When the Democratic National Convention gets underway this week in Philadelphia, it will be without one of the party’s key leaders. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) resigned her position as chair of the Democratic National Committee Sunday. Her term was scheduled to end next year.
“Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals is to step down as party chair at the end of this convention,” she wrote in a statement. “As party chair, this week I will open and close the convention and I will address our delegates about the stakes involved in this election not only for Democrats, but for all Americans.”
President Barack Obama praised Wasserman-Schultz for her efforts in organizing the party from a political and financial perspective.
“Her critical role in supporting our economic recovery, our fights for social and civil justice and providing health care for all Americans will be a hallmark of her tenure as party chair,” he wrote in a statement. “Her fundraising and organizing skills were matched only by her passion, her commitment and her warmth.”
Wasserman-Schultz’s resignation comes in the wake of a series of emails leaked on Friday by the website WikiLeaks that show communication among DNC officials illustrating tension they have had with the primary campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who sought the Democratic nomination.
The email leaks come 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 presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary 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.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council is scheduled to honor Wasserman-Schultz at its reception during the convention on Thursday. NJDC chairman Marc Stanley said he was sad to hear of the chairwoman’s resignation, but that the ceremony will still go forward. He added 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.”
Stanley said despite the media firestorm that has surrounded Wasserman-Schultz of late, he thinks the mood at the convention will be largely unaffected. “This is the news here on Sunday, and tomorrow they’ll be other news, and when Tim Kaine is selected as the vice presidential nominee and Hillary Clinton as the presidential nominee their speeches will be the news.”
NJDC 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 Sen. 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.
Rosenbaum said despite the inner-party fighting, he thinks the convention will run smoothly and that Democrats will ultimately unify.
“My personal experience from the platform committee says to me we’ve had a spirited campaign, we’ve had a spirited debate, brought all of our issues to the forefront and the platform resolves all of those.”