Depressed Democrats, but not Hochul, point fingers at New York party chair

Seth Wenig/AP Photo

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Gov. Kathy Hochul is backing the longtime chair of the state party even as many New York Democrats are shuddering at Tuesday’s elections results.

Hochul, who won her reelection bid against GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin by single-digits, declined on Thursday to broadly analyze some regional losses and her own narrow victory in terms of state Democratic party performance. And she has no intention of replacing chair Jay Jacobs, she told reporters in San Juan for the annual SOMOS conference.

“All I look at after my team’s played on a Sunday is who’s in the win column and who’s in the loss column, and I’m really proud and humbled to be able to represent the people of this state,” Hochul said. “I think he [Jacobs] did a great job as chair, and he continues as chair. We’re not changing anything.”

But as the state party begins to soul search in the aftermath of a year that saw the loss of three House seats, a perilously close gubernatorial challenge and a threat to the supermajority in the state Senate, its members say a logical step would be to reevaluate Jacobs’ role.

Even though the entire party needs to take a hard look in the mirror, “there's a singular importance to the individual at the helm,” Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Zellnor Myrie said.

“My question is, by what measure are we holding up Jay Jacobs or any leader of the party?” he said in the San Juan Embassy Suites hotel lobby. “Is it your win-loss record? Because it's not looking great there. Is it the amount of resources we poured into tough races? Well, in southern Brooklyn, we had nothing from the state party or the local party. So it's not that.”

He added: “So what is the role of the party if not to win elections, and to build a base? So I think it's important for us to discuss whether or not that is the right individual to be carrying this forward.”

Others say Hochul’s support of Jacobs comes off as tone deaf and is inconsistent with promises to transform the state on other policy, procedural and ethical levels.

“Everyone is relieved that the governor won, and we’ve maintained our legislative majorities, lessened though they may be,” said Democratic strategist Jon Reinish. “But to appear to embrace a status quo that had glaring failures that have left New York Democrats reeling doesn’t meet the moment. Look, we’re being compared to Florida Democrats. And that’s … not great. We need to assess every failure and fix each one, whatever that means.”

Jacobs has been party chair since former Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked him to return in 2019 after holding the job from 2009 to 2012. He was easily reelected for another two-year term in September.

Cuomo wielded the state party to his liking during more than a decade in office, and Jacobs was often seen as a willing mouthpiece for his whims before Cuomo resigned amid sexual harassment allegations in August 2021.

That’s been a longtime complaint from those on the left, something Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez immediately blasted on Twitterthe morning after.

“NYS Dem party leadership, which was gutted under Cuomo, stuffed with lobbyists, works to boost GOP, and failed to pass a basic state ballot measure to protect NY redistricting, must be accountable,” she wrote. “I called for Jay Jacob’s resignation a year ago and I still hold that position.

But Jacobs was ultimately one of the individuals responsible for telling Cuomo it was time to step down, and he worked to rally the party leadership and allies to prepare for Hochul’s ascension.

When reached on Thursday, he brushed off the critiques as an annual blame game, particularly from individuals who aren’t aware of his involvement in tough races or particularly plugged into the state party’s role, he said.

Jacobs, also the Nassau County Democratic chairman, said that the party spent resources turning out the vote in New York City, among minority communities and voters of color, and to ramp up its messaging to counter millions of dollars of outside cash that poured into the governor's race. He said individuals he worked with in tough down-ballot races know the resources he offered.

“These are folks on the far left that do not like me — I don't think it's personal, it isn’t personal. It’s what I stand for, what I say, what I fight for,” he said. “But If you drill right down to who's complaining, many of them are people who didn’t have to work at all that hard in their races. There’s some legitimate people who didn't know what to make of it, and that's OK. And I understand that, but then pick up the phone call and say, ‘What the hell are you doing?’”

Jacobs, long a suburban moderate Democrat, said this year he was prepared. The role doesn’t bring in a salary, and he’d step down if he felt he was not wanted. But that’s not what he’s hearing from moderate politicians, legislative leadership or Hochul, in public or in private, he said.

“If I hadn’t expected it, I think I’d have been dejected,” he said.