State Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs has been consistent in warning...

State Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs has been consistent in warning his party that a progressive agenda alienates core Democratic voters. Credit: Howard Schnapp

New York progressives should brush up on their Shakespeare.

“The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves,” Cassius says in "Julius Caesar."

Left-wing progressives are seeking a scapegoat for their own inability to read an electorate that finds their ideology totally at odds with their own moderate centrist views. In attacking New York State Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs, they fail (or refuse) to recognize that many moderate Democratic and independent voters were far more comfortable with Republican messaging than that of progressive Democrats.

Ironically, Jacobs has been consistent in warning his party that a progressive agenda alienates core Democratic voters. But his warnings have been ignored because many in his party assumed that Democratic enrollment was so overwhelming in New York that a progressive agenda that historically included defunding police budgets and advocating cashless bail would still expand their base.

It did not. Instead, it expanded the Republican base.

While Jacobs has secured his position of chair with the crucial endorsement of Gov. Kathy Hochul, there are existential questions regarding the future direction of the New York State Democratic organization. Hochul's decision to support Jacobs sends a strong message which she has consistently maintained — i.e., that public safety is a top priority of her administration and is of paramount importance to her personally and to all New Yorkers. That also has been the consistent position of New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who has made prioritizing public safety the very core of his mayoral agenda.

Attempts to suggest that redrawn legislative districts or tepid voter engagement brought about the ballot-box losses are simply diversions from the real question about the heart and soul of this party. Let’s be clear. Too many moderate Democratic and independent voters found the Republican line in November because the GOP successfully painted the Democratic Party as appearing weak on crime. As a result, January means unemployment for many Democratic elected officials who voted for cashless bail.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

It is time to acknowledge that the party as a whole needs to take stock of election results and determine how best to pivot. Jacobs can’t do it alone. Among those who need to respond are two seasoned Albany veterans, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who must bring the progressive caucus in their respective chambers in line with making public safety a top priority in the next session.

Stewart-Cousins told a postelection news conference that “all of us are going to be looking at the results, where we could have done more, and where we might have been able to modulate a little bit better.”

In truth, we need to take back the party’s future and define our messaging before it becomes a caricature defined by the Republican right. We Democrats need to resume our traditional role of representing hardworking middle-class families. This constituency wants nothing more or less than safe streets, a level playing field for people of all races, creeds, and color, and the opportunity for our families to enjoy a better quality of life than our parents.

It’s time to rescue the party before the voters make it pay again.

This guest essay reflects the views of Howard Fensterman, an attorney, Democratic donor, and past Long Island finance chairman for Sen. Chuck Schumer and former Govs. David Paterson and Andrew M. Cuomo. His law firm represents the Kings County Democratic Party.

This guest essay reflects the views of Howard Fensterman, an attorney, Democratic donor, and past Long Island finance chairman for Sen. Chuck Schumer and former Govs. David Paterson and Andrew M. Cuomo. His law firm represents the Kings County Democratic Party.