Washington: Keith Ellison, a US Muslim lawmaker and a supporter of Bernie Sanders, on Monday formally announced his bid to lead the battered Democratic Party, vowing to take it in a more liberal direction.
“I am proud to announce my candidacy for Chair of the Democratic National Committee, and if given the opportunity to serve, I will work tirelessly to make the Democratic Party an organization that brings us together and advances an agenda that improves people’s lives,” Ellison, 53, said in a statement.
Ellison, a member of the House of Representatives who hails from Minnesota, became the first Muslim elected to the US Congress in 2006.
He was one of the first supporters of Sanders, in October 2015, in the Vermont senator’s ultimately unsuccessful bid against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries.
Clinton’s loss in the November 8 election to Republican tycoon Donald Trump has left the party reeling.
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, was among the first to announce his support for Ellison to lead the DNC.
A number of other party heavyweights also back him, including the next Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer of New York.
“The Democratic Party needs to look itself in the mirror and work tirelessly to become once again the party that working people know will work for their interests,” Sanders wrote in launching a petition drive to support Ellison’s bid last week.
A party in crisis
As Democratic President Barack Obama winds up his eight years in office, his party is in crisis.
In addition to losing the White House in last week’s election, the Democrats were unable to retake control of either the Senate or the House from the Republicans and lost a number of state races.
In the battle to rebuild the party of former presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, Ellison said, the focus needs to be populist and anchored at the grassroots level.
“We should have to make the voters first. Not the donors first,” Ellison said in an ABC television interview Sunday.
“I love the donors and we thank them but it has to be that - the guys in the barber shop, the lady at the diner, the folks who are worried about whether that plant is going to close.... They’ve got to be a laser beam focus on everything we do,” he said. “That’s how we come back.”
Ellison would be the first Muslim and the third African American, according to the Huffington Post, to head the DNC.
He notably faces a rival in Howard Dean, former party head from 2005 to 2009 and a presidential contender in the 2004 primaries.
The DNC is currently led by interim chair Donna Brazile following the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who stepped down in July under fierce criticism of her pro-Clinton bias during the primaries.