

What’s one word you wish people would use to describe you?


 You can draft one person in the private sector to come work for the federal government. Who would it be, and what would you have them do?

I would resurrect Steve Jobs and enlist him to work with the Department of Labor to develop the next generation of technological tools to enable us to carry out our mission of expanding opportunity for everyone.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.



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Al Kamen · February 26, 2014

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