A faction of New York lawmakers, officials and political organizers dissatisfied with state Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs’ leadership are seeking out candidates to replace him, even as Gov. Kathy Hochul and dozens of county chairs continue to support him.
Jacobs has been facing significant pressure from within some parts of his party to step down following a pedestrian Democratic showing in last week’s elections, which saw Hochul win by fewer than 6 points in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1.
Progressive-minded Democrats in recent days have pushed the name of L. Joy Williams, a longtime Democratic strategist who heads the Brooklyn NAACP, as a potential Jacobs replacement, while some have also mentioned outgoing Rep. Mondaire Jones of the Hudson Valley as a possibility.
In an interview with Gothamist, Williams confirmed she has “an interest in helping to build the party in whatever capacity” and has been taking calls from a number of supportive Democrats in recent days. She declined to comment on Jacobs’ future specifically, though she did say she believes the party as a whole “needs a better focus and direction.”
“It’s probably the reason why my name has come up, because I've always kind of expressed interest in thinking that the party should be able to do a lot more and wanting to work with folks to get that done,” Williams said Wednesday.
On Jacobs’ home base of Long Island, the election results were more acute: Republicans were able to pick up all four congressional seats, flipping two that had been previously held by Democrats. It helped flip control of the U.S. House of Representatives into the GOP’s hands.
Earlier this week, hundreds of Democratic lawmakers, officials, committee members and organizations signed on to a joint letter calling for Jacobs’ ouster, saying the “writing is on the wall and has been for some time.”
“Jay Jacobs is not fit to serve as chair of the state Democratic Party, and it’s time for Gov. Hochul to work with the party to elect a focused, determined, unifying party leader,” read the letter, which was signed by state Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Comptroller Brad Lander, among others.
Hochul still backs Jacobs
The push to replace Jacobs, however, could be moot.
So far, Hochul has stood behind Jacobs as Democratic chairman, saying he did a “good job” while pointing to her desire to build the state party into “the powerhouse that it should be.” And Hochul’s support is key: under state Democratic Party traditions, the governor essentially gets to pick the chairman and whether they stay or go.
“I've already answered this question,” Hochul told reporters Monday. “Jay Jacobs is the chair of the party and I think it's a great opportunity for us to rebuild.”
Jacobs did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday from Gothamist, but told the New York Times this week he has no intention of stepping down.
Jacobs also has support from nearly two-thirds of the state’s 62 county Democratic chairs, including Keith Wright of Manhattan and Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn of Brooklyn, who both signed on to a letter backing his chairmanship.
“Chairman Jacobs has guided our party through unprecedented crossroads during his tenure and has consistently led with a steady hand,” reads the letter, which was first reported by NY1 and City & State.
It’s not the first time Jacobs has faced a push for his ouster. Last year, Jacobs’ supporters on the Democratic Committee easily defeated a vote of no confidence in his leadership after he invoked David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan leader-turned-politician, when discussing why he wasn’t endorsing Buffalo mayoral candidate India Walton, who is Black.
Still, Jacobs’ critics are trying to galvanize around a replacement candidate or candidates that could be palatable to Hochul and the progressive flank of the party should she change her mind and request Jacobs step down.
Outgoing state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a Democrat who represents a district in the Bronx and Westchester County, has been among those trying to organize opposition to Jacobs. She said Williams and Jones have both been among the names that have frequently come up.
“That's what I don't want to get lost in this conversation, because it's very easy to say, ‘Just replace (Jacobs) or fire him or get him out of here,’” Biaggi said. “That's just one piece of it. The other piece is that we've got to replace him with somebody excellent.”
Jones didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday and Thursday. But he has publicly called for Jacobs’ ouster and has clashed with establishment Democrats this cycle, particularly after the state’s redistricting debacle helped lead to his unsuccessful run for an open congressional seat in Lower Manhattan.
Rebecca Katz, a longtime Democratic strategist who worked alongside Williams to lead Cynthia Nixon’s 2018 primary challenge to then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said New York’s election results this year speak in part to issues within the state Democratic Party.
Katz is a senior campaign adviser to U.S. Senator-elect John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, where he defeated Mehmet Oz — better known as television personality Dr. Oz — in a key race that helped Democrats maintain control of Congress’ upper chamber.
While Pennsylvania’s results showed Democrats improving on their 2020 results throughout the state, New York’s showed the opposite, with Republicans improving in every county of the state.
“I think this is an example of the (New York) state party really failing the people who are running for office and also the Democratic voters of the state,” she said.
GOP leadership shift
While Jacobs holds on to his Democratic leadership role, the state Republican Party will be in line for a new leader in January.
Nick Langworthy, the state Republican chairman since 2019, won a congressional race in western New York and has said he will relinquish his party leadership role in January.
Republican leaders and operatives who spoke to Gothamist mentioned several potential replacements in the mix, including former Senate candidate Chele Farley, Fulton County GOP Chair Sue McNeil and Suffolk County GOP Chair Jesse Garcia, among others.
In an interview with Gothamist, Garcia — whose home county voted for Zeldin, a Suffolk resident, by 17 points over Hochul — declined to discuss whether he has any interest in the role until Langworthy formally steps down.
“I’m flattered that my name has been mentioned among the group,” he said. “ I don't know if Nick changes his mind. I'm not sure of that. I've always made it a policy: I don't discuss a vacancy until it becomes available.”