The head of the New York State Democratic Party apologized Monday after invoking Klu Klux Klansman David Duke while explaining why he hadn’t endorsed socialist India Walton for mayor of Buffalo, even though she is the Democratic Party nominee.
Walton is facing off against four-term Mayor Byron Brown, whom she defeated in the Democratic primary. But Brown, a former co-chair of the state Democratic Party, is running as a write-in candidate. Both are black.
State party chairman Jay Jacobs, a white moderate who also heads the Nassau County Democratic Party, was explaining why he wouldn’t be pressured into endorsing Walton, a left-leaning democratic socialist in the mold of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“I have to endorse David Duke? I don’t think so,” Jacobs said during an interview with NY1 Spectrum News, referring to the KKK leader who was elected to office in Louisiana.
“Now, of course, India Walton is not in the same category, but it just leads you to that question – is it a must? It’s not a must.”
Jacobs apologized after facing withering criticism — and not just from the party’s left wingers.
“The statement was totally unacceptable and the analogy used was outrageous and beyond absurd,” said US Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Working Families Party director Sochie Nnaemeka, who backs Walton, called Jacobs’ comments “racist” and “appalling.”
“We are absolutely disgusted that Jay Jacobs would compare India Walton – a Black woman and leader in her community – to KKK Grand Wizard David Duke,” she said.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who filed an exploratory committee to run for governor, tweeted that he considers the party chairman as part of the status quo but added, “I have to admit even I did not expect Jay Jacobs to compare India Walton to a neo-Nazi Grand Wizard of the KKK.”
“Jay Jacobs and other Democratic leaders have preached party unity above all else, until it was inconvenient for them This is the toxicity that has long plagued New York’s politics and prevented New York’s progress – and it cannot be ignored.”
State Attorney General Letitia James, also eying a run for governor, said on Twitter, “I fundamentally reject the likening of India Walton, an inspiring Black woman committed to public service, to David Duke, one of the most prolific racists of our time. There can be no place for such rhetoric in New York.”
Jacobs issued a statement of apology late Monday, saying his remarks on the Buffalo mayor’s race in Buffalo “caused an uproar that I did not intend.”
“In response to a question that seemed to imply that as Democratic Chair I should or had to endorse the winner of the Buffalo Democratic Primary, I disagreed that it was a requirement. 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,” Jacobs said.
It’s the second time in recent weeks that Jacobs provoked criticism over his comments. Some Democrats were stunned when he publicly admitted he consulted with disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo before announcing he was endorsing Gov. Kathy Hochul’s re-election.
The Walton-Byron race is a microcosm of the schism in the Democratic Party between its left and moderate wings. Byron is in the moderate camp and Walton would become the first socialist to run a major city in 50 years.
AOC and Jumaane Williams, among other self-described progressives, have endorsed Walton.
But the party’s top elected leaders in New York — including Gov. Kathy Hochul and Sens. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand — have not endorsed in the race.
Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi, a moderate eying a potential bid for governor, caused a stir when he visited Buffalo a week ago to endorse Brown and call for the defeat of democratic socialist Walton.
Meanwhile, Jacobs defended his decision not to endorse Walton despite the KKK controversy.
“I stand by my argument that not every candidate who wins a primary is entitled, unquestionably, to the endorsement of all Party leaders or elected officials. Endorsements are earned. They are earned, for the most part, by the policies a candidate puts forward in their campaign. I have not endorsed any candidate in this race,” he said.
“The problem with civil discourse today, and political debate in these times, is that there are those less interested in the discussion and more interested in causing controversy. Discourse today is like walking in a minefield. Today, inadvertently, I stepped on one and I regret both any offense and the distraction it caused. My statement was to make a point – never to insult or hurt Ms. Walton.”