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Jay Jacobs is embracing his new role as state Democratic chairman

State Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs on Feb. 13.

State Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs on Feb. 13. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Jay Jacobs admits he had some reluctance when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo asked him early this year to consider a second stint as state Democratic chairman, in addition to his role as Nassau County party leader and his thriving camp business that spans three states.

The governor’s response to his concerns, Jacobs recalled, “You sleep too many hours.”

Despite his initial reticence, Jacobs said he couldn’t resist because he sees himself “as a war chairman, not a status quo chairman” who can “organize, build, mobilize and execute” a campaign plan. “Taking on Trump and leading the party through 2020 is something that is compelling and not a something you can say no to,” he said.

Now two months into his new job, Jacobs, 63, has already met with more than 40 of the 62 county leaders across the state, and set up a party apparatus for upstate Democrats to get legal help to rebuff challenges to candidate nominating petitions.

And he also said a bill will go to the State Legislature in coming weeks setting the state presidential primary next year for April 28, which will boost the number of delegates state Democrats send to the national convention by 25 percent, a bonus provided under party rules because two contiguous states -- Pennsylvania and Connecticut -- are balloting the same day. New York will have 327 delegates, second only to California’s 495.

When Cuomo recommended Jacobs to the state committee March 4,  praising him as having the “temperament to handle the cross currents” in the state party. “No one has a cooler head, a warmer heart or a sharper mind than Jay Jacobs. … We couldn’t be in better hands,” the governor said.

Cuomo made the selection, Jacobs allies say, because the party leader was a key architect of State Senate wins that gave Long Island a powerful six-member Democratic bloc and has the experience to keep them in power. “Jay understands public policy and politics,” said Robert Zimmerman, national Democratic committee member. “And he understands Democrats have to show they can govern effectively, produce an agenda and deliver on campaign promises.”

“When you win everything. Democrats have the expectation you can have everything you always wanted,” said Jacobs, “But for Democrats in places like the suburbs, you don’t win unless you bring along unaffiliated voters and even some Republicans.”

“What Jay brings to the table … he’s been at the forefront of the battle with Republicans in what is a swing county,” said Tom Garry, Nassau party vice chair. “He understands you can’t make perfect the enemy of the good.”

Garry added that Jacobs understands the party needs to be a big tent that includes progressives. “He’s is not a typical political boss who dictates how things are going to be, but tries to persuade people on what is in their best interest. ... Even when you lose to Jay, you always feel you’ve had a shot to air your differences.”

Jacobs return to power is far different from 2009, when he first served as state leader for three years. At the time, David Paterson was a replacement, unelected governor with sagging poll numbers, the State Senate was in gridlock and state government faced cutbacks and red ink. When Jacobs left 18 months after Cuomo took over, the governor installed dual replacements — Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and Keith Wright, the Manhattan Democratic leader.

While Cuomo has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination, Jacobs said he has not taken a position because the state committee will not adopt a delegate selection plan until May 22. He vowed that the crowd of presidential contenders will “all get the same fair deal that other candidates have.” Once a nominee is chosen, however, Jacobs hopes state Democrats will not only work to roll big numbers here, but also help turn out the vote in other key battleground states.

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said Jacobs could be a potent force in next year’s election. “Jay likes playing on the statewide and national scale,” he said. “A lot of national officials seek his counsel, and a lot of candidate like his fundraising ability. Most of all, he likes playing at 37,000 feet and does it well.”

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