Gannon University has a connection to a national political figure, thanks to sophomore physician assistant major Ivana Perez.
Perez is the niece of recently elected Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Thomas E. Perez, who was elected on Feb. 25.
Thomas Perez, who previously served as labor secretary under President Barack Obama, defeated Minnesota representative Keith Ellison, who was later named Perez’s deputy chairman.
The race was one of the tightest in the history of the Democratic party, with Perez earning 235 votes compared to Ellison’s 200 votes.
Perez is the first Latino chairman of the Democratic party.
Born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., Perez is the youngest of five children born to first-generation Dominican immigrants.
After graduating from Canisius High School in Buffalo in 1979, Perez enrolled at Brown University.
He went on to receive his juris doctorate from Harvard Law School in 1987.
Perez’s niece recalls her uncle being involved in politics her entire life.
“The earliest memory I have was when he was named assistant attorney general of the [Department of Justice’s] civil rights division, which was a great position for him considering our family comes from a Hispanic background,” Ivana Perez said.
“In 2013, I attended his inauguration to become the U.S. Secretary of Labor.”
Thomas Perez’s campaign for DNC chair began in December 2016 after the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, lost the election and Donald Trump took the oval office.
Clinton’s supporters gravitated toward supporting Perez, and he quickly garnered support from elites within the Democratic party including Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Clinton and a variety of governors.
During the last election cycle, Ivana Perez aligned herself more with Republican beliefs; however, she fully supported her uncle in his run for the Democratic chairmanship.
“I was really excited for him,” Perez said. “He has done such an amazing job in his previous positions that I knew he would be a great fit for the DNC chair.
“The fact that he had major figures support him shows that he is doing something right in his field of work, and I could not be more proud of him.”
Thomas Perez has received words of praise from many other individuals after being elected to the DNC chair, including President Trump.
Trump reached out to Perez via Twitter, writing, “Congratulations to Thomas Perez, who has just been named Chairman of the DNC. I could not be happier for him, or for the Republican Party!”
Perez immediately responded to the post, claiming “…don’t get too happy. @keithellison and I, and Democrats united across the country, will be your worst nightmare.”
Ivana Perez believed the tweet was quite funny and nothing out of the ordinary for her uncle.
“He would never back down from a challenge or let others’ negative opinions of him get him down,” Perez said. “He’s always been a positive and upbeat person.”
Perez commented further on the division between political parties in the country, which can be noted even in the President’s congratulatory tweet.
“It has been difficult for Democrats and Republicans to come together in any presidency, so I feel like that will never change,” Perez said.
However, she is an avid supporter of not letting politics interfere with relationships, especially when it comes to family.
Perez beams with pride for her uncle, and even though his beliefs cross party lines, she suggested to maintain family relationships by avoiding the subject of politics if one knows it is going to spark debate.
“I only see my uncle and his family a few times a year, and I realize that their opinions differ from mine, but I enjoy their company more than anything,” Perez said.
“I think keeping an open mind … is the best way to avoid fights or making someone uncomfortable. It is OK to share your ideas, but you also have to be supportive of the other person’s views, too.”
Under the Trump presidency, Tom Perez has goals to unite the Democratic party and focus on winning congressional and gubernatorial elections in the near future.
His niece also has some big hopes for his future.
“The one thing I would like to see … is that he would run for president someday,” Perez said.
“I’m not exactly sure if he would do that even though he has the experience and education to lead the nation, but there is no doubt in my mind that he would make a good president.”