Veteran Democratic operative Jess O’Connell will take the reigns as the CEO of the Democratic National Committee, the DNC announced Friday morning, putting her in charge of its day-to-day operations as she oversees its rebuilding project.
O’Connell, who recently left her position as executive director of EMILY’s List, will work closely with new Chairman Tom Perez.
“The DNC has incredible potential and, under the leadership of Chair Perez, I’m ready to jump in and help make this organization more inclusive, effective, and influential. We are poised to build a foundation for a new Democratic Party in every state to jump-start a wave of Democratic wins from school board to Senate nationwide,” O’Connell said in a statement.
A campaign veteran who has also worked at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, O’Connell’s task is a large one. The committee is largely devoid of senior staff aside from on the communications and research sides, and it has been working in overdrive to restore public trust.
But Perez’s nationwide tour with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders last month proved rockier than expected when Democrats found itself mired in a debate about supporting candidates who oppose abortion, and a series of delicate “Unity Commission” meetings designed to reform the presidential nominating process also loom.
The DNC as an institution was largely hollowed out last year after a Russian hack and subsequent email leak forced the ouster of then-Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in July over accusations that she had favored Hillary Clinton over Sanders during the primary. The committee’s value to the party had diminished during Barack Obama’s presidency, as he put little emphasis into using the DNC as the party’s central political mechanism.
Perez, however, has pledged to invest more in state party committees and to help Democrats invest in down-ballot races — in addition to top-line contests — at a time they are increasingly on the attack against President Donald Trump.
O’Connell will be charged with helping hire and structure the staff needed to carry out those goals.
“Jess’ experience as a grassroots organizer and as a leader who has helped hundreds of Democratic candidates win up and down the ballot will be particularly valuable as we gear up for critical elections in 2017, 2018, and beyond,” added Perez in a statement.