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New York's state Democratic chair personally endorses Hochul for governor

Democratic party chair Jay Jacobs
Karen DeWitt
Democratic party chair Jay Jacobs

The leader of the state’s Democratic Party is personally endorsing New York Governor Kathy Hochul for election in the June 2022 Democratic primary and next November's general election. State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs, who is also the leader of the party in Nassau County, joined Suffolk County Democratic Party Chair Rich Schaffer in the endorsement.

If there is a Democratic primary, the winner would challenge Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, who is the presumptive Republican candidate for governor.

Jacobs is also asking other potential candidates who have expressed interest in challenging Hochul to hold off for now, saying multiple candidates competing in a primary could be chaotic and harmful to the party’s chance of winning.

He said his endorsement of Hochul, who took office August 24 after former Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned in a sexual harassment scandal, is a personal one and does not reflect the will of the county chairs or the Democratic State Committee.

But he said Hochul already has shown that she’s capable, and he believes she can best win next November against a Republican candidate and help down-ballot Democrats get elected.

"We have a governor that has proven she can do the job and do it with distinction,” Jacobs said. “We have a governor who by any measure has earned our support.”

Jacobs asked other potential candidates to “hold their powder” for now and give Hochul a chance. He said a party “torn apart by multiple candidates” would “exhaust precious resources” and divide Democrats.

“Ambition is a necessary trait in our business,” Jacobs said. “But no one should supplant the unity of our party with their own ambition.”

Attorney General Letitia James, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are all considered to be potential candidates. Williams has announced an exploratory committee, and James is embarking on a statewide tour to promote settlements with opioid manufacturers.

Jacobs said he considers James a “friend” and credited her for work going after alleged corruption by the Trump organization, for her reports that uncovered a potential cover-up of nursing home deaths by the Cuomo administration and the report that found the former governor sexually harassed 11 women.

“I respect her tremendously,” Jacobs said. “I think she’s got to use her own judgment and see if this is right for her.”

Williams, in a statement, criticized Jacobs' call for other potential candidates for governor to stand down.

Williams accused the party chair of trying to “shield the current powerbrokers and power structures from a challenge.” He urged Governor Hochul, who as governor could use her influence to instate a new party chair, to seek a “new direction of leadership for the state party,” and not continue what Williams said are the practices of “Andrew Cuomo’s Albany.”

Jacobs' announcement can also be read as a warning to Cuomo.

Cuomo issued a letter to supporters Monday morning, saying the scandal that led to him leaving his job was “an obvious effort by some to use Albany politics to do what the people of the state would not allow them to do at the ballot box” and remove him from office.

He also called the report by James the “weaponization of harassment claims” that he said contributes to New Yorkers’ distrust and cynicism.

Jacobs was chosen by Cuomo for the job of party chair, but he ultimately joined the other Democratic Party leaders in calling for Cuomo’s exit. And he commented on the former governor’s criticism of the current state of New York politics.

“It’s a less than friendly statement,” he said.

He said Cuomo was among those he made a “courtesy call” to early Monday, before his announcement, but he said the former governor did not share with him any future political intentions.

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.