With Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s abrupt resignation this week, the party now finds itself in search of a leader.
Donna Brazile, the 2011 interim chair who preceded Wasserman Schultz, a member of the House of Representatives from Florida, is serving in the position again through Election Day. One name floating around party members as a possible permanent chair is former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
If Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is elected in November, she will appoint the new chair, but if she loses, an internal DNC election will determine the party leader, said Somerset, Md. Mayor Jeffrey Slavin. Slavin noted that O’Malley, who suspended his presidential campaign on Feb. 1, did not endorse Clinton’s candidacy until last month, which was “disappointing.”
“I don’t know how strong his relationship is now with Hillary Clinton. It was pretty good but I don’t know if they burned bridges in the presidential campaign,” he said.
O’Malley has remained active in the party since leaving the race and attended a reception for the party’s Maryland delegation on Monday in Philadelphia. Slavin said in the event Clinton wins, O’Malley’s chances of being named either to the chair position or a cabinet post in the administration will depend on how hard he works for her during the final stretch of the campaign.
Yvette Lewis, who served as the chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party from 2011 to 2015 and is close with O’Malley, said she was not sure whether he has any motivation to seek the chairmanship but that he has become more prominent within the Democratic Party on a national level in recent years, speaking at party dinners in multiple states.
“The [state] chairs have a good relationship with him and a good feeling about him,” she said. “I know how supportive he was of me and our state party when I was the chair.”
Lewis said O’Malley has already began doing surrogate work on behalf of Clinton and thinks that her campaign will “use him quite a bit.”
In a letter to former supporters of his campaign, O’Malley announced his intention to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Wednesday night in support of Clinton.
“She will fight for the marginalized, honorably represent our nation in the world, and lead a nation of inclusion and love rather than one of division and hatred,” he wrote.
The vacancy comes after Wasserman Schultz resigned her post in the wake of a series of emails leaked by the website WikiLeaks that show communication among DNC officials seeking to undermine the candidacy of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who sought the Democratic nomination.
Wasserman Schultz’s woes continued into Monday during the first day of the convention, when she was booed by a number of Sanders supporters at a Florida delegation meeting and later relinquished her ceremonial gaveling and speaking roles at the convention. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake gaveled in the convention instead.
The email leaks occurred just two weeks after Sanders ended his campaign by endorsing Clinton in the race, but on Sunday he restated his hope that Wasserman Schultz resign as chair of the party due to what he believes has been an effort to aid Clinton in capturing the nomination. This includes an exchange from CFO Brad Marshall questioning Sanders’ Jewish faith.
“Does he believe in a God?” Marshall wrote on May 5. “He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”
Marshall later apologized for the comments in a Facebook post and said they “do not reflect my beliefs nor do they reflect the beliefs of the DNC and its employees.”
National Jewish Democratic Council chairman Marc Stanley said that Wasserman Schultz deserves credit for being an “honest broker” and delivering a convention that was “on budget and well-organized.”
“She had some incredible achievements this year, and I think these events cloud her otherwise incredible job as chair,” he said. “I think she made clear with her staff that there was to be no unfair treatment, and in every dealing I’ve had with her she’s been nothing but fair to both sides.”
NJDC founding member and Bethesda resident Greg Rosenbaum said he is aware of the alleged bias against Sanders, but since he began working on the party’s platform committee as a vice chair, Wasserman Schultz has encouraged him to maintain his neutrality in the nomination process.
“I can tell you that as chairman of NJDC I took the position that had been taken in the past, which is that NJDC doesn’t choose sides in a contested Democratic primary at any level other than in extraordinary circumstances,” he said.
Rosenbaum said he has the “utmost respect and admiration” for Wasserman Schultz and that he thinks the leaked emails are “selective and done to prove a point.”
But despite Rosenbaum’s support for Wasserman Schultz, he did express disapproval of the DNC’s criticism towards Sanders’ faith.
“Any time we bring religious beliefs into public life, other than to celebrate diversity it creates a real problem,” he said. “If in fact there is an effort to discredit Senator Sanders because of his religion, I personally as a member of NJDC would say that crossed the line.”
Additionally, Rabbi Jack Moline, who serves as the executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, said that Wasserman-Schultz is ultimately accountable for what goes on in the party.
“I don’t know enough about what actually happened, but if his happened on her watch, I am certain she would accept responsibility for it,” he said in Philadelphia prior to a kickoff interfaith service at the convention site.