Recapping All Of The Fallout From Jay Jacobs’ Buffalo Blowup

It was a major test for Kathy Hochul and the party official some see as 'Cuomo's Lap Dog.'

For this week’s subscriber-only news roundup. I explored the larger tensions that were exposed by the Buffalo mayor’s race to bring you a behind-the-scenes look at what happened and what it means for New York’s major players going forward.

It was a rough week for New York State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs. His comments on the contentious mayoral election in Buffalo a backlash that highlighted how he’s caught between progressives who view him as a “lap dog” for former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and an uneasy relationship with Albany’s new chief executive, Kathy Hochul. 

The drama also provided a prime example of how influential the divide between progressives and moderates has been in defining New York’s overall political climate. This latest dustup also offered glimpses of how some of the other major figures in the state — namely Hochul and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — are navigating the turbulent waters.

In an email to The Uprising, Jacobs acknowledged the party’s growing progressive wing has placed a target on his back. While Jacobs said he respects “the passion and compassion of those on the Far Left,” he argued Democrats “need candidates and issues that will play well and win in places like the suburbs and the various regions of upstate NY.”

“I represent the moderate-progressive wing of our Party.  I am very comfortable with who I am, what I have done and what I stand for,” Jacobs wrote, adding, “Unfortunately, though well-intended, some of the policies promoted by those on the Far Left repel voters in the places where elections are competitive. If we lose in those places, we lose our majorities and we lose it all.  THAT is what this is all about and I am just a vessel that carries that message – a vessel the Far Left would love to sink.”

Jacobs’ aversion to the progressive agenda got him in hot water when he weighed in on Walton, a self-identified Democratic Socialist, who defeated four term incumbent Byron Brown, in the Western New York city’s Democratic mayoral primary in June. Rather than accepting defeat, Brown opted to run against Walton as an independent. Many top progressives including Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have backed Walton and criticized other Democrats who have not supported the party’s nominee amid Brown’s unusual second challenge to Walton. But in an interview with Spectrum News on Monday, Jacobs was asked about Democrats — including Hochul — who have refrained from supporting Walton. Jacobs then used an extreme example as he argued endorsements are “optional” rather than “a requirement.”

“Let's take a scenario, very different, where David Duke, you remember him, the grand wizard of the KKK, he moves to New York, he becomes a Democrat, he runs for mayor in the city of Rochester, which is a low primary turnout and he wins the Democratic line. I have to endorse David Duke? I don't think so,” Jacobs said. 

Jacobs immediately made clear he feels “India Walton is not in the same category,” However, his invocation of the Klan leader when discussing a progressive woman of color sparked a firestorm. Jacobs ultimately apologized. 

“Even though I twice distinguished India Walton from the dumb example I used to make the point that I had every right to choose not to endorse a candidate even though they won a primary, it was unnecessarily and certainly unintentionally hurtful to India Walton. For that I apologized. I need to be more careful,” he wrote in the email to The Uprising. 

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For her part, Walton said Jacobs made a “huge mistake” but also ended on a forgiving note.

“I was disappointed. But also, I've not always said the right thing at the right time so I extend a lot of grace to Mr. Jacobs,” Walton said to Spectrum News. 

Walton’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Brown, who largely ignored Walton before he was beaten in the primary, has run a far more aggressive campaign this second time around characterized by sharp attacks against Walton. Some of Brown’s allies, including Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY), who has endorsed him, have leaned into the notion the Buffalo race is a front in the ongoing struggle between progressives and moderates in the Democratic Party.

And this is far from New York’s first big battle in that ongoing fight. Indeed, for many members of the party’s progressive wing, this wasn’t their first clash with Jacobs. 

‘Cuomo’s Lap Dog’

State Senator Alessandra Biaggi was one of the prominent progressive Democrats who quickly called for Jacobs’ ouster with a tweet that said, “Comparing the endorsement of India Walton to endorsing David Duke of the KKK is outrageously racist.” Biaggi was also among the more outspoken critics of Cuomo during the ex-governor’s scandalous collapse and Jacobs was seen as one of his closest allies. 

In leaked recordings of debates over the governor’s potential impeachment, some legislators expressed fears Jacobs was working behind the scenes to help Cuomo. In a conversation with The Uprising, Biaggi described Jacobs as “Cuomo’s lap dog.” 

“He basically just took orders from Cuomo and did whatever Cuomo wanted to do,” Biaggi said of Jacobs. 

According to Biaggi, this hampered Jacobs’ ability to support members of the party since he favored the governor’s allies.  

“He was like Cuomo’s lap dog thats what he was,” Biaggi said. “I’ve never met him in three years, not even one time, not even one phone call. … And why is that? Because Cuomo didn’t want him to have a relationship with me.” 

She described Jacobs as more interested in trying to “carry out Cuomo’s grudges” than in building relationships with rivals. Walton has also criticized Jacobs for not meeting with her in his role as party chair. 

For his part, Jacobs argues making endorsements is not in his job description. He accused progressives of being divisive.  

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