Jay Jacobs quits state party post, not politics

A file photo of Jay Jacobs in his

A file photo of Jay Jacobs in his office in Glen Cove. (Dec. 16, 2011) (Credit: Newsday/Ed Betz)

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Jay Jacobs may have announced last week he is stepping down as New York's Democratic chairman, but the longtime Nassau party chief is not going away.

This weekend, Jacobs, 56, is hosting a fundraiser at his Laurel Hollow home for embattled Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem). In the next few weeks, Jacobs will be involved in a similar event for Suffolk Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), whose newly drawn district for the first time runs all across northern Nassau and into Queens. Jacobs even talks of a fall effort to help President Barack Obama in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, which experts consider crucial for his re-election.

"When you're state chair you have to remember you're representing a whole variety of interests -- not to mention the governor. It puts some constraints on what you can do," said Jacobs. "Now I can say whatever I want. The only problem is not as many are interested in what you have to say."

Jacobs' exit as state leader is no surprise to anyone in Democratic politics. They understand that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is the party's de facto leader and the next chair is likely to be a trusted loyalist, whose job is less policy adviser and more to deliver the bad news to potential appointees that they won't be getting a job.

Jacobs was elected state chairman 28 months ago. Democrats were adrift after the exit of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, while successor David A. Paterson was wavering about whether to run for governor himself -- something he ultimately decided against.

"He came in at a time of great confusion and tension in the Democratic Party," said Robert Zimmerman, a national Democratic committeeman from Great Neck. "And he held it together well."

Frank MacKay, state and Suffolk Independence Party chairman, agreed, noting that Paterson departed without a bloody primary and that Jacobs also helped Kirsten Gillibrand's bid for U.S. senator.

"A lot of good things happened for Democrats while he was there," he said.

Jacobs' post as Nassau Democratic leader is not up for another year. In October, he will become Nassau's longest-serving Democratic chairman in history -- surpassing the 11-year tenure of the late Jack English, a close ally of President John F. Kennedy. English was behind the late Eugene Nickerson's 1962 upset win as county executive, the first time a Democrat had won the office.

If the track record of Long Islanders who served as state leaders is any indicator, Jacobs may still have years ahead of him. The late Dominic Baranello served 15 of his 34 years as Suffolk Democratic leader after his five-year stint as state chair. Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello, who has led the county party for 29 years, ended his three-year tenure as state leader nearly three years ago and shows no signs of leaving.

In Nassau, Jacobs needs a comeback after Democrats lost the county executive, comptroller and the majority in the county legislature two years ago. More immediately, he also faces the challenge of finding a serious challenger to take on freshman state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), a key seat for the GOP's narrow Senate majority. As of last week, he was still looking for a contender.

Jacobs last year even raised the prospect that he could run for county executive himself. Now he says the "party has a lot of formidable candidates," but added he is taking no option off the table. While he would step down as Democratic leader if he were to run for county executive, Jacobs says that for now he intends to seek another term as party chairman, if the party supports him.

"I believe that I should stay only as long as I'm welcome," he said. "I don't have the emotional need to hang on."

But he says Republican missteps make a Democratic comeback likely. "Our chances improve every day that the Mangano administration fails to perform," he said.

"This is going to re-energize him," said Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman. "This will allow him to focus on taking back Nassau next year. And having gone through it in Suffolk last year, it's going to take every ounce of his attention to pull it off."