Janelle Perez is ready to get some things done.
Perez sees her campaign for the Democratic nomination in Congressional District 27 as an opportunity to unite families and spark the entrepreneurial spirit. A lesbian who is married with one child and another on the way, Perez was spurred into action by the partisan voting of the district’s current representative, Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican from Coral Gables.
“When she voted against the Equality Act that to me was the straw that broke the camel’s back in knowing that this was a representative who votes along party lines and doesn’t vote with her constituency and what benefits her constituency,” Perez told SFGN in a telephone interview.
Perez, 34, describes herself as a common-sense Democrat who grew up in a Republican household. After graduating from Our Lady of Lourdes Academy and Florida International University, Perez moved to Washington, D.C. to work in the office of Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
“She was an amazing boss,” Perez said. “I learned so much from her and I admire her and applaud her amazing career. This was somebody who moved the LGBT community in South Florida forward. Someone who stood up for what she believed in at a time when her party was not supportive of that.”
Ros-Lehtinen was District 27’s first representative and she endorsed Salazar in the 2020 election when the former television reporter ousted sitting Congresswoman Donna Shalala. Perez, who was Ros-Lehtinen’s scheduler on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she has not sought her former boss’ endorsement.
“No, I would never put Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a situation to endorse me or even ask that of her,” Perez said. “I respect her and her career tremendously. She is somebody whose career I admire, but she does not play a role in my campaign and I can’t speak to what she would do at all.”
Most analysts have the east coastal district leaning Democratic. It takes in all or parts of Miami, Miami Beach, Coral Gables and Kendall with a large Latin American population. The daughter of Cuban exiles, Perez came out as gay to her parents on the same day she received a stage four cancer diagnosis.
“That was a shocking day,” she said. “I remember there was so much crying and my parents telling me, ‘We love you and we will support you.’”
Six years later, Perez said she is healthier and stronger from her bout with follicular lymphoma.
“It made me extremely resilient,” she said. “There is nothing that’s going to happen throughout this campaign and the rest of my life that’s gonna be worse than fighting cancer. It made me incredibly strong, it made me a warrior and it gave me a new perspective on life ... to not sweat the small stuff and control the way I react and do that in a proud way.”
Perez wants her campaign to bring families together. As part owner of a Medicare HMO company, she knows good health care can do just that.
“We need more Americans to have access to quality health care and not bankrupt them if they get sick,” she said.
While redistricting could change the field, Perez said she is not backing down.
“I’m in this fight for the long haul no matter what redistricting looks like,” she said. “You have to fight for it. We’re going to run a campaign that’s aggressive with the idea that we gotta fight and that’s what I’m ready to do.”