Hochul keeps Jacobs as Dem leader after KKK analogy

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul is resisting calls to replace state Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs after he invoked David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, to explain why he has not endorsed an African-American woman who won his party’s mayoral primary in Buffalo.

When asked Tuesday whether Jacobs would be sacked from the party leadership post, Hochul, the de facto leader of New York Democrats, said: “I’m willing to assess the situation going forward.”

‘Disturbing, hurtful’

Hochul, who took over as New York’s chief executive eight weeks ago, also denounced the comments Jacobs made about India Walton, the socialist activist who defeated incumbent Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown in the primary election. Brown is now running as a write-in candidate, while being supported by some Democrats as well as Republicans.

Hochul said Jacobs, who had been installed as the party chairman by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, should apologize to Walton personally.

“What Jay Jacobs did was wrong, it was very disturbing and it was hurtful. India Walton did not deserve that,” said Hochul, who, just a week earlier, had accepted Jacobs’ endorsement of her in the governor’s race.

The Buffalo mayor’s race has become a scalding hot potato for New York Democrats, with Hochul and Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand refraining from issuing endorsements in a race crucial to the future of New York’s largest upstate city.

Jacobs infuriated many progressive Democrats on Monday when he told a Spectrum cable news interviewer that he wasn’t endorsing Walton for the same reason why he would not be obligated to endorse Duke, the controversial white supremacist, if the latter moved to New York and ran for mayor of Rochester.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-Yonkers tweeted that it was “insane to equate India Walton, a Black woman, with David Duke, someone who supports the legacy of lynching black people and the rape of Black women. This is the malignant narcissism of far too many white men. Jay Jacobs needs to resign or be removed.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-Queens, called for Jacobs to resign “over his disgusting comments comparing a Black single mother who won a historic election to David Duke.” She added that Walton won the Democratic primary and “no amount of racist misogyny is going to change that.”

Veteran Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf told CNHI that he believes Hochul will leave Jacobs in place at least until after the election next month.

Supporters of Walton will likely be left so infuriated with the Duke comparison that they will “turn out with greater intensity” to cast their votes for her, Sheinkopf said.

As for the New York GOP, he added: “This is the best day the Republicans have had in quite some time.”

The controversy ignited by Jacobs underscores fault lines within the Democratic Party. Jacobs has warned that socialist policies and calls to “defund police” alienate suburban voters and could be costly to the party in swing congressional districts.

“We now know there is battle between ‘woke’ and those who don’t fit that definition and there is a battle between generations and a battle between the extremes,” Sheinkopf said.

Hochul, a Buffalo native, is expected to barnstorm the state in support of Democrats running in local elections. But her reluctance to choose sides in the Walton-Brown contest could make her conspicuous by her absence in Buffalo.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was more forceful in his rebuke of Jacobs’ comments than the governor was, calling them “outrageous and beyond absurd.”

Jacobs apologized for his remarks. He had also said he did not consider Walton to be “in the same category” as Duke.

While she is staying clear of the Buffalo contest for now, Hochul said: “I will work with whoever the voters select. It is up to the voters.”

In Cooperstown, Vincent Casale, a Republican campaign consultant, said he expects the Democrats will remain divided between progressives and moderates.

“The Democrats are in a fight for the soul of their party and they need to figure out who they are and who actually represents them,” Casale said.

In January 2019, Cuomo elevated Jacobs to the chairmanship of the state Democratic Committee. Jacobs is also the chairman of the Nassau County Democrats.


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