Jay Jacobs, the weakling leader of the New York State Democratic Party, made the puzzling decision this week to compare a young Black woman—incidentally (or not) the victor of his party’s mayoral primary in Buffalo—to American neo-Nazi David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, arguably the most infamously, violently racist American organization to ever exist.
Asked about his refusal to endorse India Walton, the dark-horse socialist candidate in New York’s second-largest city—and his choice instead to endorse her opponent, Byron Brown, the loser of the primary who is mounting a write-in campaign against Walton—Jacobs said, “Let’s take a scenario, very different, where David Duke... 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?” Jacobs went on, unfathomably. “I don’t think so.”
When he was correctly called out for this bizarre and offensive analogy, Jacobs took to the Party’s official Twitter account to defend himself, underlining the part where he said the scenario was “very different” (oh, okay) and the part where he continued, “Now of course, India Walton is not in the same category” (as David Duke, founder of the KKK, whose members literally raped and murdered Black women). He added his own little message about “what’s wrong with public discourse today”:
“People want to find something to be unhappy about, so they twist statements, or ignore statements, to make their argument,” he wrote.
In a separate statement to the Daily News, Jacobs lamented that “discourse today is like walking in a minefield.” He compared a black woman in politics to David Duke, but he’s the true victim here. Somebody get this man a Substack! Clearly, he’s got some fascinating thoughts on cancel culture he’d like to share with us.
Eventually, a full day and dozens of calls for his resignation later, Jacobs apologized and said he’d like to have lunch with India Walton after the election that he hopes she loses. Walton accepted his apology, because she is apparently a gracious and generous person.
I am not. I don’t give a shit about his day late, dollar short bullshit. Jay Jacobs needs to go. The fish rots from the head down, as the saying goes, and it’s time for a coup in the New York Democratic Party.
To be clear, David Duke never won a low-turnout election in Rochester. This is not a real thing that happened in New York, that would maybe make sense as a point of reference for a dark-horse candidate winning an election in this state. (Buffalo, actually, had a Conservative vehemently anti-abortion mayor who was a nominal Democrat, and ran as the nominee of the Conservative Party after losing the Democratic primary. Unfortunately, Jay Jacobs wasn’t around at the time to endorse him, but no doubt he wishes he could’ve.) To be even clearer, every time David Duke did run for office, he was publicly condemned by national and state-level Republicans (these were very different times than we live in today, obviously). To be crystal fucking clear, this was objectively one of the most offensive and simultaneously ludicrous statements that a human in Jacobs’ position could make, and it is deeply embarrassing for the leader of the Democratic Party of New York to have not only made it, but then used the Party’s public platform to defend it.
It’s long past time for Jay Jacobs to go. But we are in the post-apology political age, and unfortunately, no one seems to know how to get him out. According to the party’s own rules, “officers may be removed by a vote of a majority of the members of the State Committee at any meeting where notice under Article IV of such business has been given.”
Yes, I am now one of what I would guess is maybe a maximum of five people who have read the New York Democratic Party’s rules, which are written in such a way as to be mind-meltingly boring, verging on incomprehensible. Far be it for me to say this is intentional, but I’m pretty fucking sure it’s not accidental.
Why? Because this is not an entity that cares for accountability. If it was, it would not place such an unreasonable, undue amount of power in the Chair’s hands. The Chair appoints all the committee members. The Chair controls funding. The Chair is nominally elected, but for as long as anyone I spoke to can remember, was hand-picked by Cuomo, who then ordered his lackeys—who still comprise the majority of the party—to vote for the guy he knew would be in his pocket.
Cuomo is technically gone, but the rot of his ways—and the consequences of the power he consolidated—remains. The calls for Jacobs’ resignation may have forced his apology, but they were never going to result in what they actually demanded, and the people making them had to know that. And the vote that could remove him will never happen, because the party remains packed with Cuomo machine cronies who violate the party’s own standards of ethics, which declare “public trust in party leadership.”
The two main things the party’s own principles emphasize? To not seek personal gain, and to “attract those citizens best qualified to serve, and not impede unreasonably or unnecessarily their recruitment and retention.”
Which leads us to address the little dig at Walton that Jacobs made, with his little “low turnout” remark. It’s a fine time for Jacobs to suddenly care about low voter turnout. Brown did nothing to get out the vote, a tried-and-true strategy by New York’s Democratic establishment, which cares only about maintaining power for those who already have it. Low voter turnout has been a low priority for New York Democrats for a very long time: They’ve done nothing to address its steady decline since the 1980s. If they actually wanted to increase voter turnout, a good strategy might be to welcome newcomers to the party, knowing that those new candidates and the new energy they bring also has the potential to activate new voters.
What has Jay Jacobs done instead?
He discouraged the candidates who ultimately wallopped the Cuomo machine-enabled Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a Democrat-in-Name-Only group that constantly stymied the party’s presumed and even stated goals, effectively giving Republicans—but really, Andrew Cuomo—more power than they ever should have had in a state like New York. He has repeatedly lobbied against legislation that would help the state’s most vulnerable, making the Democratic Party barely identifiable as even nominally different from their Republican counterparts. He has devoted energy to trying to eliminate the Working Families Party as part of a Cuomo-driven political vendetta, when he was supposed to be helping to facilitate the state’s public financing system—which is intended to help new candidates get into office, rather than continuing to consolidate power in an Old Guard that only looks out for themselves, rather than their constituents.
It’s important to note, though, that despite what Byron Brown and Jay Jacobs and others who seek to maintain the status quo that has 43 percent of children in Buffalo living in poverty, the mayoral primary that India Walton won had a 20 percent turnout—consistent with recent Democratic mayoral primaries in that city, and actually higher than the three other major party primaries held on that day. Undermining Walton’s win is another act of dishonesty by people who have nothing to show for themselves—no actual platform, no actual road to progress or improvement, just lies and smears and desperate grabs at maintaining at status quo that works for them and harms the vast majority of the people they’re supposed to represent.
So what is to be done?
When I’m disheartened by New York Democratic Party politics, I look to the people who have worked past that disappointment and moved into action, against all odds. So I’ll let one of them have the last word here: