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Hochul blasts New York Democratic party chair for remarks comparing a candidate to a KKK leader

New York State Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs speaks to reporters during the New York State Democratic Committee State Convention, Tuesday, May 25, 2010, in Rye, N.Y.
Mary Altaffer
Associated Press
New York State Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs speaks to reporters during the New York State Democratic Committee State Convention, Tuesday, May 25, 2010, in Rye, N.Y.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, condemned remarks made by state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs comparing an African American mayoral candidate in Buffalo to a Ku Klux Klan leader. But Hochul stopped short of calling for Jacobs' resignation, saying for now she is satisfied with his apology.

Jacobs, in an interview with Spectrum News, made an analogy between Buffalo mayoral candidate India Walton and former KKK leader David Duke. He was asked whether he would endorse Walton over four-term incumbent Mayor Byron Brown, who lost the June primary to Walton. Brown and Walton are both African American.

Jacobs answered that, as party chair, he does not feel he has to endorse Walton, who also identifies as a socialist. And he compared the situation to a party chair not endorsing David Duke, if Duke were to hypothetically win a primary in a mayoral race in a city in New York. Jacobs said he did not consider Walton to “be in the same category” as the KKK leader. But his remarks drew condemnation from many Democratic leaders in the state, including US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Governor Hochul.

“What Jay Jacobs did was wrong, it was very disturbing, clearly unacceptable and it was hurtful,” Hochul said. “India Walton did not deserve that.”

Jacobs, after an initial statement defending his remarks, l issued an apology. Some Democrats said the party chair should resign. Hochul for now is not calling on Jacobs to exit.

“He has apologized,” the governor said. “I’m willing to assess the situation going forward.”

On October 4, Jacobs held a press conference asking potential political rivals to Hochul to stand down and let the new governor have a chance to become established before launching a primary challenge to Hochul.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has begun an exploratory committee. Attorney General Letitia James has not confirmed she will run, but is touring the state distributing funds from the settlements with opioid manufacturers. New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio is another potential rival for the governor’s race.

Hochul, a Buffalo native, said she does not intend to endorse a candidate for the Buffalo mayor’s race. Hochul is an ally to Brown, the current mayor, who is running a write-in campaign.

“I will support whoever emerges from that election,” said Hochul. “And they will consider me a strong partner, because I need them to be successful.”

Hochul then abruptly ended her question-and-answer session with reporters.

Senator Schumer, who called Jacobs' remarks “outrageous” and “unacceptable,” is also not weighing in on whether Walton or Brown would be the better mayor. Schumer was asked about it during an appearance near Albany on Monday about home heating oil prices.

“Today’s a day to talk about what’s going on in Washington, it’s not a day for politics,” Schumer said.

The controversy comes as a new Siena College poll finds Hochul leading any potential opponents by double digits, and is viewed favorably by 42% of New Yorkers, though around one third still don’t know enough about the governor to have an opinion. Voters remain divided, though, on whether Hochul, who has been in office for less than two months, is doing a good job handling the pandemic and the spate of natural disasters that have hit the state in late August and September. And the majority do not believe she is doing a good job strengthening the economy or cleaning up corruption in state government.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.