Eric Ellison’s brother fights to be DNC chairman

Eric Ellison’s brother fights to be DNC chairman
December 08
06:50 2016

Local Democratic Party chair is helping in the effort



U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a progressive who made history as the first Muslim in Congress, is vying to become the chair of the Democratic National Committee.

The Minnesota lawmaker has a local connection in his younger brother, Eric Ellison, who is a lawyer and Forsyth County Democratic Party chair.

The national chair will be decided on the weekend of Feb. 24. 2017, by approximately 447 DNC members. North Carolina has five of them, elected by the state party, plus the state chair and vice chair. Eric said he’s arranged meetings for his brother to talk with them, and believes that Keith is the frontrunner in the race.

The Ellisons are originally from Detroit. Keith converted to Islam while he was an undergraduate at Wayne State University. He became a lawyer and served in the Minnesota legislature. In 2007, he made history as the first Muslim member of Congress. He won his 2016 re-election for his sixth term with 70 percent of the vote. During the primary, he became one of the most prominent supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid and was appointed by Sanders to the committee that crafted the Democratic Party platform this year. He is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which champions things like universal healthcare, civil rights and environmental protection.

Keith announced his bid for party chair last month and was endorsed by Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, incoming Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, and current Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

“My friend Keith Ellison is a terrific leader and a strong progressive who knows how to get things done,” Reid said in a statement. “Now is the time for new thinking and a fresh start at the DNC. Now is the time for Keith.”

Firestorm of criticism

Keith’s bid has also drawn its share of detractors who are accusing him of anti-Semitism because of his criticism of Israel and the United States policies supporting the Jewish nation. Critics also point to his defense of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in the 1990s. Keith attended Farrakhan’s Million Man March in 1995, but was never a member of the Nation.

Eric said he also attended the Million Man March, along with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and thousands of others. Crowd estimates vary widely, but at least 400,000 people attended the march to bring light to issues like unemployment and poverty in the black community. Eric said attendees came because of those issues and not as an endorsement of the anti-semitic things Farrakhan has said over the years.

Keith told NPR he regretted defending Farrakhan decades ago and hoped that he’ll be judged on his record as a lawmaker.

“I was very proud to be part of the Million Man March,“ he said. “I think it’s one of the best things that I ever did. Just the fact that, you know, at the time I didn’t pay close enough scrutiny to some of the other things that he was saying. You know, that’s something I just live and learn.”

Eric said his brother has been strong on Israel and supporting a two-state solution. He said people were trying to smear Keith because of his religion.

It’s familiar territory for Keith, who had similar accusations involving his faith brought up when he was sworn into Congress a decade ago. In November, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement saying that despite some-times disagreeing with Keith on Israel, he is “a man of good character” and that “there is no room for innuendo or slander because of his faith or his race.” The ADL has since said they oppose him being DNC chair after 2010 remarks surfaced of Keith stating that United States policy in the Middle East is “governed by what is bad or good” for Israel while not giving other countries enough consideration and urging Americans with roots in the region to get involved. Keith responded with a letter to the ADL reiterating his support of Israel and saying he’s “always fought anti-Semitism, racism, sexism and homophobia.”

A new direction for Democrats

The fifth district Keith represents in Minnesota had the lowest voter turnout in the state and now has the highest, which is impressive in a state with the nation’s best voter turnout. He said he’ll try to replicate those results nationwide for Democrats.

Eric said he believes Keith will be a “grassroots” leader that will make the party less “top heavy.” Eric said he anticipates Keith will bring the party further left and make it more progressive. He said that such a shift is needed now because Democrats have tried to be “Republican-lite” and it didn’t work.

“Democrats recognize whatever we were doing in the past, it was insufficient because now we have President-elect Donald Trump,” said Eric. “So we have to try new methods. If we’re Democrats, we need to be true to our values, we need to be true to our progressive values and need to come up with an economic message that will resonate with working class people.”

Former DNC Chair Howard Dean has dropped out of the race. The remain-ing announced candidates are New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Raymond Buckley and South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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