Brooklyn — As the CNN Democratic debate in Brooklyn wrapped up Thursday, debate staffers and volunteers in the media “spin room” hoisted their customarily oversized signs emblazoned with the names of campaign surrogates aloft.
The sign-holders attached themselves to Hillary Clinton’s big surrogates — Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo among them. They beckoned reporters to hear the surrogates talk about the debate.
But one prominent Clinton supporter went virtually unrecognised at the debate — even as he has been the subject of much recent vice-presidential speculation.
That would be Labour Secretary Tom Perez.
Perez has experienced a boomlet in vice-presidential speculation lately. But Thursday night, it was evident that he is still introducing himself to a national audience.
Perez went largely unnoticed during his two trips to the spin room. After sitting for a brief interview with the Buffalo News, his hometown paper, the secretary strolled casually through the media filing center, hands in his pockets. Glossed over by many reporters, he spent much of his time in the filing center chatting quietly with Clinton staffers and Democratic party officials.
Indeed, several reporters did not appear to know who he was.
“What’s your name, sir?” one reporter asked.
“Tom Perez,” he offered.
After the reporter asked Perez to spell his name, the secretary added: “I’m here in my unofficial capacity on behalf of Secretary Clinton. In my day job, I’m the labour secretary.”
Perez is thought to be on the list of potential candidates Clinton may seek as a running mate should she lock up the Democratic nomination. Though not widely known, the labour secretary has developed close ties with progressive groups and unions during his time in the Departments of Labour and Justice. Both will serve as important base constituencies for Clinton in a potential general election.
Some Democrats said Perez’s incognito surrogate style isn’t surprising.
Luis Miranda, the Democratic National Committee’s communications director, worked closely with Perez as a White House staffer. At the time, Perez was the the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice. Miranda told Business Insider on Thursday that Perez characteristically employed a low-key approach.
“That’s just his style. He’s not a showboat. He’s a guy who gets his head down and gets the job done,” Miranda said.
While Perez demurred when faced with questions about a VP position, he acknowledged his ambivalence for the limelight.
Asked by Business Insider about whether he was deliberately trying to keep a lower profile in the spin room, he chuckled.
“I’m doing whatever I need to help,” Perez said, before pausing.
“I don’t need a big sign.”