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Labor Secretary Perez touts economic growth and his Buffalo roots

Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez – suddenly a much-touted running mate possibility for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton – returned home to Buffalo on Tuesday with all the passion of a political candidate, telling three separate audiences that the economy is improving and that he’s working hard on ways to make it even better.

In a fiery speech at Bennett High School, a panel discussion about paid family leave and a homespun visit to his elementary school, Perez delivered a consistently optimistic take on the economy, along with Democratic prescriptions for making the economy work for more people.

This wasn’t a political visit, but it clearly had political overtones – never more that at the moment at Bennett High School when Perez took a barely veiled swipe at Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and his call for a wall at the U.S.-Mexican border.

Talking about “the power of we” – the power of a united people – Perez said: “The power of we is also about building a bigger table instead of a higher wall. The power of we is that we are all in this together.”

With that thought in mind, Perez praised the work of VOICE Buffalo and the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, which organized the event at Bennett High School and which are working together to broaden job training opportunities for minorities, refugees and ex-convicts.

“This is a meeting of serious activists,” he said. “What you have done has enabled us to form a more perfect union.”

While lauding the 14 million private-sector jobs created during the Obama administration, Perez acknowledged that economic recovery has not reached enough people.

But he said job training that matches people’s skills with employers’ needs can help, as can legislation on both the state and federal level to create a system guaranteeing employees paid family leave when they need it.

At the family-leave event with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Perez endorsed state legislation in which workers would contribute to a fund that would be used to pay for up to 12 weeks of paid family leave.

He said that the workforce would be expanding if only women had the opportunity to take time off with pay when they have a child.

When employers say they cannot afford to support paid family leave, Perez said he tells them: “How can you afford not to?”

The mood was much lighter earlier in the day at Christ the King School in Snyder, where Perez spoke with and took questions from a crowd of 233 students.

He recalled riding his Stingray bike from his home to the school, where he learned not only the basics of what one learns from first to eighth grade, but also how to live.

“This place was not just my educational foundation, but also my moral foundation,” he said. “Everything I do today is built on a foundation of what I learned in Buffalo.”