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Former DNC chair Tom Perez launches bid for Maryland governor

Tom Perez in 2019.
Tom Perez in 2019. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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Former Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez, who served as labor secretary in the Obama administration, is running for Maryland governor in 2022, joining a crowded field of candidates vying for the Democratic Party nomination.

Perez, 59, said his campaign will focus on his experience over the past 35 years and his efforts to create opportunities for people regardless of where they live.

“I think Maryland wants to see that whoever is in the governor’s seat can deliver results,” Perez said in an interview to announce his bid.

Perez said he decided to enter the race for governor because Maryland has a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to make significant progress on issues that have been the focus of his life’s work: civil rights, economic justice and social justice.

“I want to build a Maryland where the sky is the limit for everyone,” he said.

Perez said he plans to focus on ensuring that Maryland residents have access to jobs that pay well, that children are receiving a high-quality education, and that people can get health care.

“I want Maryland to be the first state where 100 percent of Marylanders have access to health care,” he said.

The pandemic rocked this small hospital in a mostly Black suburb. Now it’s trying to grow.

With the announcement, Perez becomes at least the eighth Democratic candidate to vie for the party’s nomination.

He brings an extensive Rolodex to his campaign, filled with names from the DNC and the Obama administration, and his time as labor secretary in the administration of then-Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Perez served on the Montgomery County Council from 2002 to 2006, becoming the first Latino to serve on the legislative body of the state’s most populous jurisdiction. He gave up an easy reelection bid to run for state attorney general in 2006.

Perez’s campaign was aborted after a Montgomery school board member filed and won a lawsuit that said Perez was not eligible to be attorney general because he had not been a member of the Maryland bar for 10 years.

An attorney general’s office opinion and a circuit court judge concluded that his service as a federal prosecutor and deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department appeared to meet the requirement. But the Maryland Court of Appeals ultimately ruled that Perez, who graduated from Brown University, Harvard Law School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, did meet the constitutional requirements for the job.

Perez was elected DNC chairman in 2017, becoming the first Latino to lead the party. The vote culminated a contentious battle among Democrats over the party’s future following the 2016 election of Donald Trump.

In a video to announce his gubernatorial bid, Perez says he paid for college by working on a garbage truck and stocking shelves in a warehouse.

After graduating from law school, he said, he wanted to “make a difference” and go into public service. He joined the Justice Department’s civil right division as a prosecutor. A few years later he was tapped by then-President Barack Obama to lead the civil rights division and, later, the Labor Department.

The video includes a clip from Obama describing Perez as “wicked smart” and his work as “extraordinary.”

Perez joined the D.C. office of the Venable law firm this year.

A native of New York and the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Perez has lived in Montgomery for 25 years. He is married to Ann Marie Staudenmaier and has three grown children.

Perez is the second former Obama Cabinet member in the governor’s race. Former education secretary John B. King Jr. announced a bid in April.

Along with Perez and King, the other candidates who have officially launched campaigns for the Democratic primary are author and former nonprofit executive Wes Moore; Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot; former Montgomery County Council candidate Ashwani Jain; former state attorney general Douglas F. Gansler; Baltimore-based business owner and economist Mike Rosenbaum; and former government employee and nonprofit executive Jon Baron.

Running for the Republican nomination are Kelly Schultz, commerce secretary in the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan, and perennial candidate Robin Ficker.

Hogan (R), who is term-limited, is weighing a run for president.

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