When asked why several leaders in his party have yet to endorse Democratic primary winners such as Buffalo’s socialist candidate India Walton, the head of New York’s Democratic Party answered with an analogy that invoked an unexpected figure: David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He quickly received backlash from some of his fellow Democrats.
Walton, a Democratic Socialist, defeated Byron Brown, the four-term incumbent mayor, in the Democratic primary in June, with Brown forming a write-in campaign for the general election next month. Though Walton has been publicly backed by some high-profile Democrats, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jumaane Williams, Walton has yet to be endorsed by the state party or by Governor Kathy Hochul, a Buffalo native herself.
Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, was asked about the awkward arrangement by Spectrum News on Monday when he answered by raising what he said was the question of whether it’s always a requirement for party chairs to endorse in these races. Jacobs said he didn’t think so, with an eye-popping analogy.
“Let’s take a scenario, very different, where David Duke, you remember him? The grand wizard of the KKK? He moves to New York, he becomes a Democrat, and he runs for mayor in the city of Rochester, which has a low primary turnout, and he wins the Democratic line. I have to endorse David Duke? I don’t think so,” Jacobs said.
He continued, “Now, of course, India Walton isn’t in the same category, but it just leads you to that question, ‘Is it a must?’ It’s not a must. It’s something you choose to do. That’s why it’s an endorsement. Otherwise they call it something else, like a requirement.”
Walton responded in a tweet, apparently taking the analogy further.
Alessandra Biaggi, a state senator, called Jacobs’s analogy “outrageously racist” and said he needs to resign today. Yuh-Line Niou, a state assemblymember, said his comments were “embarrassing for our party really.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the statement was “totally unacceptable and the analogy used was outrageous and beyond absurd.”
In an initial statement posted to the state party’s Twitter account, Jacobs insisted that his words were taken out of context. The tweet also included a transcript of his words with underlined passages.
“This is what’s wrong with public discourse today — people want to find something to be unhappy about, so they twist statements, or ignore statements, to make their argument. That doesn’t make them true. Read the full comments,” he tweeted.
A few hours later, Jacobs released a lengthier statement, saying that his previous comments “obviously caused an uproar that I did not intend.”
“Using an extreme example of David Duke winning a primary, to make a logical point–even with stating twice the specific qualification that India Walton, was in a different category – was wrong. I should have used a different example, and for that, I apologize,” he said.
Jacobs said he stands by his point that primary winners are not automatically entitled to an endorsement from party leadership and that he hasn’t endorsed any candidate in the Buffalo mayor’s race. He goes on to say that the intention of his statement was only to make a point and “never to insult or hurt Ms. Walton.”
“As I stated at the end of the same interview: I look forward to getting together with India Walton for lunch, no matter the outcome after the election,” he said.
Hochul weighed in after Jacobs’ most recent statement, saying, “The comparison Jay Jacobs used was very disturbing and clearly unacceptable. India Walton deserves far better, and I’m glad that Jay has apologized.”