Perez, 51, a Harvard-educated lawyer and the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, is the only Hispanic nominated to a Cabinet post in President Obama's second term. Republican critics have accused him of being too divisive, but a Senate deal on July 16 on stalled nominations was expected to pave the way for his confirmation.
Perez says he is proud of his record in his current job as assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, despite complaints that he has been too selective in favor of liberal positions in his enforcement of laws in areas such as housing and voting rights.
The Maryland resident and Buffalo, N.Y., native also points to other public-service roles as having prepared him to head the department. Those include being the first Latino on the Montgomery County Council, in Maryland; a stint as Maryland's secretary of labor, licensing, and regulation; working as an aide to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.; and an extensive background as a federal prosecutor. Perez served for two years under President Clinton as director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Health and Human Services Department.
Of his time heading the Maryland Labor Department from 2007 to 2009, Perez highlights efforts to "re-engineer our state workforce system" to make it more responsive to the needs of employers and workers alike.
Perez says he sees "an opportunity to take the same collaborative and bipartisan approach I have applied throughout my career to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act." He also says Obama has asked that all decisions he makes as secretary take into account three questions: How do we make America a magnet for jobs? How do we equip our people with the skills they need to succeed in those jobs? How do we ensure that an honest day's work leads to a decent living? "These questions are at the core of the mission of the Department of Labor. If confirmed, I will keep them there," Perez says.
To go along with his law degree, Perez has a bachelor's degree from Brown University and a master's in public policy from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is married to a lawyer with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless; the couple has three children.