Jay Jacobs, the embattled chair of the New York State Democratic Party, offered a spirited defense of his leadership and took aim at the party’s progressive members — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams — in a fiery interview on "The Brian Lehrer Show" on Friday.
The interview came roughly two weeks after the New York Times Magazine ran an article titled “The Democratic Party in New York is a Disaster,” which painted a bleak portrait of a dysfunctional party helmed by ineffective leadership from Jacobs. It noted the loss of four congressional seats that handed Republicans control of the House of Representatives. That includes the 3rd Congressional District now represented by Republican Rep. George Santos, the well-documented fabulist.
The article's author Ross Barkan had appeared on the show last month to discuss the story.
Jacobs, who described himself as a “moderate progressive,” described the role of the state party in terms of coordinating between campaigns, maintaining the voter file database that’s used by candidates reaching out to prospective voters and making sure candidates have access to what they need to win elections. “I believe we’ve done that fairly vigorously,” he said.
My job as leader of the party is to speak the truth as far I see it on the political realities of each and everything that we do so as to ensure that ultimately we can elect more Democrats.
When he was asked by Lehrer why he is more critical of progressive Democrats when moderates like Sean Patrick Maloney lost seats to Republicans, Jacobs argued that progressive candidates don't bring out the same number of voters.
“My job as leader of the party is to speak the truth as far I see it on the political realities of each and everything that we do so as to ensure that ultimately we can elect more Democrats,” said Jacobs.
A caller, Larry of Brooklyn Heights, said Jacobs was allowing the Democratic Party to become a “non-entity” by taking shots at officials like Ocasio-Cortez and Williams, a former gubernatorial candidate who offered voters a clear identity and stance on issues. Jacobs insisted that AOC’s brand of politics would not sell across the state.
“AOC represents a district that is far more to the left than the rest of the state,” said Jacobs, aligning himself with the positions of President Joe Biden and Gov. Kathy Hochul. “It seems to me that you are advocating a far more left push and that will work in some places.”
But he insisted that progressive campaigns are not universally successful, pointing to Williams' failed bid for governor and the progressive candidates who did not win the race for mayor of New York City in 2021.
His repeated use of the term “far left” to refer to other Democrats prompted Lehrer to ask if Jacobs was “accepting a Republican smear.” Jacobs responded by reading portions of the platform for the Democratic Socialists of America, which includes provisions like, “defund the police by cutting budgets annually towards zero.”
“So I’m saying to you, yes, those folks are ‘far left’ now,” Jacobs said. “If somebody wants to give me better terminology I'm happy to use it. But there is a difference between ‘moderate progressives’ and ‘far left progressives.' I count myself as a ‘moderate progressive.’”
Looking ahead to 2024, Jacobs said he expects the party to have a stronger financial backing, including $45 million from the Democratic Majority PAC in recognition of the competitive races happening in parts of the state.
“We're a diverse state with diverse regions, with different electorates and different types of campaigns on [Long] Island and upstate New York. We have real competitive campaigns with Republicans,” said Jacobs. “You don't see that in much of New York City. Some areas, yes. So we have to be mindful of all of that and work together.”