Keith Ellison, Touted as Possible New Democratic Party Chair, Is Staunch Progressive

Ellison in 2006 became the first Muslim elected to Congress.

ByABC News
November 12, 2016, 12:48 PM

— -- Keith Ellison, the Minnesota congressman who is being touted by top Democrats for election as the party committee's new chairman, may not be a household name to many Americans.

But he is well known among activists in the Democratic Party's progressive wing.

Senators Charles Schumer, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have all stated their support for Ellison to be the new chair of the Democratic National Committee following the party's devastating loss to Republican Donald Trump in the presidential election. Ellison has not formally announced that he wants the job, but has said he will make an announcement of some kind on Monday.

“We can present a very clear alternative to the American people as to what we could have if we organize and engage,” Ellison said after Tuesday's election. “We have to use the First Amendment ... to oppose Trump and Trumpism at every turn.”

Ellison gained visibility during the presidential election when he became just the second member of Congress to endorse Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary, a race the Vermont senator ultimately lost to Clinton.

Besides Ellison, other possible candidates for Democratic National Committee chair include former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean who announced on Twitter that he was throwing his hat in the rang to take the job again. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a former presidential contender, said he was “taking a hard look” at the role too. And, according to emails posted on Wikileaks this month, many of Clinton’s top advisers seemed to like former Michigan Governor Jen Granholm for the job of DNC Chair. Other names floated include New Hampshire Party Chair Ray Buckley and South Carolina Party Chair Jamie Harrison.

Ellison in 2006 became the first Muslim elected to Congress and the first black member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation. When he was sworn in to represent Minneapolis and its suburbs, he made national headlines by taking the oath of office with a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson rather than, as is traditional, the Bible. Today, Ellison is one of just two Muslims in the House of Representatives.

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Ellison was brought up Catholic and converted to Islam when he was a 19-year-old student at Wayne State University.

“I can’t claim that I was the most observant Catholic at the time. I had begin to really look around and ask myself about the social circumstances of the country, issues of justice, issues of change,” Ellison said in a 2011 interview with Al Jazeera. “And when I looked at my spiritual life and I looked at what might help inform positive social change, justice in society, I found Islam.”

The 53-year-old father of four has lived in Minnesota since graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1990. Ellison was a community activist and ran a civil rights, employment and criminal defense law practice in Minneapolis before embarking on his political career.

He is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and he founded the Congressional Consumer Justice Caucus. He also belongs to more than a dozen other caucuses that focus on issues ranging from social inclusion to environmental protection, according to a biography on his website.

ABC News' MaryAlice Parks contributed to this report.

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