EDITORIAL: Did party leader’s comments cross the line?


Racist or just stupid?

A big deal or much ado about nothing?

A deliberate attempt to link a black female candidate to a white supremacist in order to discourage voters from supporting her, or just a bad choice of words while trying to find the most extreme example with which to make a point?

If you’re a member of the state Democratic Party, those are a couple of the questions you should be asking yourself in light of the controversy generated Monday over comments by party Chairman Jay Jacobs with regard to the Buffalo mayor’s race.

Back in June, India Walton shocked practically everyone when she defeated four-term Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown in the Democratic primary for his seat.

It’s common for the party leaders to respect the will of voters and endorse the winner of their party’s primary.

But Walton identifies herself as a democratic socialist, and some in the party clearly feel she doesn’t represent its views.

So when Jacobs was asked Monday whether Walton winning the primary obligated the party leadership to endorse her in the general election, he blurted out a cringe-worthy example that many found inappropriate, appalling and racist.

“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,” Jacobs said. “He runs for mayor in the city of Rochester, which is a low primary turnout, and he wins the Democratic line. I have to endorse David Duke? I don’t think so.”

On the surface, that sounds pretty bad.

And there certainly were much better answers he could have given.

He could have said the party has an obligation to endorse the candidate with the best chance of victory in the general election, regardless of the primary results.

He could have expounded on his comment about notoriously low voter turnout for party primaries being a reason the party might not commit to endorsing the winner.

He could have said that in some cases, Democratic voters would be better served by the candidate the party felt best represented the views of the majority of its members. With that explanation, he could have mollified those Democrats concerned that the party was shifting too far to the left.

As for the criticism, it may be unrelated to his unfortunate choice of words. (It’s difficult to label his comment as patently racist when both Walton and Brown are Black.)

There are those in the party who might want Jacobs removed due to his ties to disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who appointed Jacobs to his job.

There are also those who want someone other than Gov. Kathy Hochul to be the Democratic candidate for governor next year. Jacobs recently endorsed Hochul over other potential candidates like Attorney General Letitia James.

And there are those who are simply dissatisfied with Jacob’s leadership and see this controversy as a way to force him out.

Regardless, party leaders will have to decide for themselves whether they want Jacobs to continue as their leader.

They first need to answer some questions.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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