Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs speaks in New Hyde...

Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs speaks in New Hyde Park in November 2021. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Some Democrats in Nassau are expressing growing criticism of how Jay Jacobs, state and county Democratic chairman, has intervened in the primary to replace retiring Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) in New York's Fourth Congressional District.

After former Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen sought Jacobs' backing, telling him she had wanted to be in Congress since she was a "little girl," Jacobs commented: "I'm not here to help people with their dreams. I'm here to elect Democrats."

"The reference to ‘little girl’ dreams is a slight that women across the nation can easily recognize, and the intent is unmistakable," Liuba Grechen Shirley, a Democratic activist who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018, said last month in a statement also signed by leaders of women's groups.

Others suggest Jacobs is tacitly backing Malverne Village Mayor Keith Corbett, who angered some students and residents who pressed for a new name for a street named for a onetime Ku Klux Klan leader — saying he didn't "want to jump just because you have a herd mentality telling you one thing."

"His comment about the students and those engaged in the effort to change the name as having a 'herd mentality' is unbelievable code," Frederick K. Brewington, a Hempstead-based civil rights attorney, said in an email to Jacobs asking him to get Corbett to withdraw from the 4th District race.

The comments by Grechen Shirley and Brewington reflect dissatisfaction both with how Jacobs is dealing with the 4th Congressional District race, and his performance in the November elections, when Republicans beat all countywide Democratic candidates, including former County Executive Laura Curran, officials and political experts said.

Jacobs "failed to protect Democrats in the last election, and he definitely is putting his thumb on the scale to move a favorite candidate," Douglas Muzzio, a political science professor at CUNY's Baruch College, said when asked about Corbett.

"He seems like he’s out of step with the Democratic Party or what’s left of the elected officials on Long Island," Muzzio told Newsday.

Jacobs, who says he is neutral in the 4th District race, called such criticism "part of the job."

But "telling the world that I'm supporting a particular candidate because I'm a bad person, and I've always gone against the other type of candidate be it a woman or a minority or what, when the facts are exactly the opposite — that's not a good way for people to conduct themselves in the political world, or in any world, frankly."

The Democratic infighting began soon after Rice announced in February, just before the Democrats' state nominating convention, that she intended to resign from Congress at the end of the year.

Prominent Democrats, including Gillen, Nassau County Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) and Nassau Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Lawrence), began throwing their hats in the ring.

"A lot of things happened quickly," Jacobs said.

"Kathleen Rice, the day before the state convention, tells me she's not running," Jacobs recalled.

"In the midst of all this, Laura Gillen began calling my main fundraisers" about making a congressional run, Jacobs said.

Jacobs wrote to Democratic donors asking them to hold off on contributing to any candidates. Soon, Corbett announced his bid for the seat.

"My email, if you read it, didn't say anything other than before you decide to give money to any particular candidate, if you feel that my opinion is worth anything, give me a call," Jacobs said.

Muzzio said: "He’s going to tell candidates not to fundraise? That’s absurd."

Gillen is leading the Democratic money race, having raised a total of $255,606, according to federal campaign filings for the first quarter of 2022.

Corbett has raised $158,810, Bynoe has collected $105,450 and Solages has raised $94,971, federal filings show.

Among Republicans, businessman William Staniford has reported raising $274,198, and Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D'Esposito, the nominee of the Nassau Republican Party, has raised $29,900.

Corbett's response to the effort to rename Lindner Place in Malverne also is a major issue for Democratic activists.

Paul Lindner was an early Malverne settler and a Ku Klux Klan leader in the 1920s, and some students, school officials and residents were pressing village officials to rename the street.

Corbett sought time to consider the issue, saying in January: "I'd love to know who he was as a person, what he did, good, bad or indifferent, and let's then make an action on it, but I don't want to jump just because you have a herd mentality telling you one thing."

On March 31, Corbett and the rest of the village board voted to rename the street.

Corbett told Newsday that once the village received confirmation that Lindner was a Klan leader, "within three weeks of getting that, confirming who he was, the [village board] unanimously removed the name."

Previously, "there was nothing verified," Corbett said.

However, Brewington told Jacobs in his email:

"There is a level of obvious insensitivity and open hostility which demonstrates to me that Mr. Corbett cannot properly represent me in Congress. He does not exhibit an understanding of the further harm he has and is causing."

Jacobs defended Corbett, an election law lawyer for the county and state Democratic parties, saying he has worked for years to protect the voting rights of minority residents.

"I would say that if the insinuation is that Keith is insensitive as it relates to race, that I would disagree with," Jacobs told Newsday.

"That I believe is politically motivated. That's not true," he said.

"Because nobody, as an election lawyer, nobody on Long Island has done more to protect the right to vote in our minority communities than Keith Corbett, and nobody has represented more minority candidates, than Keith Corbett," Jacobs said.

The infighting among Nassau Democrats is continuing.

On Monday, Democratic attorneys Howard Colton and Jason Abelove filed challenges to Gillen's nominating petitions with the Nassau County Board of Elections. 

Both Colton and Abelove have contributed to Corbett's campaign for Congress, Federal Election Commission filings show. 

Gillen told Newsday: "If it has to go to court, we will prevail, and I will be on the ballot. And this is just something that's supposed to be distracting me, but it's not." 

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