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It's Jacobs vs. left-wing Democrats in NY intraparty fights

New York State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs speaks

New York State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs speaks during a press conference in Garden City on Nov. 18, 2020. Credit: Barry Sloan

In one of the nation’s bluest states, the Democratic chairman said he’s tired of some left-wing members of his party bullying moderates, impugning incumbents’ motives, pushing the political agenda too far left and giving Republicans far too much election ammunition.

Some progressives say he’s out of touch, warn that he’s not the future of the party and call some of his remarks racist.

In New York, where Democrats control all the levers of power but the governor is fighting for his political survival, the fight for control is increasingly an intrasquad scrimmage.

"There is a battle going on and we have to recognize it," Jacobs told Newsday in an exclusive interview following increasingly public and hostile fights among party members about the New York State budget, congressional primaries and the possible impeachment of another Democrat, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

It's not that Jacobs is the only moderate pushing back against progressives. He's just the most visible right now, defending moderate Dems and criticizing those trying to oust them and trading verbal blows on Twitter.

That’s not appropriate for the chairman, some Democrats say. Most recently, when Jacobs issued a statement backing Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) and criticizing potential challenger Rana Abdelhamid, a group of party officials in the 12th Congressional District said Jacobs was promoting "his own personal viewpoint."

"Chair Jacobs is abusing his position to interfere and promote a conservative perspective that is entirely out of sync with the view of the Democrats and communities we represent," 15 local leaders said in a statement.

But Jacobs, who also serves as Nassau County’s Democratic chairman, said sitting back is not an option when elections and the party’s future is at stake.

"And I’m not supposed to hit back? I’m not going to be a part of that," Jacobs said. "I’m tired of progressive and successful incumbents who have worked hard for this state, sometimes for decades, being criticized by those who think they could do better and are being disingenuous, at times, about incumbents’ records."

"I’m tired, frankly, of every time a moderate Democrat pushes back on a policy or idea, either you’re a racist or you’re out of touch. It’s always an ad hominem attack," he continued.

"Is it appropriate for a chairman? Where I believe the values of the Democratic Party are under attack, I’m going to do something about it."

Sen. Jabari Brisport (D-Brooklyn), a first-term lawmaker and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, countered: "The party is the people and the people are much more in line with progressive ideals than the governor or the party chairman. It's almost as if the party chairman wants the people to follow their lead instead of them following the people."

He said he questions whether Jacobs should continue as chairman.

The public fallout accelerated after multiple women accused Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of sexual harassment and state Attorney General Letitia James began an investigation. Dozens of Democratic and Republican state legislators said the governor should resign.

Jacobs, echoing Cuomo’s position, said New Yorkers and elected officials should await the investigation’s outcome. A number of Democrats blasted Jacobs for what they viewed as protecting the governor.

Jacobs fired back at one, Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn), on Twitter: "I hope u represent your district better than u represented my remarks."

This month, amid an internal Democratic budget skirmish, Jacobs defended lawmakers who raised questions about creating a $2.1 billion fund for "excluded workers" — primarily people in the country illegally who lost their jobs during the pandemic but couldn’t qualify for unemployment or stimulus payments.

Jacobs said asking questions about it doesn’t make one racist. He accused Sens. Brisport and Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) of making an "unfair public rebuke of well-intentioned, honest and hardworking Democratic legislators who happen to disagree with them."

Brisport then posted a video, accusing the chairman of "willfully mispresenting my remarks." Rather than call someone racist, he said had declared he "will not work with any legislator who enables racists."

Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Pelham) jumped in, writing Jacobs was "unfit" to lead the party into the future.

"Under you and Andrew Cuomo, NY Dems already are an autocracy of bullies," Biaggi wrote. "But, don’t fret! Many of us are working to end that."

Jacobs contends it is those who identified themselves as "Democratic socialists" who are bullying anyone who doesn’t fully agree with them.

"What goes unspoken is the nature of how they operate. They bully. They badger," Jacobs said.

Further, he said the intraparty attacks are helping Republicans. He said he’s "concerned Republicans are painting moderate Democrats as socialists … and this has had traction in the suburbs and Upstate."

Brisport contended that Republicans tried to use the socialist label in 2020 and Democrats gained three seats in the State Senate.

"The races we're winning shows (the criticism) has not been effective," Brisport said.

Jacobs acknowledged "there is a fracture" in the party while noting "Republicans are fractured too" between their Trump and moderate wings.

"But we have to watch out or we’re going to be endangering the reelection of some really good Democrats." Jacobs said. "You’re going to give Republicans too much ammunition."

Jacobs said there are some election districts in the state that support the Democratic socialist agenda but said they are "very few." Pushing the agenda too far could threaten congressional and state Senate Dems, he said.

He did praise progressives' "passion and energy" to spur the party to achievements. "They push us to accomplish things," Jacobs said. "But you don’t just hand over the reins."

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