Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News
President Obama, on Monday, nominated as his next Secretary of Labor the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez, who was instrumental in negotiating the still-unsettled NOPD and Orleans Parish Prison consent decrees and whose office oversaw the prosecution of police officers convicted in the Danziger Bridge and Henry Glover cases.
If confirmed by the Senate, Perez, 51, would become the nation’s 26th Labor Secretary, replacing Hilda Solis, who resigned at the start of the president’s second term.
Among the many local police corruption cases his office has handled in the years since Hurricane Katrina, Perez worked with Department of Justice prosecutors on the case which sent five New Orleans Police officers to prison for shootings of unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina, as well as the murder of Henry Glover and subsequent cover-up by NOPD officers.
Perez has also been instrumental in negotiations over the consent decree agreements for both the police department and Orleans Parish Prison. The NOPD reforms remain hotly-contested, with Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration balking at the price tag the city will have to bear for the changes to both the police department and prison, which could total $72 million. The consent decrees are still being haggled over in federal court, with the mayor's office even saying in court that the police department consent decree is "not necessary for the city to maintain its demonstrated commitment to reforming the NOPD."
In a 2010 interview with WWL-TV reporter Brendan McCarthy, then a reporter with The Times-Picayune, Perez outlined the process and recommendations for reforms which would later be included in a scathing DOJ report which led to the consent decree.
"The challenge with this case is that there are many different areas we are looking at," Perez said in the interview with The Times-Picayune. "In most of our prior investigations, they were more narrowly focused because the challenges were more narrowly constrained….The key here is sustainable reforms."
McCarthy reported that Perez was acutely aware of the history of the troubled police force. In the mid-1990s, he helped supervise the prosecution of rogue NOPD officer Len Davis, who ran a drug-protection racket and ordered the murder of a woman who filed an internal affairs complaint against him.
Perez came to New Orleans in July 2012 to unveil the DOJ recommendations, sharing a podium at Gallier Hall with Attorney General Eric Holder, former U.S. attorney Jim Letten and Mayor Landrieu.
Perez, a Brown University and Harvard Law School graduate, has served in his position with the Department of Justice since 2009. In announcing his selection Sunday night, a White House official pointed out that Perez, the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, was the first lawyer in his family and that he has four siblings who are doctors.
Washington insiders have said that the President was under pressure to name another Hispanic to his cabinet following the departure of Solis and Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior.