Jacobs endorses Hochul 13 months before 2022 race

New York Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs. Courtesy of NY Democratic Party

GARDEN CITY — State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs threw personal support behind Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday for reelection in the 2022 gubernatorial election in an attempt to unify the party as other qualified officials eye entering the race.

Jacobs touted Hochul, who served as lieutenant governor for nearly seven years, as a “pragmatic progressive” and moderate who can appeal to independent voters and help the party downballot. The new governor has demonstrated an ability to lead, Jacobs said, citing her response to recent downstate devastation from tropical storms Henri and Ida and COVID-19, since her Aug. 24 inauguration.

“She will have a message that resonates with an overwhelming majority of New York voters,” Jacobs said Monday inside the Nassau County Democratic Committee headquarters on Long Island. “...We have a governor who we know can win against any Republican candidate they put up in the fall and we have a governor who has, by any measure, earned our support.”

Jacobs, who also chairs the county committee, personally endorsed Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, whom Hochul tapped last month, and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for reelection.

Hochul is the only Democrat who has officially declared she’s running for governor Nov. 8, 2022, and Jacobs’ early support could give her an advantage as other candidates consider jumping into the race. Hochul’s potential primary opponents include state Attorney General Letitia James, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Mayor Bill de Blasio, all of whom have openly mused in recent weeks about wanting to run for governor.

Williams did not take kindly to Jacobs putting his thumb on the scale.

“Jacobs has endorsed in a primary for governor (where he should be impartial) before the rest of us even had a chance to make our case,” the progressive public advocate tweeted Monday.

Williams noted Jacobs has withheld support for a socialist who won a Democratic primary for mayor of Buffalo earlier this year.

“As I’ve said, too much remains the same in Albany & I will be undeterred,” he wrote.

State Democratic leaders will officially endorse a candidate for governor at the party convention in mid-February. The primary follows next June.

Jacobs previously urged those interested in running for governor next year to wait and give Hochul a chance to show New Yorkers her agenda and how her administration operates.

“A party torn apart by multiple candidates in multiple primaries will exhaust precious resources, divide us and make us weaker in a year we need to be our strongest,” said Jacobs, stressing the need for party unity in a difficult election year. “...Those who say a Republican cannot get elected governor or statewide in New York, I think, are foolish.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-1, the state’s leading Republican gubernatorial nominee, announced his candidacy more than a year-and-a-half before the 2022 race.

Jacobs was handpicked for the top state party post by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and called Cuomo before his announcement Monday morning as a courtesy.

“I’m a fan of keeping good relationships with everyone,” the party chairman said.

Cuomo did not try to dissuade Jacobs from his endorsement plans, he added of their telephone conversation. Jacobs also told Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx; and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, of his endorsement plans.

Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace Aug. 10 following Attorney General James Office’s report he engaged in sexual harassment or misconduct with 11 women, including nine current and former state employees, released a statement Monday fewer than two hours before Jacobs’s scheduled announcement.

“I fear the state is in a dangerous moment,” Cuomo said. “We are seeing extremists and political expediency rule the day and ‘the tail is wagging the dog’ in the Democratic Party. Government incompetence, political slogans and pandering are prevailing. Twitter has overtaken political dialogue. This is not New York at her finest and we must never settle for less than the people of the state deserve.”

Speculation has mounted Cuomo may consider a comeback bid for the Executive Mansion in Albany, especially given that he still sits on an $18 million campaign war-chest.

Jacobs, who was one of Cuomo’s most loyal allies until his sexual misconduct scandal, said Cuomo has not told him he intended to primary for the governorship, but added he has never asked.

“It’s a bad idea — the state needs time,” Jacobs said. “I think it would divide the party ... It would be counterproductive for Gov. Cuomo to engage in a primary, but what he chooses to do I can’t speak to.”

Jacobs has not seen the former governor since before the summer, and does not have plans to meet in the near future, he said.

Cuomo and his counsel continue to cast doubt on James’s report, saying the probe was done with ulterior motives as she mulls a run for governor.

Jacobs said James is a friend he deeply respects, and said he does not believe her office’s report should be a factor.

Suffolk County Democratic Chair Rich Schaffer also threw support to Hochol on Monday.

“I’m honored to receive the endorsement of Chairman Jay Jacobs and Chairman Rich Schaffer as we build a campaign that delivers results and puts New Yorkers first,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement from her campaign. “Both Jay and Rich understand that we must prioritize keeping New Yorkers safe, tackling COVID-19 and beating back the Delta variant, and ensuring New York’s economic recovery.”

Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

*Editor's note: This story includes an updated statement from Gov. Kathy Hochul's campaign.

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